Former BHP boss slams productivity

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Former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus has joined the chorus of big-business figures calling for deregulation of workplace laws to promote higher productivity.

Addressing a mining conference in Perth yesterday, Argus said Australia’s productivity growth was “woeful and needs needs urgent attention.”

Argus was involved in the reshape of Labor’s mining tax, and said Australia’s relatively sound financial position was due to the reforms of previous governments.

He said the current Government had a responsibility to build on these reforms.

“Instead of basking in how good things are right now in Australia, we need to ask the more important question of whether decisions taken today by our politicians will put Australia in a sound position a decade hence,” he said.

“On that score, I fear we are found wanting.”

Argus said the Fair Work Act, Labor’s replacement of WorkChoices, had seen workplace flexibility go backwards.

He said Labor’s laws discouraged individual agreements and promoted what he labelled “collectivism and union involvement”.

But he said WorkChoices was “still deemed to be less flexible” than the labour market in other countries.

The Government is ruling out a return to individual contracts, but Argus’s call was echoed at a Sydney forum yesterday by Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Peter Anderson.

In his address Anderson also took a shot at the mining tax and carbon tax.

But yesterday Prime Minister Julia Gillard received praise from European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso for pricing carbon.

Barroso said climate change was a “global problem” and the Government’s policy was an important step towards a global carbon scheme.

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