Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Elizabeth Proust warns - quotas an option to force more women into boardrooms

One of Australia's top company directors is warning that quotas might be needed to get more women into Australian corporate boardrooms.

Elizabeth Proust, who was today appointed chairman of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), has set 2018 as the deadline for 30 percent of board positions in the nation's top 200 companies to be filled by women.

Ms Proust - well known in corporate Australia as chairman of Bank of Melbourne and Nestle` Australia - says quotas could be justified to force male-dominated boards to change with the times.

"Until recently the policy of the AICD has not been to support quotas. But we've softened that in recent times to say if we don't meet our target of 30 percent by 2019 that everything will be on the table, including quotas," Ms Proust told the ABC's "AM" program.

"The message to companies is that if they don't act then it's likely to be government legislation which will mandate it and they'll have to do it.

"It's always better to do these things of your own volition rather than having it forced on you by government."

Ms Proust, who in the past has opposed quotas, admits the sluggish pace of change in corporate Australia has forced her to take a more aggressive stance.

"When I started my career all those years ago I suspect the thought of having this conversation would be a sad event," Ms Proust told AM.

"I thought we would have made much more progress but there are still boards I've been on where I've been the only women and in some cases boards with no women at all."

Ms Proust's comments add to criticisms that while most listed companies have policies on boardroom diversity, some are yet to take them "off the shelf" and put them into action.

Last month, the federal government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency warned that many company bosses still fail to implement policies on pay equality and family friendly work patterns.

The agency said that in addition to taking home a smaller pay packet, women who break through the glass ceiling into management are not getting the part time work opportunities they might have fought for in the past.

In addition to her chairman roles, Elizabeth Proust has held senior corporate and government positions at ANZ Bank, BP, the City of Melbourne and is a former secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in Victoria.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

It was a beautiful boom. But temporary boom, permanent promises" Chris Richardson on MYEFO challenge

Today's midyear economic update is set to confirm the harsh truth that the financial bonanza from the mining boom is not just fading - but over.

But how well have consecutive governments, both Labor and Coalition, managed expectations that booms eventually end and more often than not become a bust?

The answer is "not so well" according high profile economist Chris Richardson, a former Treasury official and partner at Deloitte Access Economics.

He argues that despite the evidence from Treasurers and regular warnings from the Reserve Bank that the investment phase of the boom was in transition, few people have been listening.

"Ordinary Australians don't get it. Temporary boom, permanent promises," Chris Richardson told RN Breakfast this morning.

"It was a beautiful boom. The biggest beneficiary was never the miners - it was the budget.

"As a nation we took it and we made the oldest mistake - we pretended it was permanent. We spent it on family benefits, baby bonuses and tax cuts.

"Now that boom is gone and we've got to pay for those permanent promises."

Like real estate prices in Sydney and Melbourne which went to the point of becoming a bubble, Chris Richardson says Australians and some politicians were deluded into thinking that prices would keep rising.

Instead, Treasurer Scott Morrison is now playing a game of catching a falling knife as the iron ore price falls from the US$48 a tonne projected in the May budget to today's level of US$37.50.

So given the collapsing revenue from mining, what chance does Chris Richardson see of the budget returning to surplus by 2020?

"Not the faintest hope," Chris Richardson says.

"Look, the Senate could pass everything before it right now. The states could stop arguing the toss over the 2014 cuts that they had and you still wouldn't get close to surplus."

Scott Morrison will be putting his signature on economic forecasts against a backdrop of slowing growth and evidence that the transition away from mining is sluggish.

And while talk of a recession is being discounted, Chris Richardson warns that after around 25 years of unbroken economic expansion a downturn is inevitable.

"At some stage down the track Australia will face a recession. And you want the Treasurer of the day to have sufficient confidence that the budget is good shape and that we use it as a shield to defend against that recession."