The election draws closer and the prospect of an ALP win grows ever more real. The combination of the Liberal attack on the union affiliation of the ALP and a misinformed media is drawing attention to the question of how business can work with the ALP.
Jennifer Hewett in The Australian has attempted to describe the Labor party front bench as business friendly (Conservative Kev and worldly Wayne will keep the radicals under control 12 Sept, 2007), but in doing so has undersold the ALP frontbench and, presumably unwittingly, spread untruths about at least one of them.
First it should be understood that the Howard Government itself is not really a business friendly Government. In fact it is a big business friendly Government, and in this regard is looking more like the discredited United Australia Party than the “broad church” Liberal Party that Menzies created.
When business approaches Ministers the first thing we seek is understanding, because our interests are seldom well aligned to any philosophical stance. In this regard the ALP front bench is often better equipped than the coalition. Individuals with a predominant experience in industrial advocacy in my experience tend to understand the real business world better than a group of lawyers, even if those lawyers had a practice in commercial law.
In that regard the ALP front bench is more experienced and “business friendly” than the incoming coalition front bench of 1996. And let there be no mistake the ALP fully understands the relationship between a healthy economy and the need to do “good things”. This is a point understood as well by the left as the right of the ALP, no matter how hard the Hewett’s of the world try to draw comfort from the fact that Rudd and Swan are of the right. The only risk to that would be to continue to deny the ALP the opportunity to govern until we again encountered a wave of frustrated neophytes like we did in 1972.
On the specifics, Hewett claimed “[Lindsay] Tanner put many people off while as shadow telecommunications (sic) spokesman”. As the Head of Regulatory Affairs at one of Australia’s leading telcos in that period I can assure everyone that Tanner did, like every Minister and shadow, put Telstra “off”, but the industry as a whole saw a spokesman willing to grapple with issues and advance policy positions in the interests of all Australians. I believe the media industries that he also was dealing with as communications spokesperson shared the same view.
Of course, we are all at times disappointed that a Minister or shadow might not decide to pursue the course we individually promote. But the way you judge the person is whether your views were heard and considered. The only gripe I had with Tanner was when he “went soft” on the structural separation of Telstra on the verge of a House of Representatives inquiry called by then Minister Alston and subsequently abandoned. I believe Telstra on the other hand had been mightily “put off” that Tanner had advanced the option at all.