NATIONAL Australia Bank chief Cameron Clyne has challenged fellow business leaders to stop talking down the economy and instead stake out new opportunities to create jobs and wealth.
The banking chief says relentless negative commentary on business conditions and the state of politics in Australia is sapping economic confidence.
He has urged Australia's captains of industry to take responsibility for reform rather than criticising policy or blaming their woes on the strong dollar and events in Europe and the US.
Speaking in Melbourne yesterday, Mr Clyne yesterday attacked what he said was a broad consensus the nation was struggling with a "two-speed economy".
It was instead a "10-speed" economy in transition -- as it always had been and would be -- with businesses expanding or struggling at different rates in different sectors.
Mr Clyne also warned interest rates changes were not a "cure-all" for economic difficulties, noting the continuing problems in the US, where rates had been cut to negligible levels.
He called for a more complex and mature debate about Australia's economy rather than a simple conversation about how the traditional industries were languishing while the mining states prospered.
"Part of the problem with this constant reference to 'two speeds' is that people feel that if they are not in the express lane, they're going backwards, which is not the case," Mr Clyne said.
His comments come as the nation's central bankers battle to stoke economic sentiment.
Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens has delivered two speeches in recent weeks, on the "lucky country" and a "glass half full", both lauding Australia's economic position.
Mr Clyne said Australia had "enormous opportunities" as an innovative, efficient nation and the agenda should be "elevating the debate from the doom and gloom that's happening now".
The debate had focused on job losses rather the transition of sectors, he said, noting the manufacturing sector had shed 100,000 jobs since 2000, but 900,000 had been added in health services, education and mining.
"You can't stop the clock and the only question is whether you're going to be a passenger or the driver," he said.
Mr Clyne also said business leaders at his level had little difficulty securing access to government ministers and opposition MPs.
He called on them to work through industry problems with government away from the spotlight, rather than constantly criticising policy, which damaged sentiment.
"It doesn't help the broader community to have people get up and give a running commentary," he said, lamenting that "everyone (was) feeling the need to comment on everything.".