Despite a showdown looming between the business lobby and the trade union movement, in the past week they have managed to find common ground in supporting the continuiation of the current level of immigration and backing an increase in the unemployment benefit Newstart.
Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott had some pretty strong words for opponents of business last week with her organisation vowing to re-enter the public debate “Those attacking business have no realistic alternative plan to grow our economy and quite often they assume money grows on trees”.
The union movement under the leadership of ACTU Secretary Sally McManus has launched their changetherules campaign to fight causal work and independent contracting.
But now in response to a joint Treasury and Department of Home Affairs report that backed a Big Australia predicting continuing the 190,000 per year migrant figure would add 1% each year to the nation’s GDP, big business unions and migrant lobby groups have put together the National Compact on Permanent Immigration.
It is signed not just by the ACTU and the Business Council of Australia but the Australian Industry Group, United Voice Union, the Migration Council of Australia and the Australia Council of Social Services. The compact states “We affirm that Australia’s permanent migration program is essential to Australian society and our economy and do not support any reduction to the scheme”.
Signatories to the compact have outlined 10 principles they believe should form our migration policy. They agree for it to work population growth should be well managed and governments should provide the community with the “education and training, infrastructure, housing and other services needed to support growth and social cohesion”.
They believe our immigration policy should be non-discriminatory and all migrants should be free of “racism, discrimination and exploitation” and that migrants must be given support to “services that assist their capacity to build the skills and knowledge needed to chart their own future”. They also want our migration program to have “strong and bi-partisan political leadership”.
The other area of agreement business and unions have is an increase in the Newstart job seeking allowance. There has been a push for the federal government in tomorrow’s budget to raise the payment from $40 a day to $50. It has long been the position of the ACTU and Labor who if elected have promised a review into the adequacy of welfare payments.
But in response to Liberal backbencher Julia Banks claiming she could live off $40 a day Business Council CEO Jennifer Westacott added her voice to the calls to increase Newstart “We’ve got to make sure that allowance is adequate… we’ve got to make sure the programs are there, the literacy programs, the numeracy programs, that the jobs services networks are doing their jobs properly” adding that “A lot of these people are shockingly disadvantaged”.
The Turnbull Government is currently having an internal debate about whether to cut the annual immigration intake which it has already reset to 160,000 per year. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott wants the number cut to 110,000 but was rebuked by Treasurer Scott Morrison who claimed reducing immigration would cripple the budget. Whether the Turnbull Government succumbs to the pressure to increase Newstart will be revealed tomorrow in the budget.
While public opinion is divided on increasing Newstart the last Guardian/Essential poll found that 64% of Australias thought the rate of immigration over the past decade was too high. Australia Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi posted on Facebook that “When big business, big unions and big government all agree on a big Australia you know the rest of us are in big trouble and will end up paying a big price”.
Certainly, in these two contentious areas it should be the public and not the powerful interests and lobby groups who decide the policy outcome of the government.