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Election Panel

BOTH major parties contesting the November 10 Federal election appear to have paid only lip service to the concerns of business, according to the special election panel put together by Business News. Following is an abridged version of the responses from some of the major business organisations in WA.

The full version of their views can be viewed at www.businessnews.com.au



CCI



LIKE many elections past, this one has become little more than a bidding war between the major parties to see who can buy the most votes with the voters' own money.



Where is the debate we should be having about a fundamental security issue? I don't mean the Taliban, or the boat people. I mean Australia's economic security.



All the politicians'arguments about failed airlines, funding universities, flicking Telstra or fixing Medicare have mostly ignored the challenges we face in today's tough global scene to protect the competitiveness of the Australian economy and its capacity to go on generating jobs and taxes.



The focus on reform that got Australia through the 90s in good shape has faded. While the real economic issues remain unspoken, they await the winners of the November 10 popularity contest nevetheless.



Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA chief executive Lyndon Rowe



Master Builders Association



BOTH major parties appear committed to the contribution of a prosperous

housing sector.



The Liberal Party's commitment to an extension of the First Home Owners

Scheme beyond December 2001 has been largely matched by the ALP. This

scheme has underpinned economic recovery in the last nine months and its

continuance will ensure a healthy housing sector until mid 2002.



Housing affordability appears to be a high priority for both parties. The

last five years of Liberal government have been a period of low interest

rates and sound economic performance, essential ingredients for a healthy

housing sector.



The ALP's plan to develop a National Housing Strategy, including public and

private sector partnerships, may introduce new ways to improve affordability

and extend home ownership.



Industrial relations is a major area of difference between the political

parties, with the ALP proposing a return to a more centralised IR system

rather than the current deregulated labour market model. The fear amongst

many employers is that a federal Labor government will introduce a range of

IR "reforms" which will result in excessive union power and a deteriorating

economic climate. Should sufficient deterrents against irresponsible union

actions not be in place, it will cause major problems for the building

industry.



Master Builder’s Association of WA director Michael McLean



CPA Australia



Tax Reform



A CLEAR difference between the parties has been the ALP’s commitment to roll back the GST, while the Liberals have ruled out any exemptions.



Mr Judge said that across the board, the roll back proposal should not substantially increase compliance in workloads.



"Obviously the workload will be greater for the specific industries affected, for example the gas and electricity companies."



However CPA Australia warns against further narrowing of the GST base.



"One of the key reasons behind the new tax system and the GST was to simplify the multitude of other taxes such as the wholesale sales tax, FID, BAD, stamp duties, amongst others. If not done carefully, exemptions have the potential to undermine this objective."



In contrast, the Liberals have placed considerable focus on the international competitiveness of Australia’s tax system for both companies and the individuals they employ.



Improving our international competitiveness is essential according to CPA Australia, who welcomed last year’s reduction in company income tax rates to 30 percent.



"However lowering company tax rates has introduced a bigger gap between company and personal income tax rates and this disparity must be addressed," said Mr Judge.



SUPERANNUATION



According to Mr Judge, Australia’s superannuation system is showing the effects of ongoing ad hoc reforms, " It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast and certainly in need of a comprehensive review."



To this end, CPA Australia has been pleased to note the ALP has committed to a comprehensive review and the Liberal’s have agreed to ‘have a look’ at superannuation during a third term.



CPA Australia (WA) president Kevin Judge



WA Independent Grocers Association



THE policies of Liberal, Labor and Democrats, implicitly recognise that small business is now an endangered species threatened by the cost and complexity of taxation compliance and the unfettered power of major national and multi-national corporations.



Labor’s pledge to simplify the BAS is a step in the right direction, as are moves by the Democrats and Liberals to review or strengthen the Trade Practices Act. The Democrats’ backing for a pro-small business National Competition Policy, managed trading hours and a toughening of TPA legislation in areas like excessive market power, predatory pricing and unconscionable conduct are commendable.



WA Independent Grocers Association president John Cummings



Motor Trades Association of WA



SMALL business has not been a major focus for the major parties during the election campaign. As a consequence small business issues have been lost in major policy statements relating to illegal immigrants, the war against terrorism, aged care, education and the environment.



Small business owners have every right to feel disappointed. They represent 85% of all business in Australia and many feel that the major parties do not have any clear understanding or policies that will significantly improve their business environment.



What political parties fail to understand is that small business owners and their employees have the capacity to turn an election result. Any political party that ignores this does so at its peril.



Where small business matters have been addressed, for example, when the Prime Minister announced a review of the Trade Practices Act and the appointment of a tax inspector, whilst commendable initiatives in themselves, they are very short on detail.



Both parties have referred to simplifying the BAS and to reducing business red tape and whilst important, these are only superficial problems that are facing small business at the present time. Whilst they are problems caused by Canberra and need to be fixed, they show no understanding of the wider issues.



Nationally, the Motor Trades Association has adopted a 10 point Charter of Small Business Fairness with a comprehensive document that spells out the areas in which the Trade Practices Act and the operations of the ACCC require substantial review and amendment if small business is to survive in the so called "new economy". Whilst big business is free to merge and acquire new companies, small business, unlike the trade unions, are prohibited under the Trade Practices Act from any form of collective bargaining. This has left small business in a straight jacket and at the mercy of large corporate that now focus more on bottom line profit than on previous business loyalties. The motor industry nationally has been putting this position to candidates in all of the major parties and will vigorously pursue a major reform plan for small business centred around the Small Business Charter with whatever party gains office on 10th November.



Motor Trades Association of WA executive director Peter Fitzpatrick



WAFarmers



THE Western Australian Farmers Federation (WAFarmers) believes the polices presented so far by the major political parties in the lead up to the November 10 Federal Election have concentrated mainly on social and domestic issues, with no policies specifically addressing agriculture.



WAFarmers election priorities are property rights, education, amending the exceptional circumstances criteria, health, transport, tax reform, quarantine and vet services, supermarket pricing, National Competition Policy, trade, succession planning, industrial relations, greenhouse and telecommunications.



WAFarmers acknowledges with the Coalition Government’s commitment to adequately compensate landholders for any loss of earnings or value on their holding, if reduced by Commonwealth legislation such as its Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.



WAFarmers believes this compensation must also apply to loss of water rights.



The Coalition Government has also extended the Diesel Fuel Grant Scheme for an additional 12 months.



WAFarmers estimates that the loss of this grant would cost farmers $500 million per year.



The Coalition needs to be more cautious with World Trade Organisation agreements, to ensure the freeing up of world trade does not disadvantage Australian farmers.



Our beef producers, lamb producers and wineries need access to the US market, however, Australian farmers don’t want to loose their single desk for export grain or compromise strict quarantine controls.



The Federal Government has also increased its funding of quarantine services to keep Foot and Mouth Disease and other pests out of Australia.



The Coalition and the ALP are yet to tackle the problem of the major supermarkets dominating the food retail business.



Only the Democrats have moved to solve this by promising to hold an enquiry into food prices in Australia.



The ALP’s proposal to set up a Regional Service Commission is welcomed, but it will need to cover agricultural towns as well and not be limited to regional centres.



The ALP must give a commitment to upgrade rural telecommunication services and mobile phone services and speed of repair in rural areas. Quality of service and price is a must for rural people.



WAFarmers will continue to monitor the policies of each party to ensure rural peoples’ needs are considered.



WAFarmers president Colin Nicholl



Chamber of Minerals & Energy



THE minerals and energy industry is the quiet achiever of the Australian economy, and has been rewarded, in the context of the Federal election campaign with low key responses from both major parties.



Yet there are two issues in this campaign that have the potential to cause significant heartache for the industry.



While the intention behind the Kyoto Protocol is appreciated, the Chamber argues that without developing nations, its ratification would harm the Australian minerals and energy industry, while still failing to address meaningfully the greenhouse issue.



The second key issue is workplace relations. Mining companies in Western Australia are seeing the lowest levels of industrial disputes and the highest levels of pay and productivity in a decade. Returning to a regulated industrial climate would endanger these gains.



The end result of these policy positions is likely to be job cuts, particularly in regional Western Australia.



The minerals and energy industry is committed to the highest standards of workplace safety, environmental management and community support. It looks to all of the parties contesting the current Federal election to consider how they might support the quiet achiever of the Australian economy.



Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive officer Tim Shanahan

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