Gillard backs off over 'threat' to business


Gillard backs off over 'threat' to business

Opposition IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, has backed away from comments that business could be 'injured' if they became propagandists for the Federal Government in the workplace debate.


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Opposition IR spokeswoman, Julia Gillard, has backed away from comments that business could be 'injured' if they became propagandists for the Federal Government in the workplace debate.

Gillard said yesterday: 'I'd be concerned if the business community got itself into the political fray. I'd be concerned if they became, if you like, propagandists for [Prime Minister John] Howard. I don't think that is a wise position for Australian business to put itself in.

'[Politics is] a contact sport, if you like, with a lot of injury. I don't think it's a wise place for Australian business to be out on the field in the fray, getting those injuries on the way through.'

When it was put to her today on ABC radio that her comments 'sound a bit alarming', Gillard replied: 'Certainly it is not my intention in any way, shape or form to alarm.'

Political contest

She said she had worked very closely with business leaders, and while many said they want to be heard on the policy debate, many others has said they are 'reluctant to get in the middle of the political contest, and I can understand that'.

She admitted that many business people had said they wanted to keep WorkChoices, but she had told them 'we won't be keeping those laws because they are not fair to Australian working families and we do want to make sure that there's fairness at work'.

Business concern

Earlier, NSW Business Chamber CEO, Kevin MacDonald, expressed concern at Gillard's comments.

'Australian businesses employ over 10.3 million people and they have a right to participate in debates about how workplaces are structured', he said. 'The debate about workplace relations is fundamental to the future of Australian businesses in an internationally competitive economy.'

He said Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, needed to clarify Gillard's comments.

'He needs to assure businesses there will not be payback from a future Rudd government against businesses who ask questions or express concerns about Labor's workplace relations strategy,' MacDonald said. 'Labor did a great deal of good work over the weekend at its Business Observers Program, creating a dialogue with business and in building sustainable relationships with the nation's business leaders — and this makes the comments by Gillard all the more surprising.

'I am very concerned by these reported comments — business, like any other community group, should be free to participate in the democratic process without undue pressure being applied from politicians.'

ACCI not intimidated

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive, Peter Hendy, said he would not be intimidated by either political party.

'We will always express our views based on our own policy,' he said.

AiG won't join political campaign

However, the Australian Industry Group (AiG) said it will not be part of a political campaign against Labor's IR policy.

Chief Executive, Heather Ridout, said the abolition of Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) would be a blow for business, but her group will not be taking sides in a political battle over industrial relations.

'We like to be credible with both sides of politics and that's a ground that we protect, that's very precious to us,' she said. 'What I am trying to do is to be an advocate for sensible policy, for rational policy, that does preserve fairness in enterprises.'

'Bully boy', tactics says Howard

Prime Minister Howard said Labor was using 'bully boy' tactics against the business community after business criticism of its new industrial relations policy.

'Gillard is threatening the business community with injury if it doesn't stay out of the industrial relations debate,' he told ABC Radio. 'This is the ugly face of the Labor Party, this is bully boy tactics.'

Hypocrisy over union funding

Howard said the comments were hypocritical because Labor accepts campaign funding from unions.

'It's apparently alright for the union movement to spend tens of millions of dollars campaigning against the government on industrial relations, that's OK, that's democracy, that's free speech,' he said. 'But if the business community dares to contemplate campaigning in support of policies that it knows are good for the Australian economy then it's threatened with retaliation by the deputy leader of the Labor Party.'


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