Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Corbett warns Work Choices rollback went too far

By Business editor Peter Ryan

Reserve Bank board member Roger Corbett has warned the nation is under-taxed and labour markets are over-regulated.

Speaking to reporters after a speech to a business event in Adelaide, Mr Corbett said the Federal Government went too far when it rolled back Work Choices after the Rudd government was elected in late-2007.

Mr Corbett, who's also the chairman of Fairfax Media and a board member of the US retail giant Walmart, was very careful to say he was not advocating a return to WorkChoices.

However, he argued that a sensible balance needed to be achieved and, at the moment, employment costs are eating away at foreign investment and he wants to see a middle ground that respects both employer and worker rights.

Mr Corbett said cost overruns had already seen major resource projects shelved, with Woodside's Browse project in WA a case in point, and his comments would appear to put pressure on the Coalition to take a harder line on industrial relations in the lead up to the election.

"I think this argument of whether we're going back to WorkChoices is highly emotive and clearly very political. I think, very simply, there is a sensible balance between labour and enterprise," he argued.

"It is my judgement and view ... that has moved under the current Government a little far, and I think that needs to be corrected."

However, while Mr Corbett is calling for less labour market regulation, he is also calling for more taxation if Australians want to fund social schemes such as a national disability insurance scheme and more school funding.

"Very clearly, if we are to sustain the level of education, the Gonski report, if we are to sustain a disability provision, a facility across the nation, if we are to provide for health as we need to do so moving forward, if we are to provide other social structures that we need as a community, then very clearly we've got to pay for them, and it would appear that our current taxing base is not adequate for that purpose," he cautioned.

Mr Corbett also had a warning about the ABC in his role as Fairfax's chairman.

Like other commercial media organisations, Mr Corbett is worried about the growth and influence of public broadcasters such as the ABC.

He said restrictions needed to be placed on the ABC's taxpayer funded activities because, at the moment, commercial companies like Fairfax are finding it difficult to compete in the new digital era where traditional media models are hurting badly.

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