'Unhelpful': Westpac chair slams government
Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted has slammed Julia Gillard’s minority government as ‘‘unhelpful’’ to business and says it should share some of the blame for the low levels of business confidence and investment.
In a sign of the poor relations between Labor and corporate Australia, Mr Maxsted today accused the government of ignoring the needs of business in its approach to developing policy.
Mr Maxsted is one of Australia’s most senior businessmen, and is also a BHP Billiton director and chairman of Transurban.
‘‘The minority government in Canberra has been unhelpful for business over the last few years,’’ he told a business lunch in Sydney. ‘‘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.’’
He said he did not intend the comments to be especially political, but were a statement of the facts as he saw them.
He signalled that he thought the National Disability Insurance Scheme was a worthwhile project, but said the government was contributing to the weak economic environment in its attitude to business.
Alongside the poor relations between business and government, he said Labor’s policies on industrial relations had contributed to making companies much 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 suggest business sentiment is below its long-term average, despite the Reserve Bank’s deep cuts in interest rates.
Mr Maxsted said another factor that was squeezing business confidence was the high Australian dollar.
With banks facing growing regulations, he also warned that regulations designed to make banks safer could act as a brake on future economic growth by holding back the supply of credit.
As confidence growth on financial markets, Mr Maxsted said the banking system could come under ‘‘amazing’’ pressure if credit demand were to pick up at the same time as people taking money out of deposit accounts, because banks could no longer use short-term wholesale markets as heavily.