Council seeks consensus on the big questions

WHEN the Business Council of Australia calls for a ”new accord” it doesn’t mean another Bob Hawke-inspired trade-off between wages and inflation. Like big hair and shoulder pads, those deals belonged in the 1980s.

What the council does want is some kind of national common purpose, a broad agreement about where the country should be heading that rises above the recent bitter partisan debate, a long-term vision that, perhaps with the exception of the Asian century white paper, business leaders feel has been sorely lacking from all sides of politics.

The council is looking for consensus on the big questions.

Like what needs to happen if the economy is to continue to grow and what the consequences will be if it doesn’t. Like what jobs there will be in a decade’s time, what skills we are giving the people who will hold them, what the budget will look like on the present trajectories of taxing and spending, and what that will mean for services people might be expecting.

And this call is not just a nice-sounding phrase in a speech. The council has already held high-level talks with the ACTU, the Australian Council of Social Service and the Diversity Council with the aim of finding exactly the kind of common ground the council’s president, Tony Shepherd, is talking about.

Of course agreeing on a common purpose does not mean business, unions and community organisations will always agree on the best way to get there.

Today another peak business chief, the AI Group head, Innes Willox, will take direct aim at the ACTU’s campaign on insecure work and at Labor’s industrial relations record.

Willox will say his vision is not one of slashing wages and working conditions, but rather of increasing productivity with more workplace flexibility – something he says should suit everyone. But what business calls productivity-enhancing workplace flexibility, the union movement calls work insecurity that deprives people of stability and certainty in their lives.

And the ACTU is mobilising an all-out campaign to stop it – a campaign designed to prepare the fight for any changes business might win under a Coalition government. Willox says the union campaign is built entirely on ”myths”.

But under all the various incarnations of the old accord, employers and workers didn’t always see eye to eye either. And it still worked well enough for trade-offs that created the room for huge health, welfare and superannuation reforms that we now take for granted.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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