Leadership, tax cuts top business leaders’ wish lists for 2018

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford at an Institute of Company Directors lunch in Melbourne today. Picture by Wayne Taylor 14th November 2017. AFR. AFR. Pic of Lindsay Maxsted chairman of Transurban at the Infrastructure Partnership Conference held at the Four Seasons in Sydney. Pic by Nic Walker. Date 18th october 2013.

An end to squabbling in Canberra, and corporate tax cuts to ensure stays an attractive investment destination, are business leaders’ top issues for 2018.

But corporate heads who gathered at the Victorian seaside town Sorrento on Wednesday for KPMG’s annual Couta Boats Classic acknowledged that the corporate community needed to win the public’s support if politicians are to back business-friendly legislation.

After taking out line honours on the boat Bella, Macquarie director Patricia Cross told Fairfax Media the biggest issue globally was how to stabilise 2017’s growth and “make hay” while the sun shone on the economy.

At home, she hoped for an end to political partisanship, and corporate tax cuts to keep pace with the United States, after President Donald Trump late last month secured support to slash the rate there from 35 per cent to 21 per cent.

is lowering its rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent for small businesses, but Malcolm Turnbull’s government has not been able pass cuts for companies with more than $50 million in turnover.

“The wider the gaps gets between a country like and the US… the less attractive is in terms of investment,” Ms Cross said.

“You want companies to invest here, you want them to pay tax here, you want them to employ people and create opportunities.”

Ms Cross said business had “a lot of work” to do closing the disconnect between corporate and mainstream in order to win support for such measures.

“When the economy’s good the disconnect narrows, and that’s the time you do really need to get serious about what your longer term agenda is,” she said.

Westpac chairman Lindsay Maxsted agreed, saying politicians were reluctant to support business-friendly policies when negative public sentiment was being stoked by issues that have lead to the banking royal commission.

“Our objective as big business ought to be to get across to the community, who then will influence the politicians, and then to go to the issues we want addressed,” Mr Maxsted said.

Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford said the community expected a more mature political debate in Canberra, and “rather than one-line grabs, comprehensive statements from both sides of politics about what their policies are and how they’re going to impact on growth and jobs.”

The former Rio Tinto CEO said he was sick of hearing the business community called “the big end of town”.

“Most ns, through their super funds, own the big end of town. They’re the ones that employ a lot of people and pay a lot of taxes.”

Deutsche Bank vice chairman, former ABC director, and chair of the federal government’s $10 billion green energy agency Steven Skala said he expected a positive year for business, “as long as nothing existential occurs that causes the market to collapse”.

Former Post CEO and now non-executive chairman of packaging group, Pro Pac, Ahmed Fahour, said the national debate had been captured by important but short-term issues, such as the tax rates and energy security, at the expense of long-term issues like building infrastructure to support an export economy.

“When in the last 12 months was national conversation about how we participate in the Asian Century?” Mr Fahour asked.

Peter Yates, deputy chairman of the Myer Family Company, decried Canberra’s inability to “make decisions for the benefit of the entire community, as opposed to making decisions for some small part of the community that has excess power”.

KPMG chairman Alison Kitchen said 2018 would be defined by the digitisation of business, an unstable geopolitical environment, consumers that are both empowered and under pressure from stagnant wage growth, and higher utility prices.

“They’ve got to do more with less,” she said. “So they will shop around more, and so they are more sensitive to different pricing – they’ll try online models, they’ll try different models.”

“If you go to the energy customers and look at their churn rates, they’ve probably all ticked up quite significantly.”No #yachtbanter this year

JB Hi-FI CEO Richard Murray, who was the subject of social media ridicule after last year’s race, with netizens using the hashtag “Yacht Banter” to criticise the apparent tone-deafness of high-paid executives calling for cuts to Sunday penalty rates while boat racing, declined to comment after he “had so much fun last year”.

Fellow retail CEO Richard Umbers, of the under-siege department store Myer, took part in the race but also decline to talk to journalists.

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