Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

01 September 2021

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

Speakers: Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Topics: Open letter from the business community, vaccine passports, COVID management


Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda: Joining us live now is Jennifer Westacott. She's the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. This open letter signed by these 80 businesses Jennifer Westacott. It makes complete sense. It's logical. But why is it so necessary?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Well look we've got to remember who these companies are. These businesses, they employ a million Australians, they serve millions of Australian people through their operations. And they're basically asking a very simple thing. Can we implement and come together as a country and implement this plan that has a careful, gradual reopening at 70 and 80 per cent based on health advice, based on health precautions? And we're asking for a simple reason, we need to plan. Whether you're a family that needs to plan to see your loved ones, whether you're a small business that needs to stock up for Christmas, whether you're a big business that has got a project going. And we're also saying in that letter we stand ready to do our part. To help with the vaccine rollout, to keep our workplaces safe, to keep our customers safe. But to your point, our letter is very clear, we need a light at the end of the tunnel. We need it because you can start to see the strain on people as this goes on and on. And no one is asking for a free for all. We're just asking for the plan, to stick to the plan so that Australians can see that light at the end of the tunnel.

Laura: Jennifer is this the first salvo? Because the list of these businesses is very powerful indeed. They are huge employers here. But how many of them do you think are actually willing to follow through? If states like Western Australia and Queensland don't stick to this reopening plan at 80 per cent vaccinated, can they hit them where it hurts, removing investment, removing workforces elsewhere? Is that on the table?

Jennifer: Well that's not being actively discussed. I mean, people don't want to blame game or a conflict here. We want a respectful approach to say let's come together as a country, let's try and enact this plan because we can see, through our customers, through our teams, and of course through the wider community that people have been lockdown for a long time now. It's starting to really impact on people's mental wellbeing. It's impacting on small business very, very seriously. And big and small businesses work together. It's impacting on community. And we're starting to see, as our letter says, the vaccine rates go up. We're now doing more per person than the US and the UK at a similar time. So, now is the time to start to say, ‘here's what you can start to plan for Christmas if you're a family. Here's what you can start if you're a tourist operator. You can start to plan for an uninterrupted tourism season.’ So we're much in the camp of let's try and bring Australia back together again. Let's get a consistent, nationally predictable plan so that we can actually get the country going again. And people are being very patient in these lockdowns but you're starting to see aren't you, the fraying at the edges. And all we're saying is we want to work with you to get that end point. So that we can hit 2022 really firing.

Laura: Indeed we all want to his 2022 really firing. Now we've seen this discussion about a vaccine passport. Some describe it as discrimination. But it's really business that will be at the frontline of all this. Having to police it in many ways or implement it. If you don't get that official implementation of a vaccine passport from a federal and state level, does it fall on businesses to do this anyway? Because we all know more freedoms are coming with vaccinations even if it's at an official level or not.

Jennifer: Look I think that's true. More freedoms will come, and they should come if you're fully vaccinated. There should be a sense in which where well if I've done the right thing and I've got my two vaccines then I get an extra degree of freedom. But it's got to be a simple system. It's got to be one system. And it's got to be really about the person's responsibility, my responsibility to upload the material, to show the passport. I don't think you can ask business to go it alone on this. Because you can't have a situation, and we saw this with QR codes didn't we, that if you've got like in the New South Wales case a simple, common system that's very easy to use, people get used to it, it's very widespread in its usage. Loading up a passport potentially with that. We've just got to learn from other countries too. I mean other countries are doing this. What I think you can't ask business to do is be the police. You can't ask small business to take the role of law enforcement. That's not their job. But there's no doubt we're going to need a simple, digital tool to show that I've been vaccinated and that entitles me to get on a plane to potentially leave the country, to come back into the country. And that is also going to be a much better incentive to get people vaccinated.

Laura: Yes I think you're right on that front. We've seen 120 new cases in Victoria today. It's an alarming spike in numbers there. It's on a day that Daniel Andrews has promised to set out a roadmap. Is Victoria just behind New South Wales with the reality of living with COVID do you think?

Jennifer: I think it's really encouraging what Premier Andrews has said. And I think that acceptance that elimination is just not feasible. We've seen this in New Zealand. It's not practical particularly with this Delta strain. So what we're asking for is to set out that roadmap, those milestones. Try and make that consistent nationally with the national roadmap so that people can see, they can order their stock, they can get things going. And we think that's a sensible approach that he's starting to talk about. And of course, business is very up to working with states to accelerate the vaccine rollout, to promote the vaccine rollout. But that's the sort of stuff that we just have to accept the reality of the circumstances we're in. And of course, the data on the vaccine is overwhelming. The reduction in transmission rates, the huge reductions in mortality rates. That's the benefit of getting the vaccine rolling out, that we then enjoy our freedom. But more importantly, we reduce transmission, and we dramatically reduce illness and mortality.

Laura: Yep and we've seen that. There are many countries you can point to including Singapore who generously gave us 500,000 vaccines. Jennifer Westacott thanks so much for your time, we’ll speak soon no doubt.

Jennifer: You're very welcome thank you.


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