Employer groups say populist tendencies and union-dominated policy responses could cause business to “lose faith in the system”.
“That would basically be disastrous,” said the Australian Industry Group’s chief executive, Innes Willox.
As the government attempts to build pressure on Labor and the Senate crossbench, Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said Australia’s company tax rate had been “frozen in time for the last 16 years” and needed be cut for business to thrive.
“If you reduce tax for Australian business they can take on their global competition, you create the opportunity for more investment, more jobs and higher wages,” she said.
The warnings follow Labor’s case against the major banks, its trenchant opposition to lower company taxes, its plans to restore Sunday penalty rates, and its growing antipathy to the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland.
Mr Willox said Labor’s campaign against company tax cuts, and its plans to re-regulate the industrial relations framework, were of greatest concern.
He singled out its plan to overturn the Fair Work Commission’s ruling on Sunday penalty rates, after the case was exhaustively argued and decided, which he said, “basically puts a dagger in the heart of the IR system”.
Speaking to reporters in Parliament on Wednesday, Mr Shorten denied that blocking the company tax cut made him anti-business.
“That fairytale doesn’t have a happy ending – the government wants to say that I’m anti-business. I’m not anti-business. But I am pro-worker,” he said.
Not all business figures have expressed outright for company tax cuts. Heather Ridout, a former AIG chief executive and current Australian Super chairwoman, warned on Monday that the policy could be polarising.
“Business doesn’t want to be offside with its employees, there’s no interest,” she said on the ABC’s Q&A program.
For his part, Mr Willox said it was “transparently obvious” that Labor’s approach was being driven by the unions.
However, he said there were dangers on the conservative side also as demonstrated in last year’s Queensland state election where almost a third of voters opted for populist candidates.
“It’s pulling parts of the Coalition to the right and parts of the Labor Party to the left and the fear I have is that if that trend continues, then the centre will hollow out even more and you will have no room for bipartisanship,” he said.
Ms Westacott called for a more mature debate leading to proper tax reform. “We need a pro-growth, competitive tax system for all businesses – big and small – to stimulate investment, raise productivity and increase the wages of working Australians,” she said.
The new resolve from employers comes as even some within Labor privately question the direction and tone of policy.
A long-time Labor MP said it was clear Mr Shorten was “tilting left” in rhetoric and public questioning of the Adani project.
Another senior Labor MP criticised Labor’s approach to the March 18 byelection for the Melbourne seat of Batman.
“Rather than chasing Greens voters by suggesting Labor could formally oppose the Adani project, the party should be playing up the contrast and emphasising the ALP as a party of government that can get things done,” the MP said.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently described Mr Shorten as the most left-wing and anti-business Labor leader in generations.
In Parliament on Wednesday, he slammed Labor’s suite of policies as counter-productive.
“They’re such hopeless generals they can’t even manage a class war,” he chided.