To sell or not to sell?

Business leadership faces test of nerve

“It is long past time for business to get over its native fear of antagonizing governments.”

By Gary Scarrabelotti*

Well, business is just about to discover how being environmentally correct is bad for business. Very bad, in fact

I am talking about the dangerous direction being taken by the Gillard Labor government: in the first instance, on the Carbon Tax and, in the second, on Federal Labor’s coalition with the Independents and Greens.

Today, decisions are being made at the national political and policy levels that threaten the profitability, the employment capacity, and perhaps even the survival, of many Australian businesses.

Late last year I wrote to a select group of business people predicting that the Independents and the Greens would have inordinate power in the present Parliament. That prediction has come true in spades. What I did not predict was that Prime Minister Julia Gillard would prove so weak — or obliging — in dealing with them.

As far as the Prime Minister is concerned, it is difficult to know what to make of her. Does she actually support the Green agenda while affecting to be a mainstream Labor leader? Or is she a policy-free zone moving in this direction or the opposite according as “political necessity” bites? In either case, this is no good for the country, and no good for the economy. Unless the PM belatedly discovers some fortitude and skill in her dealings with Labor’s Green and Independent coalition partners, she is going to do a lot of damage, one way or another, to Australian business.

Already the PM is going to slug us with the Carbon Tax – the tax she promised never to introduce; the tax without definition; the tax with whose compensations have yet to be negotiated with the Greens; the tax for which, at present, no economic modeling exists to justify it.

Dr. Bob Brown, of course, is cock-a-hoop. Nothing makes his day more than the cries of Australian businesses being stretched on the tax rack. And, if the PM declines (or fails) to rein him in, Dr. Bob is going to be all over the promised tax summit (due before the end of this financial year) with proposals for a 33 per cent company tax rate, a top marginal income tax rate of 50 percent, and much more.

Scared? If not, you should be.

Over many years now the temptation for some business leaders has been to “snuggle up” to their enemies. They have thought it prudent to get close to the Greens one way or another: political donations judiciously made; conservationists cultivated and brought into corporate planning on how to make the business “green”; environmentalist credentials put on display, not just as a marketing but as a political strategy. To be sure, lots of customers feel good buying clean-green products from environmentally sensitive companies. But that does not cut any ice with the Greens. In the final analysis, the Greens aren’t interested in business support for saving the planet. The Greens take corporate dollars and use them to destroy the donors. That’s the stark reality. As the great genius of revolution, Lenin, put it — with all the candour that was his trademark –

“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

So, if I were a senior corporate executive, I would be worried about any national leader or government that chose to empower the Greens rather than vigorously to attack them and the credibility of their policies.

Equally, I’d be worried by professional peers who talk up a carbon tax in the media on the specious ground — among others — that what business needs is “certainty”. What, pray, could be more certain, and more favourable to the business climate, than no carbon tax at all?

I would be wondering also what private promises the Gillard government might have made to corporate leaders here and there to have them support in public measures that will have hell to play with their businesses – some of them already battered and bruised by international competition. Alan Joyce and Qantas spring to mind.

Well, what’s it going to be? Cutting a canny corporate deal in the rope market, or denying Green-Labor the opportunity to divide and rule in the market for corporate political support?

It is long past time for business to get over its native fear of antagonizing governments. Sleeves need to be rolled and nerves steadied.

The message has to go to Canberra, day in and day out, loud and clear: that the Greens – and the Independents – do not represent the voice of Australia, do not represent the interests of Australian companies, their clients, their customers, or their employees. All of them are going to be hurt (some dreadfully) by a Carbon Tax. Some of them (perhaps many of them) will be put out of business or reduced to unemployment – all this thanks to the inordinate influence of the Greens upon the policies of the present Government.

If such a campaign, energetically pursued, were to threaten Labor’s tenuous grip on the Treasury benches, then that is not a problem, I would have thought, for Australian business.

*Gary Scarrabelotti is the Managing Director of Aequum: Political & Business Consulting. This article was orginally published on .

Leave a Reply