One of Australia's most senior businessmen, Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted, has slammed Julia Gillard's government as "unhelpful" to business and says it should share some of the blame for many companies' reluctance to invest.
In a sign of the poor relations between Labor and corporate Australia, Mr Maxsted accused the government of ignoring the needs of business in its approach to developing policy. Mr Maxsted, also a BHP Billiton director and the chairman of Transurban, has persistently bemoaned the government's relationship with business.
"The minority government in Canberra has been unhelpful for business over the last few years," he told a lunch in Sydney on Thursday. "It's not a government which is user-friendly for business, it's not a government which goes out of its way to understand business.
"It certainly doesn't work on a basis of understanding that to drive the economy, and to do some of the pet projects which are very good pet projects you actually need to work with business to get the right policy settings.
"For all sorts of reasons, without apportioning blame to anyone in particular, that just hasn't been the environment for the last few years."
Alongside the poor relations between business and government, he also said Labor's policies on industrial relations had contributed to making companies more cautious. "In that sort of environment it's not surprising that businesses are reluctant to invest a lot of money and borrow a lot of money," he said.
"Quite quickly we've become a very high cost economy, and quite quickly we're falling down the ladder on productivity."
Surveys show business sentiment is below its long-term average, despite the Reserve Bank's cuts in interest rates and improving confidence among consumers. He said another factor squeezing business confidence was the high dollar.