BUSINESS groups have bitten back at new Greens leader Christine Milne over her refusal to contemplate passing the company tax cuts for larger companies and her criticisms of parts of the corporate sector.
And the National Farmers Federation has warned that the Greens will have to overcome ''trust'' problems in Senator Milne's pitch to rural Australia.
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Heather Ridout, chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, said the Greens' ''hard-nosed, ideological stance and overreach on some business issues is regarded negatively by the business community''.
The government's proposed corporate tax cut was a needed reform aimed at addressing the competitive disadvantage of companies of all sizes on ''the wrong side of the boom'', Ms Ridout said.
Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said it was disappointing to see political leaders seeking to divide and undermine sections of the community. Senator Milne has distinguished between ''progressive'' business and ''rapacious'' miners; the Greens are also endorsing the company tax cut from 30¢ to 29¢ for small business but not larger ones.
Peter Anderson, chief of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, attacked the Greens ''cherry picking'' the mining tax package, of which an across-the-board company tax cut was part.
''Unless the Greens have some robust proposals to support [business] tax reform as alternatives, it's going to be a very unpopular move inside the business sector,'' he said.
Responding to Senator Milne's plans to get out into the regions - she visits Orange this week - where she will argue the Greens and rural and regional Australia have some common interests, NFF chief Matt Linnegar said there were ''significant trust gaps'' between farmers and rural communities and the Greens.
He pointed to their support for the carbon tax and differences over the Murray-Darling Basin. But he said the NFF ''will play the ball and not the woman''.
Nationals leader Warren Truss was dismissive of Senator Milne's pledge to engage with country Australia.
''The Greens show up in country areas when there is a protest on; as soon as the protest is over they leave. They are a fly-in, fly-out political party,'' Mr Truss said.
Coles and Woolworths defended themselves against Senator Milne's claim that they are exploiting primary producers and should be investigated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Coles managing director Ian McLeod said: "In the face of rising living costs, Coles' strategy to cut grocery process has delivered food price deflation that has saved our customers $450 a year.
"Coles has invested $2.5 billion in its renewal strategy in the last three years, creating 2000 full-time positions, and plans to invest another $2 billion and create 2500 jobs in the next two years.
''This investment program does not include the wealth and jobs that have been created for our suppliers, including hundreds of farmers, as a result of the additional $4 billion per annum spent at Coles.''
Woolworths media relations manager Benedict Brook said the company was a proud supporter of Australia's agricultural industry and had strong relations with the NFF. Woolworths would be happy to go through any specific allegations with Senator Milne, he said.
With RICHARD WILLINGHAM
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