Push Aside the Fog and Close the Gap

The Age

By Greig Gailey
President
Business Council of Australia

Business leaders recognise they have responsibilities to a broad range of stakeholders, not just to shareholders.

Working Australians benefit from Australian business success. The combined workforce of the Business Council of Australia’s 100 member companies totals more than a million people.

The corporate tax paid by BCA members in 2006–07 was greater than the total Australian Defence Force budget. Count not only the tax paid by BCA members but the tax collected and administered on behalf of others, and BCA members alone provide almost a quarter of federal government revenues. This would be sufficient to pay for all federal and state government spending on health, or two-thirds of all federal and state spending on social security and welfare.

Business also contributes to the community through direct contributions. I am not talking here about personal philanthropy by individuals, but about giving by businesses. The recent Giving Australia report estimates Australia’s total business giving, including sponsorship, as exceeding $3 billion.

Let me turn now to our greatest national shame – the plight of indigenous Australians. Only one out of every four indigenous Australians will live to age 65. That’s less chance than a native of poverty-stricken, war-torn African nations like Ethiopia, Burundi or Mozambique.

There is no public issue that creates more personal passion among BCA chief executives than the plight of our indigenous communities.

This will surprise many people, but anyone who spends time talking about the issues with today’s crop of CEOs will quickly confirm it. CEOs such as Ralph Norris at Commonwealth Bank, Andrew Michelmore at OZ Minerals, Michael Andrew at KPMG and Geoff Dixon at Qantas – I could have picked any of a dozen more – have been aggressively involving their organisations in the quest for ways to improve the lot of indigenous Australians.

The past 25 years of indigenous policy shows all too clearly that we need new thinking here.

And it is clear from successful programs and feedback from communities themselves that business engagement can make a positive contribution in this area.

So I would like to announce several BCA initiatives to help make that a reality.

In the coming months the BCA will establish a business–Indigenous network across member companies to help share information and experiences – good and bad – and to help build new partnerships and explore opportunities.

The BCA will develop a reconciliation action plan of its own by the middle of next year, matching those already in place or being developed by about 20 BCA member companies.

We will work with Reconciliation Australia to develop a targeted tool kit for our members looking to develop such plans in the future.
And we will report on the Indigenous engagement strategies, outcomes and experiences of our member companies each year from 2009.

It is clear that if we are to close the gap for Indigenous Australians, we will first need to strengthen Indigenous communities. So we have asked the Koori Resource and Information Centre in Shepparton to partner us to help us better understand the challenges confronting Indigenous communities, and to work with us on strategies to deliver a better future for them.

To oversee these initiatives, the BCA will form an Indigenous Engagement Task Force.

I cannot finish without mentioning the global financial crisis that has engulfed the world over the past two months. We have seen in the past few weeks that Australia stands at least some chance of escaping the worst damage from the crisis. And we have seen sensible short-term measures to cushion us against the world downturn.

It must be understood that this comes after years of sensible reform and it is important now to continue that reform push.

In our submission to the Australia 2020 Summit, the BCA said Australia must anticipate success. This is even more important in the face of the global crisis than it was in the ‘rosier’ times of early 2008.

This is an edited version of a speech Greig Gailey gave last night to mark the BCA’s 25th anniversary.