Now there’s a great Australian dream to rival home ownership – SMH April 22 – Harold Mitchell
The great Australian dream has always been to own a home.
It goes back to Sir Robert Menzies’ famous ”forgotten people” speech of 1942 describing the emerging middle class as ”the strivers, the planners, the ambitious ones”. Menzies wanted to see us all achieve the dream and, after rising to just over 50 per cent in 1949, home ownership accelerated to 70 per cent, where it has stayed for the past four decades.
The growth of small business ownership followed and it is now a significant sector. We all know the mining and resources industry has had a lot to do with our economic strength, but what about ordinary Australians who make their way to work each day? What is their stake in the industry in which they work? How many own part of the company they help to build each day?
Share ownership has been in the news recently, with James Warburton from Channel Seven leaving to hopefully join Channel Ten. Warburton apparently turned his back on a share portfolio of about $5 million. Louise can’t understand it. ”Just think of the number of shoes you could get for that,” she snorts.
The point is, owning shares in the company we work for is a good thing. And, sure, it’s OK for the big bosses, but what about the others? Share ownership is a great way for everyone at work to feel part of it and share rewards. They stay longer and work harder and smarter. There’s no better example of this than the Clemenger organisation, now Australia’s most successful advertising group. Until recently, more than half its shares were owned by hundreds of its staff. Many have now retired with a handy nest egg. No wonder it was always hard to steal staff away from it.
My company, Mitchells, has always had a strong employee share ownership and when it was bought by a big international company, more than 60 per cent of employee shareholders became shareholders in the worldwide enterprise and Australians are the second-biggest shareholder in the company.
But it isn’t that easy to do in Australia. This week, Tony Smith, shadow parliamentary secretary for tax reform, argued that ”to unleash the next ownership and enterprise wave” we need to pull down the barriers to greatly expanded share ownership by employees. As he said: ”It would add a couple of cylinders to our economic engine.” We have regulatory barriers that are apparently just like the Berlin Wall, built by bureaucrats and control-freak regulators. We need some people-power here.
Harold Mitchell is the executive chairman of Mitchell Communication Group.