Combet tells business to lift its game on economy

BUSINESS must "lift its game" in contributing to the national economic debate, Industry Minister Greg Combet said yesterday as he delivered a tough message warning companies they needed to adjust to a new economy.

BUSINESS must "lift its game" in contributing to the national economic debate, Industry Minister Greg Combet said yesterday as he delivered a tough message warning companies they needed to adjust to a new economy.

In a question-and-answer session following his speech at the National Press Club in Canberra, Mr Combet said there had been glaring occasions lately in which business had narrowly focused on its own commercial interests.

"Personally I think business needs to lift its game in contributing to national economic policy debate," he said. "What is in the national interest? I think we've seen some very high-profile instances of self-interest at work.

"That's not illegitimate, but there's been a pretty big focus on the part of some industries and some large large businesses in their own commercial interest."

His remarks followed a speech in which Mr Combet indicated there would be tough love for business, warning that the government could not help companies battling with the high dollar and said that financial assistance would be given only to companies that could make a case for their viability.

The government would continue to support the auto industry but only if it showed it was viable, Mr Combet said.

"It must at the end of the day have a viable business case, and that's the approach that we'll take."

He also pointed out that aluminium smelting and other sectors had ageing capital stocks.

"There are significant swaths of heavy industry and manufacturing where the capital stock is of immediate post-World War II vintage," he said.

"Pockets of our modern economy have been starved of capital investment, leaving us with ageing technologies and inefficient energy supply and consumption."

The carbon price would help drive investment in these areas, he said.

Mr Combet singled out workplace relations as one area where business had put its interests before those of the nation, but also alluded to issues he had raised in his earlier speech, including the carbon tax.

He rejected suggestions the embattled aluminium sector was doomed and said it could continue to thrive using clean energy.

"We want to see aluminium grow in this industry, but you don't achieve these things by pretending there is nothing else happening," Mr Combet said.