Interview with Gareth Parker, 6PR Breakfast

01 September 2021

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Gareth Parker, 6PR Breakfast

Speakers: Gareth Parker, host 6PR Breakfast; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Topics: Open letter from the business community, domestic borders, COVID management


Gareth Parker, host 6PR Breakfast: There is an open letter from 80 national businesses in all of the major newspapers today. It includes companies like Ampol, the Commonwealth Bank, Hertz, Shell, Uber, Westpac. But also some companies that have, well, extremely prominent roles here in Western Australia. Wesfarmers, the Perth headquartered industrial conglomerate. Also BHP, which makes the bulk of its global profits out of the West Australian iron ore industry. The undersigned CEOs of these 80 companies say that they're asking governments to work together to implement the national plan and chart a path out of lockdowns. They say they represent one million Australians. It's been organised by the Business Council of Australia, whose CEO Jennifer Westacott joins me on 6PR Breakfast. Jennifer, good morning.

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

Gareth: You've taken out these ads in pretty much every newspaper in the country. Why?

Jennifer: This is an unprecedented coming together of business leaders who employ one million people, have millions of customers. Basically to ask for a simple thing, that the states and the federal government work together to implement the plan that they agreed on. Which is a gradual, careful reopening of the country when we get to 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates, obviously maintaining the health of Australians. And we want that because we need to plan. Families need to plan. Communities need to plan. Businesses, whether they're big or small, need to plan. And we will do our part as we say in our letter today, helping with the vaccine rollout and keeping our people safe, keeping our customers safe. But we need a light at the end of the tunnel, and we need to give people hope. And that's all we're asking for.

Gareth: Well on that, the West Australian premier Mark McGowan, said yesterday that he is looking more like waiting until 80 per cent is achieved and then we'll wait some further time to make some decisions. And he says that it's most likely that might even end up meaning a reopening next year. Is he deviating from the plan and what does that mean to you?

Jennifer: Well, yes, he is. And if he's not going to implement the plan that's been agreed to by the national cabinet, then what is the plan? And how do we start giving people certainty? If it's not 70 per cent, if it's not 80 percent, what is it? No country in the world has got to 90, 95 per cent. And what does that mean for Australia? What does it mean if we do that indefinitely? Business people can't travel to Perth? Families can't travel to Western Australia? Tourists can't travel to Western Australia? We have quarantine for skilled workers coming in from overseas? That will eventually be a deterrent to an important workforce coming to Australia. How long can that go on for? We're simply asking Gareth, that we get a plan. And the Doherty plan is a very careful plan. It's a very health-oriented plan so that communities, businesses, and families can plan.

Gareth: Mark McGowan says that he's learned during the period of the pandemic that pre-empting things, setting out hard and fast dates doesn't work because things change.

Jennifer: Well, we accept that things change. And we say very clearly that if there are extraordinary circumstances then, you know, everyone in Australia has adapted. No one has done more adapting than business, where they've completely changed their operating models. But we can't go on indefinitely [technical interruption]

Gareth: I'm sorry about that, Jennifer. Just so I can understand this. The things that you are talking about fit very neatly with the rhetoric that's been coming from the federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, also the Prime Minister in recent days. Is this part of a coordinated campaign with the federal government?

Jennifer: It's part of a coordinated effort in the business community. I get calls every day from business leaders just expressing their real concern. And they're concerned about the mental health of Australians. People are under a lot of pressure in those states that are experiencing very long periods of lockdown. And we're seeing some of those things in their worst kind of way.

Gareth: But that's the point Mark McGowan makes here, is that we don't have those problems here because we haven't been subject to prolonged lockdowns, because of the measures he’s taken.

Jennifer: No one doubts the effectiveness of what's happened in Western Australia in keeping the virus out. But the kind of concept that we can go on indefinitely without a plan to gradually and carefully reopen the economy, I think time will prove that to be less and less true Gareth. Because you have to imagine, what does that really mean? Does it mean that no business meetings ever get held in Western Australia again? That no tourists go to the Margaret River? That no one goes to the Kimberley? If you are coming in as a skilled worker or an unskilled worker from overseas you've got to quarantine? That will become less attractive, particularly as other countries and other states make it easier. My point is simply this, I understand, and Delta has clearly been a game changer in the whole virus management. So everyone understands that we have to adapt and change. But without some sense of what the plan is, how do people, families, businesses, small businesses in particular, understand what is going to happen? How does Qantas plan its routes? This is the concern that businesses have got. And I don't think it's too much to ask really to say, ‘well, give us a bit of an indication of what you think the plan will be.’ And obviously, that is also going to depend on how fast the vaccine gets rolled out in WA. And, making sure that the health system has got the capacity to manage an outbreak. But we are going to have to live alongside this virus and the elimination strategy is not going to be viable.

Gareth: Jennifer Westacott, thank you for your time.

Jennifer: You're very welcome. Thank you.


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