GREG RAY: Secret CEO business

IF you really want to know what’s in store for Australia, ask the people in charge.

Don’t waste your time listening to spin from their political puppets, who will promise anything in return for your vote. What they say doesn’t matter, since they will almost always do what their masters tell them.

Cut out the middleman: go straight to the top.

With that in mind, you could do worse than to head to Canberra for the annual International CEO Forum, a meeting that The Australian Financial Review describes as ‘‘one of the more secretive conferences on the political radar, where leading executives and politicians speak frankly in off-the-record meetings held at the Hyatt Canberra and Parliament House’’.

Apparently it’s on about now, and the transnational corporations have been laying down the law, telling the pollies what they expect over the coming year.

According to the Fin, which anybody who wants to know where the next sledgehammer will be aimed in the never-ending process of ‘‘reforming’’ Australia should read, the giganticorps are demanding that Tony Abbott fix industrial relations.

Maybe you thought industrial relations wasn’t broken, but the megacorporations know different. They are telling our politicians that unless labour gets cheaper and regulation is simplified, they will take their bats and balls and go home.

Well, not home, since they don’t have fixed homes as such. They are temporarily headquartered wherever taxes are lowest at any given time.

What they are threatening is that they will shift their investments to other countries where it’s cheaper to do business.

This is where we are all supposed to fall to the floor, tearing at our clothes and weeping, begging them to stay and promising to try harder to please them.

Luckily, we don’t have to do this ourselves. We have elected proxies to do it on our behalf, and rest assured, they will do it very well.

Just check out our PM, for example, who has been working over the past couple of weeks as a roving ambassador for energy exports, lining up with his pigeon pair in Canada to sell the gospel according to fossil fuel.

Chief executives of the most influential transnationals in Australia say they are worried about high labour costs, inflexible labour markets, low productivity, red tape and ‘‘political uncertainty’’ (whatever that is). Almost half of them claim they feel less favourably disposed towards Australia as an investment destination than they did three years ago.

The way I read it, these corporations have a script for us that doesn’t end very well.

The first part of it is that prices of everything have to rise. Because without huge profits, it isn’t worth their while to get out of bed in the morning. Electricity up. Gas up. Water? Just wait for the privatisations. House prices? Up like crazy. Insurance premiums? Through the roof. Education? Skyrocketing. Health insurance? You tell me.

They try to say the cost of living isn’t really increasing, but I pay bills and I keep records.

Show me some living costs that aren’t rising. Council rates? Going up. Petrol? Up, up, up, especially if you live in lucky-town Newcastle where your driving dollar never goes as far. GST? Shhhh! Not quite yet …

But the rulers of Australia say wages have to fall. Because without lower wages, profits won’t be big enough for the corporates to get out of bed in the morning. So they’ll nick off to Sierra Leone, or Papua New Guinea or Madagascar or Mongolia.

I would be interested to know where these corporate head honchos picture the scenario coming to rest. Whether they envision some comfortable equilibrium in the future or whether the diverging curves of rising costs and falling wages just go on and on until most people can’t afford to buy anything.

Are we supposed to arrive where the US is now, with a great swath of ‘‘working poor’’ who struggle with two or three jobs to keep body and soul together and who can’t afford to get sick or have holidays or use their heaters when it’s cold?

Is that inevitable? If so, why?

I wonder if any of our politicians will be asking the multinational CEO masters of our destinies any of these questions.

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