Why did BCA boss make call for less democracy?

Photo from the Financial Review

Contributed by Joe Montero

Why has the boss of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) come out to publicly highlight what amounts to a claim that Australians have too much say in the political affairs of the nation? There’s no way that this would happen without careful thought and tacit approval of his organisation’s collective leadership. So, what’s the game here?

Let’s go into a little more detail. Geoff Culbert made the call during speech at the Australian Financial Review Business Summit on 12 March. It was meant as a de facto press release to the media. In it, he waged war against the failure to cut corporate tax far enough, failure to remove remaining regulation of big business, continuing excessive protection of wages and conditions at work, and of course, any move in the direction of reducing carbon emissions.

He argued that all these problems are tied to there being too much pressure on government to turn away from what he and his people consider the proper direction. His solution is fewer elections and longer terms of government, so that the process isn’t driven by opinion polls. The real sting is in the proposal that independent, non-elected persons be put in charge of policy in special areas of concern. Climate policy is one mentioned. “We need an independent expert body to work with all stakeholders on a multi-year target that is realistic and achievable,” he said.

Culbert said he wants an “an independent expert, working with all stakeholders, to design a tax system that will meet the needs of generations to come.” And he wants the Productivity Commission given the responsibility of cutting regulation for business. Who is going to appoint these decision makers?

Mostly the BCA. We know this because it has been the way of doing things for many years. The BCA and its corporate members have the financial resources and networks to ensure this. Their people are already appointed to a range of government bodies and committees. In fact, the BCA’s own research arm already writes government policy drafts. The push is to lift all this to a new level.

Their problem now is that the Australian public has turned away from the neoliberalism that they have been pushing, and this is beginning a transformation of political attitudes. The speech mentioned none of this. It would not have been politically useful to do so. Nevertheless, the track record shows the truth of it.

The approach of the Coalition wins no friends. Labor is considered by many to be incapable of breaking from the same direction. The result is an emerging political instability, where Australia is heading towards an era of minority government. The BCA doesn’t like this at all.

Seeing the danger to its interests, the BCA’s response is to up the ante. The intention is to force through a form of neoliberalism on steroids, to a level it knows the present political setup can’t cope with on its own. The gathering force of public opinion must be dealt with. The means is to impose a greater degree of control over the political process and put its own people at the helm.

This is about a direct merger of government and big business way past what we have ever seen before. There’s no way this can be imposed without curtailing the democratic rights, limited as they are, that we have today.

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