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Failure to provide a clear signal

PETER Costello’s sixth Federal Budget might have delivered little that business wasn’t already expecting, but the corporate world should not be too disappointed.

It is not the substance of the Budget that matters in this case, but the clear signal it delivers.

By largely ignoring business and concentrating on hitting a few election buttons, Mr Costello is revealing the Government’s confidence that the worst the economy can deliver is over.

Believe me, after bashing small business with GST, Mr Costello would be dishing out the pork in far more liberal doses if he believed that this important sector was likely to feel more pain by election day.

Instead, he clearly believes Australia has turned the corner.

For the survivors of the GST introduction, lower interest rates and reduced competition are set to lift business within the short-term.

Whether or not the Treasurer and his boffins can read the tea leaves accurately enough is a moot point, the mere confidence of this Budget in simply ignoring business sends a big signal to the market – which we all know operates largely on psychology more than logic.

The sweeteners to various sectors of the economy have also been well targeted. The elderly, farmers and others experiencing hardship mean any new cash will be delivered straight back into the economy.

So that’s the good news.

The bad news is this Government still relies on the ultra conservative model of leaving it to the market to dictate future investment.

Unfortunately, our competitors don’t think the same way. The fundamental lack of new industry direction means we pick up the discarded pieces left on the level playing field while our competitors steal a march in future industries.

Remember, the much hailed fast ferry industry has had federal assistance for years to help blunt the subsidies of other nations.

There is no reason why other industries of the future shouldn’t have such treatment and it is up to the Government to use the Budget to lead strategic thinking.

Peter Costello’s sixth Budget doesn’t do this.

Another one for the lawyers

DISCRIMINATION law is a sensitive subject.

Arguably it has helped push Australia out of a 1950s mentality that held back part of the economy. Alternatively, it has given teeth to political correctness and removed our culture’s most effective weapons, calling it as we see it.

Whatever, the case, business has largely accepted that the law is the law and learned to deal with it.

Now we see the possibility that discrimination against those with family responsibilities could open a whole new can of worms.

An interesting aspect of this potential new imposition is that it follows the encouragement of more flexibility in the workforce, including increased part-time and casual employment.

The new moves also reflect the growing affluence in parts of our society and the shift towards two income families.

Effectively, some people are well off enough to want to cut their workload to spend more time with their kids. Others are forced to have two incomes but can’t have two full-time workers in the house.

Whatever the case, the irony of all this is even those without family responsibilities may have a case for discrimination. For instance, people without dependent family who want to shift to part-time work like their colleagues could argue that it is discrimination if their employer resists – even if they just want to go water-skiing in their spare time.

Notch another up for the lawyers.

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