Senate Must Put the National Interest First: Daily Telegraph Article by Jennifer Westacott

This opinion article by Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, was published in the Daily Telegraph on 17 July 2014 under the title ‘This Is Not a Game, Our Very Future Is at Stake’.

I despair, I really do. I picked up The Australian last week to read the headline: “Senate kills all savings in budget”. As we reach the end of the winter parliamentary session today, how can it be that the conduct of the Senate over the past two weeks has potentially put the budget in an even poorer position than it was when the Coalition government took office?

How can a Senate – with its mix of established and new Senators – recklessly pursue a direction for this country that is so at odds with Australia’s long-term national interest?

While many of these senators will enjoy the benefits of taxpayer-funded superannuation schemes in the future, our citizens will be potentially burdened with higher taxes and lower service levels if their actions mean a weaker budget position into the future.

While Australian companies, large and small, grapple with the long-term reality of a more competitive global environment, trying to keep their employees in jobs and pay dividends to their shareholders, these Senators are seemingly incapable of thinking beyond next week.

Let’s start with the basics.

The federal government was elected with a mandate. Without reciting it chapter and verse, the compact with the Australian community, ¬including the business community, was pretty clear.

Repair the budget, repeal the carbon tax, the mining tax and associated expenditure, reduce the burden of red tape and wind back some of the worst, most unproductive aspects of our industrial relations system.

Sure, there are policies of this new government that many don’t agree with. The paid parental leave – taxing large businesses, many of which have the most generous schemes in the first place – is one.

But the parliament must respect the mandate given by the Australian people. We are all looking towards a more inclusive and positive approach where different sectors work together, and in the interests of the nation.

The government’s policy fundamentals are seen by business as a solid starting point to position the nation for another decade of economic growth. Make no mistake, the next decade of growth will be a lot harder to achieve than the last one. It will require bold and difficult policy. Right now I am deeply worried we will fail to grasp the nettle.

One of the first tasks in positioning Australia for the next decade of growth had to be repairing the budget because you simply can’t invest in the economy when you are hamstrung by deficits and mounting debt.

So let me put some questions to those Senators who, if they follow through on their stated positions, will be setting us back in this all-important first task.

What do you think the consequences will be of 16 years of consecutive deficits? No, we don’t have a budget emergency but why would we want to wait for an emergency to take action?

How will Australia pay for the skills and education, the infrastructure and the tax relief vital to grow our economy and improve our living standards if the budget is in the red for over a decade?

How will we pay for the rising costs of an ageing population and all the related health services when our national debt is heading towards $700 billion?

What will your constituents think of what you have done when they see their taxes rising in the future because the parliament you approached as a game was unable to bring spending back under control?

How will vulnerable Australians who rely on government being able to afford a national disability scheme feel as the money runs short?

As the Senate meets today for the last time before the winter break, it needs to acknowledge a few truths.

The federal budget is not a board game you can play with – it is about people’s jobs and lives.

It is about being able to afford the services and social support they rely on into the future.

The government, just like any family or business, needs to live within its means. If it doesn’t, tougher and tougher choices will need to be made.

The time to make those choices to put the budget on a sustainable footing again is now, before it involves even more pain for individuals, households and businesses. The government has put forward a plan and it deserves serious consideration.

If the Senate doesn’t like the measures the government has proposed then it is incumbent on every Senator who votes against them to put forward an alternative way of doing the job that needs to be done.

Failure to do so risks condemning future generations to a lower standard of living.

It’s time for this Senate to put the national interest first.