Business SA was burned by its high-profile role as a critics of the Labor administration in the lead-up to the 2014 election, having to mend bridges after Jay Weatherill unexpectedly managed to cobble together a majority with the help of independent Geoff Brock.
But with little over six months to go before the 2018 poll, the gloves are coming off again, with the Premier taking issue with the lobby group’s survey of business expectations for the June quarter – published overnight – which found companies are being hit with higher than expected wage costs, increased prices for materials and escalating power prices.
Business SA boss Nigel McBride told reporters today the cost of energy was “the single most important issue Australia’s facing, let alone South Australia”, and argued there was “a lack of confidence” among businesses that prices would come down.
“We know governments are doing things, but how long is it going to take before real energy costs come down and there’s real relief?” he said.
But Weatherill hit back at a media conference in Canberra today, attacking Business SA over its role at the centre of a campaign against the state’s bank tax.
“They’re taking money from the banks to actually run their ads for them against our bank levy,” Weatherill said.
“It’s not the role for a business organisation… Businesses I speak to believe in a strong and positive future for the state, and they want their business organisations to actually be talking up SA, not talking it down.”
A spokeswoman for Business SA confirmed the banking sector had contributed to the costs of the campaign, “because they’re our members and our members are funding the ads”.
Weatherill insisted his Government’s energy plan “will put downward pressure on energy prices”.
“But Business SA should be spending its time talking up SA, not talking down SA,” he said.
“That should be its principle role.”
The survey revealed almost 53 per cent of respondents believe the SA economy will be weaker over the next 12 months and only 13 per cent expect it to strengthen.
McBride said business confidence since the June state budget had also taken a dive, down 5.4 percentage points compared to the March quarter.
“The survey results reflect concern about things like the government’s proposed bank tax, and small business owners strongly feel that they cannot afford to take another hit,” McBride said.
“Overheads are escalating because business conditions are worsening, profits are falling and there are genuine fears that conditions may well worsen.
“Sadly these numbers tell us small to medium enterprise in just one quarter are facing a real shock of overhead rises [and] we know power’s a real villain in all of that… more than two thirds of businesses are saying there’s an alarming rise in overheads.”
– with AAP
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