Opinion Pieces

Labor beholden to the unions, not the people

Labor beholden to the Unions, not the People

The Australian | November 29, 2019

Rather than heed the lessons of their own post-election review, Labor is sticking with their anti-business policies, which are being written by other people.

One of the biggest problems Labor figures identified in their election loss were the changes to dividend imputation.

Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said: “I doubt franking credits have much of a future in the Labor Party.”

Former leader Bill Shorten said: “We misread the mood about franking credits. In hindsight there were a lot of people who felt vulnerable.”

Where did this disastrous tax come from? It was written by the industry super funds for their own commercial purposes and adopted by Labor.

During the election, several industry funds bragged that they would be exempt from the new tax if Labor won.

AustralianSuper said the imputation changes would have “no material impact on net investment returns”. It was all about growing market share for industry super funds.

The lesson is simple: don’t let other people write your policies.

Despite all the bluster about the policy review, Labor is still allowing unions and third parties to do so.

There are three current examples in the economic policy space where this is happening: trade, superannuation and corporate governance.

Firstly, unions are forcing Labor to keep opposing a clause in many Australian trade and investment agreements known as Investor State Dispute Settlement.

ISDS is simply a mechanism to resolve investment disputes that has been a feature of our international obligations since 1988.

ISDS drives investment by ensuring there is a clearly agreed legal process. No health, social, labour or environmental law has ever been compromised as a result of ISDS.

Having sat through public hearings on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, I know that the only groups that don’t like ISDS are unions.

Unions don’t like ISDS because they don’t like trade deals. Effectively they are protectionists.

They use ISDS as a fig leaf to hide their protectionism.

The ACTU says it “has a consistent position that ISDS clauses are a restriction on national sovereignty and the ability of governments to regulate in the public interest and impose an unnecessary cost burden on Australian taxpayers”.

Yet the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Labor’s ISDS policy “would risk undermining a key element of our comprehensive strategic partnership and ­delaying the benefits of (trade deals) to Australian farmers and businesses”.

This is still Labor’s view. Labor’s representatives on JSCOT are obsessed with ISDS. Hansard shows it dominates their questioning of witnesses.

While Labor might wave through trade deals when we are in office, their stated position is to reopen almost 30 different trade and investment agreements to try and excise ISDS.

This would be totally unworkable for ministers dealing with our global partners. But it shows how hard Labor works for its owners.

Secondly, Labor is opposing an amnesty designed to reunite workers with their lost super. We have legislation before parliament which Labor opposes — in line again with the policies of the industry super funds.

Put simply, this legislation would provide business, mainly SMEs, with an amnesty from their confusing super guarantee obligations going back 25 years. It will thereby provide workers with their unpaid super.

The amnesty has been requested by small business and represents the only genuine chance of chasing down previously unpaid super for workers.

Repeat: there is no other way to get the lost super back into the clutches of the workers.

Labor claims to be the party of super but it is developing a pattern of being against more super through their dividend imputation proposal and opposition to the amnesty.

Thirdly, Labor opposes the Ensuring Integrity Bill before parliament. Why on earth would anyone be against a stronger accountability regime for key institutions in our community?

Given the anger people feel about Westpac, how could anyone argue for lower corporate governance standards?

We clearly have a problem with corporate conduct in Australia — whether we are talking about banks or unions.

Court fines issued to the CFMEU of more than $16.5m have had no impact and are clearly viewed by the union as speeding tickets.

Unions occupy a privileged position in Australia. They have a monopoly on representation of workers in industry sectors.

They are resisting tougher laws we have already put in place for banks which are much stronger than we propose for unions and employer groups.

For example, maximum civil penalties under the Bank Executive Accountability Regime (BEAR) are $210m for large banks, $52.5m for medium-sized banks and $10.5m for small banks.

Under the BEAR, individuals can be disqualified, have their pay reduced, face civil penalties of $1m and face criminal penalties of up to 15 years’ jail.

Yet under the Ensuring Integrity Bill, the penalties extend to $21,000 or two years’ imprisonment.

Labor says no to this as well. You have to wonder whose side they are on.

Andrew Bragg is a Liberal senator for NSW.

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