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Industry Minister comments on the need for increased investment activity in the private sector

PETER THOMPSON: The unemployment rate was down yesterday, although as Bill Mansfield said that doesn't mean that new jobs were created. Now, in the wake of the hopeful Coles Myer initiative, we're joined by the Federal Minister for Industry, Alan Griffiths, and to talk to him, Michael Brissenden.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, Mr Griffiths, do you agree that there has been a lack of leadership in Australian business?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I think Mr Bartels is in a very good position to make comments on that matter. Rather than criticise business, rather my approach would be to suggest to our corporate leaders that the time has come for them to consider, and very deeply, the sentiments expressed by Mr Bartels. It is my considered view, having spoken to now numerous of our corporate leaders over the past few months, that we are on the cusp of, you know, something very big, very exciting in this country. The missing link, of course, as indicated by one of your previous interviewees, is the private investment, the lack of private investment.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Well, isn't that the point, though? The reality at the moment is that while Coles Myer's intentions are admirable, the spending strength just isn't there in the economy to support a great rush of activity at the moment.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, most of our large corporates have, in fact, been repairing their books. Their profit levels have been strong and most of them are well into that repair phase. We're not going back into the eighties. It's no good, in my view, criticising people for what they may or may not have done during the 1980s.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But we're not growing fast enough, are we, to support more Coles Myers?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I think the issue here is that if more of our CEOs embrace their responsibilities and show leadership, I mean recent studies have shown conclusively that the issue that determines the success or otherwise of our firms, particularly in the context of grabbing export opportunities, is the individual leadership of those particular firms. And I think here we have, by way of example, Mr Bartels throwing down the gauntlet to other CEOs around Australia. If they all acted in a similar way, if they all showed not only leadership but dare I suggest it, courage in terms of some of their corporate decisions, in those circumstances I think we would have a significant turning point in terms of our recovery phase.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: So leadership and courage have been lacking in the past?

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, I think, again, it becomes an ultimately futile exercise if you are directing criticism at people. Rather I'd take the approach that just like political leaders our business leaders should lead, and here they have by way of example a great opportunity. And if twenty of our top CEOs took the same investment decisions as Coles Myer and associated companies have, then of course that of itself would go a considerable way to moving us further into that recovery phase. So yes, it's about leadership and it's about courage. It's about risk taking, dare I say.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: His comments and actions, of course, must also be read as a criticism of the Government, the lack of leadership and direction from the Government.

ALAN GRIFFITHS: Well, at the end of the day if you're in politics you've got to have a fairly thick hide, and I'm not fussed about Mr Bartels, or frankly anyone else, criticising the Government. I listen very closely to what he and other industry leaders say, and I and the Government make our own judgments. But in terms of the objective circumstances, we have low industrial relations disputation, we have low interest rates, we have low inflation outlook. I mean, the objective circumstances are all there with the exception of the level of private investment, so Mr Bartels is showing considerable leadership here.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Alan Griffiths, thank you, we'll have to leave it there.

PETER THOMPSON: And the Federal Industry Minister was talking to Michael Brissenden.