Annual trip to Canberra

A delegation of Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) board and senior directors met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and other high-ranking political figures in Canberra last week to urge all sides of politics to pursue productivity-enhancing reforms.

The group went to the capital ahead of the release of the 2017 Blueprint for Growth, the AICD’s annual publication that outlines our reform priorities.

In addition to the Prime Minister, the delegation met with senior members of the cabinet and shadow cabinet, including Treasurer Scott Morrison, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen. The meetings and the relationships strengthened by the delegation have laid the groundwork for a period of intense advocacy of the Blueprint agenda in coming months.

The AICD outlined its desire to see holistic tax reform, not piecemeal changes.

Over two days the AICD engaged with almost 30 parliamentarians on key issues, including fiscal sustainability, tax reform, infrastructure investment, shifting to four-year parliamentary terms and director liability.

We met with representatives from across the full political spectrum. Given the importance of the crossbench in passing legislation, the delegation had meetings with Nick Xenophon, the One Nation team and the Greens, as well as members of the major parties.

We also connected with other influential figures, including the acting US Ambassador, James Carouso, and the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Stephen Kennedy.

Reform discussions

With a challenging climate in Parliament, and an active crossbench made up of significant blocs, the environment was right to discuss the need for robust policy debate, and the need to govern for the long term. Discussion with many parliamentarians contained an element of reflection upon earlier days when significant reform seemed to be more easily achieved. Partisanship, and loyalty to electorates runs fierce and deep in the 45th Parliament, making it difficult for the Coalition to negotiate its way through contested reforms.

Energy dominated debate among the most senior parliamentarians as Australia grapples with supply shortages. The Prime Minister demonstrated to the delegation his intricate knowledge of energy pricing and market strategy.

The delegation included senior directors from the energy and mining sectors which allowed for strong, meaningful discussion on the issue.

Tax reform also captured the minds of delegates and parliamentarians, as the government approached final negotiations over its flagship Enterprise Tax Plan Bill.

The AICD outlined its desire to see holistic tax reform, not mere piecemeal changes, and the need to take the broader community along the journey of reform.

Parliamentarians urged delegates to see the need for business to step up in demonstrating to the community its contribution in terms of jobs and economic stimulus.

We highlighted the need to attract foreign investment into the nation while balancing this with the impassioned views of the electorate – especially in regard to fairness, and business’ social licence to operate.

Parliamentarians urged delegates to see the need for business to step up in demonstrating to the community its contribution in terms of jobs and economic stimulus. This was acknowledged by the group.

On government spending, we urged parliamentarians to make the important distinction between good and bad debt. Now may be the best time to borrow to invest in productive infrastructure. This message was warmly received by all, notably though by the Treasurer, and both the Infrastructure Minister, Darren Chester, and the Shadow Minister Anthony Albanese.

Future engagement

We found ourselves in the last sitting period before the Federal Budget is handed down. The government is now working at length to get particular finance and tax measures through both houses prior to Budget night. The Senate, while we were in Canberra, sat into the early morning.

The delegation held dinner engagements with up-and-coming members of the Coalition and Labor party. These parliamentarians are talented individuals – future cabinet contenders – looking to work with business leaders to achieve reform. The Labor team demonstrated they have the passion and skills needed to make a significant contribution to reform over the coming years.

The relationships with up-and-comers on all sides will be nurtured by the AICD as it strives to support good governance in Canberra into the future.

The AICD sees this as an important time to be taking our messages to the most influential decision-makers in Parliament. We noted a strong desire from all participants for further engagement, and to continue the delegation program in the coming years.