Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Brooke Corte, Money News, 2GB
Speakers: Brooke Corte, host; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Date: 27 September 2021
Topics: NSW road map to recovery; Victorian construction industry shutdown
Brooke Corte, host Money News: Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. Welcome back to Money News Jennifer.
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Thanks very much.
Brooke: Do you think the New South Wales government's reopening plan strikes the right balance for business?
Jennifer: It absolutely does. It gives clarity. It means people can have a certain Christmas. It means that they can start planning their bookings, their staffing, their inventory. It gives a very clear set of stages. And the important thing is that December 1 target where it's opening, there's no threshold that's got to be met. So this allows us to track great freedoms as those other thresholds are met. But that December 1 target, that absolute clarity at that point, business is going to say, ‘hey, we are open for Christmas.’
Brooke: And confidence, I mean, that's the word we're using, how important is confidence when we talk about December 1st, a firm date?
Jennifer: Oh, confidence is everything because if I'm thinking about, ‘okay, well will I open my motel, will I put the extra staff on, will I buy the inventory for my cafe, will I stock up on my Christmas supplies?’ That 1 December timeframe says, ‘yes, we can.’ And it just gives people enormous confidence to take a bit of risk because we're not going to be having in New South Wales this sense of, well, that might be the opening day, but I'm not sure so I won't actually make that decision. We can actually start to plan and make decisions. That is hugely important to confidence.
Brooke: And, so that's New South Wales, which has been announced today, and it is different from the Victorian roadmap, which was announced last week. That is a more conservative exit from lockdown. Which is the better roadmap?
Jennifer: Well, obviously, these have got to be based on vaccine rates, based on what's actually happening with transmission. So they can't all be the same. But what business is looking for is the certainty and that's what the New South Wales plan does. And so we would simply say to the states, you've got to try and give people that real clarity of direction so people can start to plan. And when you reach a certain point, there's got to be that date that premier Berejiklian is put into play that says, ‘well, okay, at that point, of course we would have met all these other milestones, we can get going again.’ And that's what we want to see from states like Victoria, but it's not going to be exactly the same because vaccine rates aren't the same, transmission rates aren't the same. What we want to see though, is the same level of detail and consultation and respect the New South Wales government gives business, applying across the Federation so that we can get the country moving again.
Brooke: Jennifer Westacott, the exit from lockdown initially is going to be extended only to the fully vaccinated. And I'm quite concerned that ultimately it's business owners that are going to be enforcing that. Now that's highly contentious. It's a hugely inflammatory issue. I mean, the police have had real issues and I mean, they're armed. Do you think that businesses and business owners are prepared to enforce vaccinated versus unvaccinated?
Jennifer: Well, business owners have been asked to enforce a lot of things during these lockdowns, mask-wearing and so on. I think it's going to vary between big and small business. And that's why it can't go on indefinitely. You can't ask a young man or a young woman who's working in a cafe to enforce things that really belong to public health officials or to the police. And so that's why I think New South Wales has done today is to set that time is really important. I think you can do some of these short periods of time based on risk, but to make it the way business is going to operate, I just don’t think that's practical.
Brooke: And we've had Victoria's construction sector entering the second week of a two-week shutdown. Have you been able to assess the damage yet? I mean, how much pain is being inflicted?
Jennifer: A lot of pain and we're currently analysing the data from that, but you know, again, you take New South Wales, who sat down with business, they worked out how to get the construction sector opening again. They said, here's the standard we need you to meet. And when industry is told that, you meet it. It's not really all that difficult to say to people look, ‘here's the standard we want you to meet, let's work together.’ And New South Wales did it constructively. They had the business at the table. They had a sense here's what we need to get to, and they're able to then open and give certainty because they work with people. They consult with people; they treat business with respect, and they partner with them.
Brooke: Jennifer Westacott, boss of the BCA. Thank you so much for your time on Money News today.
Jennifer: You're welcome. Thank you.