Consult Australia, which represents some 48,000 firms and 240,0000 employees in the built and natural environment, has a very clear six-point action plan for government in the lead-up to the September election.
The policy priorities they have been advocating across the political spectrum include a new deal for urban Australia; an urban infrastructure fund; a procurement centre of excellence; an engineering education and training incentive; more flexible childcare; and greater support of small business.
“Building on our economic and industry strengths and with a new approach Consult Australia believes that if realised, these six priority areas will: deliver a new productivity dividend; drive efficiency and value for money for tax-payers; improve workforce participation; and support advanced professional services across the economy,” said Consult Australia CEO Megan Motto.
With more than 80 per cent of Australia’s population living in cities that collectively generate over 80 per cent of the country's economic wealth, Australians are demanding more liveable cities and urban centres that better reflect the way they want to live both now and in the future.
Better governance is needed for better cities, Motto said.
“Through the Urban Coalition comprised of 10 leading industry bodies, we have advocated for a New Deal for Urban Australia – including a Federal Minister for Cities and Urban Development, and an expanded focus and additional resources for Infrastructure Australia," she noted.
“Similarly through the Coalition we have called for the establishment of an Urban Infrastructure Fund, which would provide attractive seed finance to qualifying projects that meet criteria set by COAG in the form of local community infrastructure.”
Delivering better value-for-money outcomes is also critical for Consult Australia. Highlighting the staggering fact that the Australian Government spent nearly $42 billion across some 82,000 contracts valued over $10,000 in 2011-12, Consult Australia has called for the establishment of an independent Procurement Centre of Excellence aimed at reducing persistent deficiencies in procurement skills and practices across government.
The organisation's fourth recommendation is the establishment of an Engineering Education and Training Incentive.
“Over the last decade we have seen market failures lead to a decline in training in the workplace that is only now being felt and requires greater attention,” Motto said.
In more general business terms, both maximising workforce diversity and inclusion and giving greater support to smaller business are critical according to Consult Australia.
“Consult Australia advocates for more flexible childcare by establishing a new tipping point at which parents are financially encouraged to re-enter the workforce based on their use of a wider range of child care options,” Motto said.
She added that less red tape and a simplified tax system will help small firms.
“Equally, a strong deregulatory agenda will yield enormous productivity benefits where it focuses on smaller firms," she said. "With over two million small businesses in Australia employing over seven million people, the opportunity to supercharge our economy through small business is enormous.”
In terms of other current government policy, Consult Australia is keen to see the repeal of recent reforms requiring Labour Market Testing (LMT) for engineers being recruited through the temporary work (skilled) 457 visa program.
“We have shown both sides of government hard evidence that our industry employs 457 workers only to offset local skills shortages and not in order to bypass domestic professionals," Motto said. "For an industry that uses the program effectively, the reforms will add an unnecessary burden; resulting in infrastructure project delays as firms struggle to procure skills, and will disrupt the flow of work for Australian engineers."
Irrespective of who is elected on September 7, Motto says their priority should be on bringing about genuine and open dialogue with the business community.
“As the recent 457 visa debate and the Scrap the Cap campaign on the proposed deductions to self-education expenses shows – short-sighted decisions made on the fly is no way to bring about change," she said. "An open ear to business and proper consultation will see the development of more sound and considered policy which is of greater benefit to the business and wider Australian community.”
“If given this ear by government, Consult Australia would advocate for a greater focus on long-term planning from our leaders. Through this we would see an increased focus on infrastructure by securing a long-term pipeline of work, supported by increased long-term funding lasting across political cycles.”