Business slams 'lack of focus'

Nuclear power should be back on the national agenda, women should occupy 50 per cent of executive positions, and the study of Asian languages should be compulsory in schools, Australia's top business body says.

Nuclear power should be back on the national agenda, women should occupy 50 per cent of executive positions, and the study of Asian languages should be compulsory in schools, Australia's top business body says.

Describing the next six months as "critical" for Australia, the Business Council of Australia has slammed the lack of political focus on creating jobs, raising living standards and securing long-term prosperity.

"In Australia, it's a choice, a choice that no one seems intent to be making at the moment," the council's president, Tony Shepherd, told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

Representing the chief executives of Australia's top 100 companies, he called for politicians to sacrifice their jobs for the national interest.

"The test of reforms for us is whether it advances national prosperity over the long term, not whether it advances the attainment or retention of power," he said.

But the government has hit back at the accusations of short-termism and the council's calls for "practical" reform to its labour laws. "What we've always done in workplace relations, and what we will continue to do, is make sure that the pendulum on industrial relations is right in the middle," Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

And the minister in charge of employment and superannuation, Bill Shorten, called on the council to support Labor's plans to establish an independent super umpire, the Council of Superannuation Custodians. Mr Shorten also pointed to Labor's increase in the superannuation guarantee and the removal of the 15 per cent contribution tax on 3.6 million low-income earners as "long-term, future-focused settings".

But Mr Shepherd said that Australia's high costs, poor productivity and flat confidence needed solutions.

"How many major projects have to fail or be deferred?" he asked. "How many Australian businesses have to shut down? How many Australians have to lose their jobs? How many budget deficits are we going to run ... before we take action?"

On global warming, Mr Shepherd said both political parties needed to accept the cheapest way to encourage the reduction of greenhouse emissions.

"Nuclear, gas and clean coal should all be on the table - not excluded on ideological grounds," he said.

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