WESTPAC chief executive Gail Kelly has urged other business leaders to work constructively with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and put aside the combative approach that some have taken to her minority government.
In a rare public endorsement from one of the nation's most powerful bosses, Ms Kelly said Ms Gillard was ''a consultative person'' for whom she had ''a very healthy respect''.
''It's important that big business rolls up its sleeves and engages constructively, and I think the Prime Minister is also adopting this approach,'' Mrs Kelly told The Age.
Mrs Kelly's stance is in sharp contrast to some of her peers in big business, particularly in the mining industry, who have been publicly at loggerheads with Ms Gillard's government over policy issues.
In an apparent dig at miners who have campaigned against the mining tax, Mrs Kelly blasted businesses that she said were attempting to ''run an agenda through third parties or the media''.
This approach was not conducive to economic reform, she said.
Gail Kelly. Photo: Michele Mossop
In making her comments, Mrs Kelly also put aside the often harsh criticism directed at her own company by the government over its failure - along with the other big banks - to pass on to consumers the full amounts of recent cuts in official interest rates by the Reserve Bank.
Westpac has also faced criticism for job cuts at the bank.
''She [Ms Gillard] stepped into the role. She does listen, I can tell you from personal experience,'' Mrs Kelly said. ''Even if you have a different starting point she will listen. And I really respect that in politicians.''
Mrs Kelly said she had had a number of ''robust discussions'' with Ms Gillard on policy issues where they may not have agreed. ''But we work our way through them and there's a very healthy respect.''
While she declined to discuss the
nature of talks, banks and the government have been openly at loggerheads over whether the sector has been making excessive profits by pushing through out-of-cycle interest rate rises.
The banks argue the higher cost of raising funds - both from offering attractive rates to depositors and raising money on global wholesale markets - is forcing them to hold back some of the reduction in official interest rates.
Mrs Kelly's comments come as Treasurer Wayne Swan, delivering his fifth budget tonight, is expected to push through as much as $10 billion worth of spending cuts over two years to ensure the government fulfils its promise of a return to surplus.
ANZ chief executive Mike Smith, an outspoken critic of the government, has said he wants as few surprises in the budget as possible. While it was important for the government to aim towards delivering a surplus, Mr Smith has questioned the timing of when that should be achieved.
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