Labor’s narrow job skills stoke concerns

The Australian, August 25, 2017

A shortage of “real-world” experience on Labor’s frontbench is fuelling concerns over a negative approach to small business and raising doubts about the party’s claim to represent the interests of its traditional “aspirational” blue-collar base.

Analysis by The Australian shows that only three Labor frontbenchers have listed experience working in small business, prompting an attack from Scott Morrison, who said Bill Shorten would treat the sector like a “giant ATM” if he won office at the next election.

Small-business groups have sounded alarms over a suite of Labor policies: reversing penalty rate cuts, reforming the treatment of trusts and increasing taxes for high-income earners. The Business Council of Australia and Council of Small Business Australia have expressed concerns Labor could unravel already legislated company tax cuts for businesses with a turnover of up to $50 million, risking Australian competitiveness and deterring investment.

The government has shifted its attack onto the Opposition Leader’s economic strategy, in an attempt­ to move the debate away from the damaging citizenship crisis­, which threatens to disqualify three ­Nationals cabinet ministers and ­irreversibly weaken Malcolm Turnbull’s authority.

A day after Finance Minister Mathias Cormann likened Mr Shorten’s policies to those of former Eastern European commun­ist countries, the Treasurer launched a scathing attack on the life experience of the opposition frontbench.

“Labor just doesn’t get small business,” Mr Morrison told The Australian. “They basically think if you are finally making money, you must be doing something dodgy.

“It’s their justification for seeing small business as a giant ATM to spend on whatever they can think of next. They’re always happy to spend the money small business have earned.

“Take a look down Labor’s frontbench: no real-world experience and no idea how to run a business and stand on your own two feet. That’s why they don’t respect those who do.” The blast from Mr Morrison came as Mr Shorten was preparing to deliver an address to the small business council’s ­annual summit in Melbourne this morning.

On the Coalition frontbench, at least 13 MPs have a small-business background, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who ran an accountancy business, and farmer Keith Pitt. Craig Laundy, Angus Taylor and David Gillesp­ie also have extensive backgrounds with small business.

In his speech to the Sydney Instit­ute on Wednesday night, Senator Cormann accused Mr Shorten of engaging in “socialist revisionism at its worst” by playing to the politics of envy and deploying the “divisive language of haves and have nots”. He said yesterday that Labor was trashing the legacy of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and taking the party back to its “failed socialist roots”.

Former prime ministers Bob Hawke and John Howard said this month both major parties needed more MPs who had experience in jobs beyond politics. “I just detest seeing a young bloke or lady go into a trade union office or a politician’s office organising their time in the branches: that’s not the way in this world, that’s not how you prepare people to represent you,” Mr Hawke said.

Opposition finance spokesman Jim Chalmers slammed Senator Cormann’s “bizarre contribution” to the national debate. He accused the government of threatening aspirational workers with its version of “trickle-down economics”. “It hasn’t worked elsewhere around the world,” Mr Chalmers said. “It isn’t working here and it’s time for a new approach. It’s time for an approach to the economy which recognises that we need economic growth to be inclusive and from the bottom up.”

Ahead of Mr Shorten’s speech today, the chief executive of the Council of Small Business Australia, Peter Strong, said his members harboured concerns about the union backgrounds of some Labor MPs. “There is the potential that they may actually dislike small business because there’s no union members in it,” Mr Strong said. He nominated the three Labor policy areas of most concern to small business owners as “trusts, penalty rates and tax”, but remained optimistic that Mr Shorten would be able to work effectively with the sector if he won office.

Opposition small business spokesman Katy Gallagher said Mr Shorten had kept the “voice of small business” at the heart of all Labor policy decisions by “keeping the small business portfolio at the shadow cabinet level, unlike Malcolm Turnbull who chose to drop it from cabinet to the outer ministry”.

Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon said he ran an auto-electrical business repairing cars and trucks for about 10 years. His wife had worked at the “small-business coalface” as a beauty therapist. “I don’t believe Labor has promoted any policy that would have adverse consequences for small business,” he said.

Labor’s assistant small-business spokeswoman Julie Owens ran an events management business for the creative arts and employed casual staff from 1994 to 2000. She accused the government of running a scare campaign.

Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop said Mr Shorten was the most left-wing Labor leader in the 50 years since Arthur Calwell led the party in 1967.