Let's stop the negativism, says Clyne
Cameron Clyne: Back off. Photo: Josh Robenstone
NATIONAL Australia Bank chief executive Cameron Clyne has called on business leaders to stop a stream of negative comments about the Australian economy that he claims is buffeting already weak consumer confidence.
He said business leaders should engage with the Gillard government and the opposition behind closed doors, instead of making public attacks on government policies such as industrial relations laws and the carbon and mining taxes.
In recent months, business leaders have unleashed a blitzkrieg of criticism of the government. Former BHP chairman Don Argus used a 3500-word opinion piece published in a newspaper last month to attack the Fair Work Act, government spending and the national broadband network.
Others attacking government policy include Mr Clyne's boardroom colleague, NAB chairman Michael Chaney, who believes the Fair Work Act gives unions too much power. Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder and Qantas CEO Alan Joyce have also attacked the legislation.
''I think one of the problems that actually damages confidence in the economy is everybody providing a running commentary on the government,'' Mr Clyne told an American Chamber of Commerce in Australia lunch yesterday.
''Anyone in my position or other senior positions has no problem gaining access to senior members of both the government and the opposition and expressing their views, highlighting views and engaging.
''I think it doesn't help the broader community if people get up and provide a running commentary, which I think has been a bit of a theme, when there's plenty of opportunity to put your shoulder to the wheel behind the scenes and work hard.
''I think it's a far more productive thing for us to engage privately than to provide a running commentary.''
He said productivity had declined both under the FWA and Workchoices, the previous government's much more pro-business industrial laws.
''It's clear it's a much bigger and more important story than that,'' he said.
He said constant descriptions of Australia as having a two-speed economy, with mining booming but other sectors struggling, were simplistic and damaging to confidence.
''It is not a two-speed economy,'' he said. ''It has never been a two-speed economy. It is a 10-speed economy. It always has been a 10-speed economy and always will be a 10-speed economy.
''There are a number of industries which are having very buoyant times. There are a number of industries that are struggling.''
Mr Clyne said it was crucial to elevate debate ''from the doom and gloom which is occurring now'' and point out that the changes affecting Australia were part of the normal economic cycle.
''You simply can't have the sort of economic numbers we've got just by luck,'' he said. ''There is an underlying strength in the economy, but the danger is of course that the longer you have a lack of confidence the more you will prove those who perceive a negative outcome right.''