CANBERRA has been urged to spend more sensibly rather than search for new and creative ways to tax Australian businesses, according to a panel of top Australian business leaders.
Speaking at a Fairfax Media event, ANZ 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.
The comments come despite the Gillard government's fight to keep the federal budget in surplus.
It recently cut spending on initiatives including some baby bonuses in a bid to balance the books.
Westpac and Transurban chairman 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 is 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."
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.
Mr Maxsted, who also is a director of BHP Billiton, said 2012 may be remembered as the year that Australia woke up to its poor performance on productivity.
He said the mining boom created many inefficiencies in the economy, but now that the peak of the boom was behind us, "room for other players" was starting to open up.
QBE chairman Belinda Hutchinson said there also was room for governments to consider widening fringe benefits taxes that help female workers 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 said that despite 55 per cent of university graduates in Australia being female, women occupied less than 10 per cent of senior management roles.
"I just think that's a crying shame and I think it's a huge waste of resources," he said.