Call for prudent tax spending

THE federal government has been urged by a panel of top business leaders to spend more sensibly rather than search for new and creative ways to tax Australian businesses.

THE federal government has been urged by a panel of top business leaders to spend more sensibly rather than search for new and creative ways to tax Australian businesses.

Speaking at a Fairfax Media event, the ANZ Bank chairman, John Morschel, said governments in Australia could reduce their tax take if they were more frugal with taxpayers' funds in the first place.

"We seem to be focused on raising increased taxes and putting more impediments in the way of business when I think the focus should be on restricting our expenditure," he said.

"I think the focus needs to come back on what we are spending the money on, whether we are subsidising industries, whether we are looking at increased social benefits, whether we are looking at increased public service.

"We need to live within our means. It's the same as any business - why don't the same rules apply for government?"

The comments come despite the government's fight to keep the federal budget in surplus.

The chairman of Westpac and Transurban, Lindsay Maxsted, last year described the relationship between the government and the business community as "probably the most difficult" he had seen in his career. He said there was still a gulf.

"There has been a massive disconnect; what concerns me most is a lack of understanding within governments that business can be, and should be, and in successful economies is, the engine of all growth," he said.

Mr Maxsted said government typically hit the right note with its white papers and broader commentary, but rarely put those words into action with legislation.

"When push comes to shove and we get into the detail there are just so many no-go zones that it just becomes another talkfest and we finish up where we started," he said.

The QBE chairwoman, Belinda Hutchinson, said there was also room for governments to consider widening fringe benefits taxes that assist females to remain in the workforce after becoming mothers.

She said there were tax incentives for large companies to install childcare facilities for working mothers, and those terms should be broadened to help small and medium enterprises.

Ms Hutchinson also expressed frustration that despite 55 per cent of university graduates in Australia being female, women occupied less than 10 per cent of senior management roles.

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