The nation’s peak business group will intensify its campaign against federal workplace laws it says will burden employers with billions of dollars in higher costs, naming a new chief to lead its case while calling for full disclosure of Labor’s plan.
The Business Council of Australia has chosen former Coalition adviser Bran Black to replace outgoing chief executive Jennifer Westacott, risking tensions with leaders in Canberra and the states by selecting someone without Labor ties.
But Black said he would seek common ground whenever possible, including on the workplace reforms, and pointed to his background as chief of staff to former NSW Liberal premier Dominic Perrottet as proof he could work with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Black said he backed the federal plan for an Indigenous Voice to parliament as well as climate action to cut emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – policy areas where Perrottet was often at odds with his federal Liberal colleagues.
On industrial relations, however, the business council is gearing up for a more assertive campaign on the looming “same job, same pay” laws after accepting last year’s changes to multi-employer bargaining, despite concern it would give unions more power to demand higher wages.
Employment Minister Tony Burke will hear from union leaders at the Labor national conference in Brisbane next week to discuss the workplace reforms alongside debates among 402 party delegates on the AUKUS defence alliance, the Voice and social policy.
BHP warned last month that the next tranche of federal law could wipe $3 billion from the value of its plans to expand copper mining in South Australia, although this was based on early assumptions because the government had not released its draft law.
Asked if BHP and others were exaggerating the cost, Black said the government should release the details of its plan so that all sides could consider the impact.
“In the absence of legislation, it is difficult to properly articulate what those cumulative risks are – and that’s why I think it’s important that we get a full understanding,” he said in an interview on Friday.
“The earlier that key stakeholders have an opportunity to engage with government the better.
“My own approach in terms of engagement will always be to try and find common ground wherever I can. I think ordinary Australians and communities around the country expect leaders to find points of collaboration, and they expect leaders to be able to come together and work together as much as they possibly can. But to the extent that there are issues where we need to take a strong position, I absolutely will.”
The business council is one of the supporters of the “find a better way” campaign that argues against the looming federal industrial laws.
The warnings from business include text messages to voters that say the changes will reduce fairness, increase costs and force consumers to pay more – claims Burke has called a scare campaign.
Burke said the government would not be creating a situation where employers could not pay people a different rate based on their experience.
“The campaign, I should announce, will be completely successful. They will take an idea that was not government policy, run an expensive campaign against it, and at the end of the campaign, it will still not be government policy.”
Black, who will start with the business council next week and take over as chief executive on September 12, was chief of staff to Perrottet when he was treasurer and later premier of NSW. He was previously chief of strategic initiatives at the University of NSW and worked at Corrs Chambers Westgarth after graduating from the University of Sydney in 2003.
He was appointed general counsel for the NSW Liberal Party in 2011 and later served as chief of staff to Mark Speakman, now the NSW Liberal leader, when he was NSW environment minister and attorney-general.
The council’s president, Tim Reed, said Black had shown in the NSW government that he could work across the political divide on issues such as the pandemic and last year’s energy reforms.
“What I found in meeting Bran and in talking to those around him is somebody who is able to work across the board, able to find solutions,” he said.
Source: Brisbane Times