Tough Decisions Pay off in the Long Term

Herald Sun
15 February 2012

By Tony Shepherd
President, Business Council of Australia

Victorians are understandably concerned at growing job losses, particularly those workers and families directly affected.

Adding to the anxiety are predictions by some of more pain to come.

Employers, including members of the Business Council of Australia who employ 1.2 million people directly and many more through their small business suppliers, are just as concerned.

A company that has to let people go is a company that has to make tough decisions to remain competitive. If it can’t stay competitive, it simply won’t survive. And the cost of that for workers, shareholders, people tied up with the company through their super and the community as a whole is even more far-reaching.

The fact is businesses, governments, unions and the community are all players on the same team when it comes to keeping our economy strong, so we can all share the wealth that is generated.

But you have to look no further than the riots in Greece, and the millions of unemployed people across Europe and the US, to see that we are part of a very volatile and uncertain global economy.

These disturbing events are happening at a time when our own economy is undergoing huge change.

The high dollar is hurting businesses in manufacturing and tourism, and our ageing population is shrinking our workforce as well as the number of people paying the taxes needed to pay for services such as health and education. Unfortunately for leaders such as Premier Ted Baillieu there are no easy fixes.

Governments must do everything they can to make the economy more competitive and productive, to create a strong and growing economy that can weather the challenges ahead.

Unlike some countries in Europe, which delayed for too long at painful cost, we have the opportunity and the national spirit to put our heads together now and come to grips with these challenges.

Nationally, we need a flexible workplace relations system that enables companies to stay competitive, and we must be innovative about agreeing on new, more productive ways of working together.

But all governments, state and federal, can step up efforts to make sure we have a more competitive tax system, and people with the modern skills we need for the new jobs. They must do everything they can to reduce business costs.

For Victoria and the other states, they can do a lot to reduce the sea of red tape and associated business costs by finishing important reforms on harmonising trades licensing.

They can invest more in vocational education and training, and fast-track access to apprenticeships so people are ready to take on new and different jobs, wherever they might be around Australia.

It is easy to portray business leaders as greedy and self-serving, particularly when they are faced with making the tough call to shed workers.

But the reality is that members of the Business Council, who all come from different sectors of the economy and different parts of Australia, are focused on the same goals for this country as everyday Australians are.

The focus in the boardrooms of Australia’s biggest companies is very much on what is needed to retain people, to motivate them, to provide training for them and to ensure they have a safe and productive working environment.

The challenge for governments, state and federal, is to do the things that will make the economy more competitive because that’s what’s needed to save and create jobs and build the living standards of all Australians. You don’t get one without the other.