Jennifer Westacott interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

Speakers: Ben Fordham, host 2GB; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Topics: Three steps to reopen Australia’s economy, vaccine roll-out, COVID economic recovery

E&OE

Ben Fordham, host 2GB: Now all states and territories are open to one another and big business wants to keep it that way. The Business Council of Australia has come up with a three-step plan to permanently reopen the economy. As part of that, they want to see a commitment to keep state borders open, lift capacity for venues. And once the vaccine has been rolled out, we should never have a situation where state premiers are deciding once someone sneezes, we're shutting up shop and closing the borders. Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. Good morning, Jennifer.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Good morning Ben.

Ben: We can't afford to go back.

Jennifer: We can’t. And that's what we're saying. We’re saying as the vaccine rolls out, you start opening up the economy. So when you've done all the vulnerable people, you should keep domestic borders permanently open. You should lift caps on venues. Then as you start to roll throughout the rest of the population, you start bringing back international students, skilled workers. And then of course, when you finish it, you know, you've got to be able to open up the whole of the economy. But the most important thing, to your point, is we've got to stop going back and forth. We've got to keep things open.

Ben: You say we need to shift the conversation away from the number of cases towards the number of vaccinations?

Jennifer: Absolutely. We've got to report on the number of people who have been vaccinated, the number of people who have been vaccinated twice, people who are in hospital, our health capacity, rather than this reporting of one case or two cases; and then sort of like a kind of big reaction to that. It's like anything above zero is a disaster and many of these people are still in quarantine. Then suddenly we've got these unpredictable lockdowns and that just kills small business. So we've got to find a way that as we roll out the vaccine, we've opened things up and we sharpened up the message. And of course we continue to help those industries that can’t get back on their feet.

Ben: It's a big month for business isn't it with JobKeeper finishing up at the end of March?

Jennifer: Absolutely. But JobKeeper should finish, Ben. It's been a very important thing, a nation saving thing, but it's now time to target assistance to those industries who can't reopen because of ongoing restrictions, particularly on our international borders. But we've basically got to get people working again.

Ben: How does Scott Morrison sit down with state leaders and say, ‘look, we need a deal here to make sure that borders aren't going to be closed at the whim of each premier or chief minister.’

Jennifer: Well, I think there's two things. The first is the vaccine is the way the way to do it. Because finally we've got the thing we need. Which is to make sure that vulnerable people, older people, people who are critical workers, people in aged care, are not going to get sick from this if they have the vaccine, based on the evidence we've seen. So that’s the first thing. So we’ve got the vaccine, now let's get a plan to reopen the economy. The second point Ben, 50 per cent of Australians say they’re not going to travel, they're not going to go away. Not because they're worried about the virus, but they're worried about the border shutting behind them or not being able to get home. We can't go on like this. We're losing billions of dollars in the economy and of course, for a small businessperson, you know, millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s the end of them. They can't get back up. We need to say, ‘well okay, the vaccine is rolling out. Let's take this opportunity to open and keep open the economy in line with the vaccine roll-out.’

Ben: Well said. You make a lot of sense as always and we'll catch up soon.

Jennifer: Thanks very much Ben, good to talk to you.