Labor has accused the Business Council of setting up a “front” group to run political campaigning, as the corporate sector fights for tax cuts and seeks to improve its reputation.
However, the Business Council says it is not and never will be a partisan organisation.
The peak business group has set up a wholly owned subsidiary, Centre Ground, which has authorised a campaign website under the name “For the Common Good”.
The website describes “For the Common Good” as a “non-partisan organisation powered by small, medium and big Australian employers” – akin to a business sector version of GetUp.
While it is not immediately obvious the site has the backing of the BCA, the privacy statement on the site states Centre Ground is owned by the BCA.
The site includes a campaign calling for the deregulation of trading hours in South Australia and a federally-focused campaign calling for lower company taxes, which is Turnbull coalition government policy.
One of the directors of Centre Ground is BCA executive director and former Liberal Party federal director Andrew Bragg.
“The BCA created a front group, called it a community organisation, kept the BCA name off of it, and then used this front group to run political campaign,” Senator Kristina Keneally said on Tuesday.
BCA chief Jennifer Westacott said her organisation was committed to good policy, not politics.
“We will always defend the role of private enterprise as the engine of Australia’s prosperity and the creator of 86 per cent of all jobs in Australia,” she said on Tuesday.
“There is nothing politically partisan about the truth – when Australian businesses thrive, Australians thrive.”
She said recent revelations at the banking royal commission had given critics of the business community “material to work with”, which was frustrating and disappointing.
“But I will not allow retrograde, backward looking anti-business attacks to stand unchallenged.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said money was being spent on such campaigns because Labor is against “giving big business unfunded, unsustainable massive tax cuts and giveaways”.
“Malcolm Turnbull is a political arm of the business, Labor is the political arm of everyday Australians,” Mr Shorten said.
The ABC reported the BCA had asked each of its 130 members to pay $200,000 towards an election fighting fund.
The council will spread its message through a series of TV ads, town hall meetings and marginal seat campaigns.
A federal election is due between August this year and May 18, 2019.