Tony Abbott has urged some of the world’s biggest businesses to argue their case for reform in the court of public opinion as signs grow that his hopes for a surge in the global economy will fall short.
The Prime Minister used his address to the B20 Australia Summit of business leaders to chide the corporate world for not leading community debate on key economic reforms.
The B20 will today make a series of policy recommendations that will go to the G20 — a club of the world’s richest 20 nations — to boost global economic activity.
Australia, chairing the G20, is driving member nations to adopt policies with the aim of lifting global economic growth 2 per cent above what is expected in the next five years.
Mr Abbott conceded that based on the proposals from G20 nations, only about half that growth will be achieved.
While Australia was pushing for freer global trade, cuts in regulation and improvements in infrastructure, the PM added that the business sector also had to do heavy lifting on contentious policy changes. “Business can’t legitimately ask government to introduce policies that it’s not prepared to argue for in public as well as in private,” Mr Abbott said.
“After all, business will be the beneficiaries as well as the drivers of economic growth.”
Mr Abbott signalled that the Government would give ground in its negotiations with China on a free trade agreement, saying countries had to move away from trying to win “concessions” when cutting protection had its own benefits.
“Trade liberalisation is worth doing, even unilaterally, because free trade means more efficiency, more efficiency means more wealth, more wealth means more jobs,” he said.
The B20 is being attended by some of the biggest names in global and Australian business.
News Corporation executive chairman Rupert Murdoch used his address to the B20 to attack the rise in red tape at local, State and Federal government levels.
He defended the right of businesses to argue for and against public policy, adding that governments should “take a back seat” in almost all areas.
But businesses had to be open and transparent in their dealings with the political system.
Royal Dutch Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden argued that businesses had to be prepared to take a public stance if it was unpopular.
He said innovation was vital.
Mr van Beurden said there could be difficulties, citing the case of the argument for local content in many of his company’s huge infrastructure projects.
“How can we get on the front foot there and make sure that the approach we take to develop global entrepreneurs, local supply chains etc., almost obviate the need for local content policy or regulation,” he said.
Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder, who is chairing the B20, said the business community had a vital role to play in informing the G20 about the policies it needed to endorse when global leaders met in Brisbane later this year. He said the meeting was the “most significant gathering of business leaders in Australia ever”.