Bosses have blasted a union push to install representatives to a new rate-setting board of the nation’s central bank.
The criticism follows the successful motion by CFMEU construction division secretary Zach Smith to amend the party’s policy manifesto on the final day of the ALP national conference on Saturday.
Under the changes to the ALP platform, Labor will “consider” appointing board members to the Reserve Bank with a variety of skills and industry experiences, “including worker representatives.”
But Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) chief executive, Andrew McKellar, slammed the move as a “try-on” by a “radical division” of the union movement that risked undermining the recent reforms to the Reserve Bank.
“I don’t think the proposal that comes from the construction division of the CFMEU in this regard has any credibility whatsoever,” Mr McKellar said.
“I don’t think that the purpose of the reforms which have been recommended and accepted by the government, is that then the board of the Reserve Bank begins to be stacked by radical elements within the union movement.
With Treasurer Jim Chalmers set to appoint up to six new members to the bank’s rate-setting board when it is established in 2024, the ACCI head also cautioned the government to appoint individuals with deep expertise in monetary economics and monetary policy, rather than union officials.
“Business is hopeful that the government will put in place an appropriate selection process for those positions,” Mr McKellar said.
Earlier this year, Treasurer Jim Chalmers announced the appointment of Dexus and Telstra non-executive director Elana Rubin and former Fair Work Commission head Iain Ross as additions to the Reserve Bank board to replace outgoing board members Wendy Craik and Mark Barnaba. Both new appointees were previously ACTU officials.
However, the CFMEU’s push to bolster employee representation on the Reserve Bank board is not shared across the union movement more broadly.
In April, ACTU secretary Sally McManus opposed the appointment of an ACTU official to the board, arguing that the peak union body wanted “to maintain our independent voice in terms of being able to criticise decisions and thinking if necessary”.
“Obviously you’ve got different obligations if you’re also then sitting on the board, so we didn’t want to have that conflict.”
“As long as the government has people there that can fill that skills gap, which really is about understanding in a deep way how wages work in Australia, you know, we’re very happy with that, and that’s what they’ve done,” she said.
With Australian workers now facing three years of real wage cuts, the RBA’s view that high wage growth risks entrenching inflation and inflationary expectations has come under fire from unions and other progressive quarters since the bank began hiking interest rates in May 2022.
The CFMEU’s push follows the release of the first external review of the central bank in 40 years, which ordered a sweeping overhaul of the RBA and its performance in setting monetary policy.
Its recommendations, which were adopted in full by the government, include an additional board solely focussed on interest rate-setting, a reduced meeting schedule, and mandated press conferences following each meeting.
The appointment of worker representatives to the RBA board is not without precedent. In the mid-1990s, then-ACTU secretary Bill Kelty served as a board member.
NCA NewsWire has contacted the CFMEU for comment.