NAB boss ‘a wee bit surprised’ by Dutton’s estrangement from big business

The head of a big four bank has reacted with surprise about new Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s declaration of estrangement from big business, saying it didn’t square with his recent experience of the Coalition government.

In his first official press conference as Liberal leader, Dutton on Monday said the party had become estranged from big business as he pitched his political allegiance to smaller, suburban operators in Australia’s economic landscape.

“All I want to do is to make sure that we don’t forget about those in the suburbs, and I do think they are the forgotten people,” Dutton said yesterday.

“I do think those people and small businesses and micro-businesses feel the system is against them, and I want to be a voice for them and make sure we can help them, see their businesses grow into big businesses.

“I think the Liberal Party in recent years has become quite estranged from big business and I want to focus on small business.”

National Australia Bank chief executive Ross McEwan said he was “a wee bit surprised” at Dutton’s comments, given his rapport with former treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

National Australia Bank chief executive Ross McEwan said he was “a wee bit surprised” by Dutton’s comments.Credit:Louis Douvis

“We’ve had, I think, a very good relationship with Josh Frydenberg, who was open [to] taking a telephone call at any time of the day or night, and if he wasn’t available, he’d always ring you back,” McEwan said.

McEwan said NAB had stayed in contact with Labor Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who he said would do a “fine job”.

“I’m not sure where that commentary came from. From my perspective, we’re open to talking to anybody and we will participate with any government, as we’ve shown in the past,” McEwan said.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry reacted similarly, with its chief executive Andrew McKellar saying he would continue to work with both sides of politics.

“Of course, business supports an active agenda for reform, including changes to taxation, skills and industrial relations policy, in addition to the sustainability, digitalisation and other means to boost productivity,” McKellar said.

CEO Innes Willox said Ai Group would work with the federal opposition.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox said his organisation would work with the federal opposition “in the interests of all employers”.

“In a modern economy in which all businesses are linked in often complex ecosystems and supply chains, there are substantial areas of common interest,” Willox said.

The business community has presented a united front in calling for both the former and current governments to reform enterprise bargaining laws, with employer groups last week foreshadowing they wanted changes to the better-off-overall test (BOOT) on the negotiating table during Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s employment summit.

The BOOT – a key workplace system safeguard that ensures workers don’t go backwards during pay negotiations – requires each individual worker to be better off under the terms of any new enterprise agreement than under the industry award for it to be passed.

Former industrial relations minister Michaelia Cash last month ruled out changes to the BOOT, despite employer groups pursuing revisions that would allow enterprise bargaining agreements to be ratified if they have majority workforce backing, and the scrapping of entitlements deemed unnecessary for most workers.

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