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Get off Gillard's back, urges Westpac chief

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Eric Johnston

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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.

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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.

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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132 comments

  • Wonder what Ms Kelly wants in return for her support, albeit misguided - nothing for nothing in their world. Labor is gone and most people know it, but taking some focus of the 'greedy' banks could be useful even in the short term.

    Commenter
    dexxter
    Location
    MELBOURNE
    Date and time
    May 08, 2012, 7:59AM
    • Perhaps Kelly's courageous and objective enough to refuse to join a lynch mob, which is enough to make her the enemy of those already in it. She also knows that our economy is one of the soundest in the world and our living standard one of the highest. Things lynch mob members aren't decent or fair minded enough to acknowledge, as for them their political party is like their football team and something they are blind followers of.

      Commenter
      rext
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 8:45AM
    • No Super Profit Tax for banks so the banks' fat cats can remain FAT.

      Commenter
      Obvious
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 8:47AM
    • 'Its pretty much official' Wespac is now off Wayne's bank bashing list.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 9:21AM
    • @rext... If that were the case, there would be no swinging voters, and we would always end up with the same result.

      I am one of many who vote for the party that makes most sense at the time. Right now, none of them do...

      Commenter
      Hanging Judge Jeffries
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 9:24AM
    • @Steveh
      " Its pretty much official" boring steve you have used it repeatedly , try and keep your post's original at least !

      Commenter
      stevec
      Location
      five dock
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 9:34AM
    • Its a fair bet west pac will not be singled out as one of the greedy banks for not passing on the full interest rate drops.

      Commenter
      Ken of Brisbane
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 9:44AM
    • "Get off Gillard's back, because I have respect for her"? That's a convincing, rational argument if ever I heard one...

      I love how Kelly accuses some "business people" of using their profile to influence politics and policy, meanwhile here she is doing exactly the same thing (with her endorsement), and in admitting to having done so from policy discussions in the past!

      So not only is she misguided, she's also a massive hypocrite.
      If she digs that hole any deeper she'll need a mining permit herself.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:10AM
    • Stevec, don't be silly, after 'we are us' I'm revelling in Labor's new found rhetorical eloquence. It proves Wayne is more than just a pretty face, and look steve, its got an extra word in it, that means its not just a 'three word slogan'!

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 10:40AM
    • @ Dave

      So for a bystander to say "stop kicking somebody in the teeth, they don't deserve that treatment" is to indulge in hypocrisy, is it?

      Fool!

      Commenter
      BillR
      Date and time
      May 08, 2012, 11:16AM

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