Bearing of Ship Australia under new crew
With polls pointing to a Coalition victory in Saturday's election, we look at what the business community can expect from a new government.
A decisive win for the Coalition could provide the much-touted boost to business confidence, something business leaders have been talking about for months.
And economists say such a boost is actually likely, given the "distaste among business for the present government", as Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief economist Saul Eslake puts it.
On taxation, the Coalition says it will commission a broad-ranging review of the tax system, including the goods and services tax.
It has also promised to abolish the Labor government's controversial minerals resources rent tax and its carbon pricing mechanism. The Senate could get in the way here.
Coalition leader Tony Abbott says he will not go ahead with the Rudd government's proposed changes to the fringe benefits tax. He has been careful not to propose any substantial changes to Labor's workplace relations regime.
But Mr Eslake says the internal tussles the Coalition might have over economic policy will be one to watch. "There could be tensions between authentic economic liberals [including the principal economic ministers] and those of a more interventionist inclination, including Tony Abbott as prime minister, and the rural-based National Party," he said.
A consequence of this tension could see a Coalition government that is less welcoming of foreign investment in agriculture, and of foreign investment proposals from Chinese state-owned enterprises.
Mr Abbott recently said it is rarely in Australia's interest to allow an existing business to be taken over by a foreign state-owned enterprise.
During the Coalition's first term, assuming it lasts three years, both the governor of the Reserve Bank and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman will step down. John Laker, the chairman of APRA, will step down on July 1, 2014, while RBA governor Glenn Stevens will step aside on September 17, 2016.
A Coalition win would generate short-term relief at car yards but could spell longer-term uncertainty for local manufacturing. The local car industry will be $1 billion worse off in direct funding under a Liberal government but will benefit from operating conditions not offered by Labor.
The Coalition has promised a full review of car industry funding by the Productivity Commission. It has also promised to overturn changes to the fringe benefits tax, scrap the mining and carbon taxes and make cuts to red and green tape by up to $1 billion annually.
An insider from one of Australia's two remaining manufacturers, Holden and Toyota, described the impending Liberal policies as "a mix of good outcomes and plenty of unknowns".
"There are a lot of unknowns; we don't have the funding details from either party to say one is better than the other," the source said.
Holden will make a decision before December on its long-term placing in Australia beyond 2016, while Toyota Australia isn't willing to put a timeline on its future beyond the next three years.
The Coalition's auto policy has a strong emphasis on outcome-based funding and a renewed focus on exports. A Liberal government would not match Labor's $500 million worth of new funding until the end of the decade, and would cut funding already allocated for the same period by $500 million.
Banks, wealth managers and insurers would face the first comprehensive review of the financial system in more than 15 years. In a key point of difference from Labor, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey has pledged to conduct a "root and branch" inquiry into how Australia's financial system may need to evolve.
Dubbed "Son of Wallis" in reference to the 1997 inquiry led by businessman Stan Wallis, it is being pitched as a response to the tectonic shifts in the global economy in recent years years.
The inquiry would be likely to put all manner of issues under the microscope, including regulation, competition, taxation and the $1.6 trillion superannuation pool.
Hockey's plan has broad support from industry - the powerful banking and superannuation lobbies no doubt see it as a chance to push for long-desired policy changes.
The Coalition will also keep Labor's planned $500 million-a-year deposit levy.
ENERGY, CARBON TAX
A commitment to scrap the carbon price may be clear cut but the Coalition has offered little else on energy policy and action on climate change.
Details of the direct action plan to pay polluters to cut emissions and meet the target of reducing greenhouse gases by 5 per cent by 2020 won't be known until at least 100 days after the government is formed and public consulting ends.
The Coalition's policy on resources and energy, released on Thursday in the shadow of the wider budget costings announcements, also left industry, especially clean technology, equally in the dark. The policy made no reference to the renewable energy target (RET), the central driver for large-scale wind farms and other renewable energy investments.
Climate spokesman Greg Hunt said the Coalition's policy is to review the RET next year.
The Coalition's 10-page energy policy also omitted any reference to carbon emissions other than a line about how cleaner liquefied natural gas might be used as an alternative to diesel for interstate trucking.
For the wind industry, there was a pledge to "resolve community concerns" including establishing "real-time monitoring of wind-farm noise emissions".
PAID PARENTAL LEAVE
It's been criticised as intergenerational theft, an expensive way for Tony Abbott to woo once-wary women. But unless the Coalition falters this Saturday, the $5.5-billion-a-year paid leave is on its way. And the small business lobby couldn't be happier.
"What's tended to happen is that small business has lost employees to big business or the government due to their paid parental leave," Peter Strong, head of the Council of Small Business of Australia, said. "This levels the playing field."
Small and medium-sized businesses employ the bulk of Australian workers.
Big companies have generally been loath to publicly criticise the scheme, despite it being partly funded by a 1.5 per cent levy on companies with a taxable income of more than $5 million a year.
Some, such as ANZ and NIB, have said they will review their own schemes if the Coalition's program gets up as promised in 2015.
But Professor Ian Williamson, of Melbourne Business School, has said the Coalition's policy might lead to some organisations offering three or six months' paid leave in addition to the government-funded component.
"A whole lot of organisations won't have expertise in developing alternative work arrangements. For them, this change would highlight a deficiency in their system in managing a diverse workforce," Professor Williamson said.
For Labor's showpiece national broadband network (NBN), the roll-out would continue as planned for the first few months, or at least until the new government finishes four proposed reviews into roll-out locations, priorities, technology and into NBN Co itself.
At present the Coalition plans to issue a new statement of expectations to NBN Co, limiting its government funding to $29.5 billion and asking it to consider using alternative technologies rather than fibre-optic cable all the way to 93 per cent of premises.
Meanwhile, it wants the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to provide a list within 90 days of broadband "quality and availability" across Australia. This list would be given to NBN Co to "amend its roll-out plan with effect from the soonest commercially feasible date" to reprioritise broadband deficient areas.
Simultaneously, the Coalition wants to conduct a strategic review of NBN Co, and an independent audit into NBN Co's governance and a cost-benefit analysis.
The NBN Co business review would be due within two months and the cost-benefit analysis within six months. No time frame has been specified for the governance and policy review. Long-term changes to the NBN roll-out depend on the outcome of these reviews.
Removal of the carbon and mining taxes will please the mining industry, but there's a less well known policy that really has the industry excited about a Tony Abbott government.
The Coalition has promised to introduce a new tax deduction linked to mineral exploration, called the exploration development incentive.
The policy, which is similar to a scheme in Canada, would allow ordinary investors to claim a tax credit for investing in companies conducting exploration.
The policy would only allow the deduction to be claimed when the company actually spends money on exploration, and the impost on Treasury would be capped at $100 million over three years.
The big winners would be the small end of the mining sector, which has been worst hit by the slowdown in the industry and the tighter credit environment that has emerged over the past couple of years. Investors won't have to wait long for the incentive to kick in, with the scheme set to begin on July 1 next year.
Removal of the mining tax would be more of a moral victory for miners rather than tangibly improve their financial bottom lines. At this stage it seems only BHP Billiton paid mining tax in the first year of its operation, chipping in $200 million.