Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

24 August 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: COVID management, Doherty modelling, female participation in the workplace, economic recovery


Laura Jayes, host Sky News:Joining me live now is Jennifer Westacott. She is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. Jennifer, we've all seen this debate around the Doherty modelling in recent days. From where you sit is there any alternative to that plan?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: No I don't believe there is and let's be very clear, this was a plan developed by an independent, highly respected health body. And they’ve basically made a pretty simple set of recommendations. At 70 per cent and at 80 per cent we start easing restrictions. They're not suggesting, nor are we, that you basically have a free for all. They are saying you have an easing of restrictions along with continued health measures. So at 70 per cent, you start relieving some of those very high-cost restrictions - domestic border closures, state-wide lockdowns, some events, schools. At 80 per cent you start looking at the international border starting with students, high-skilled workers. All with some kind of proof of vaccination and quarantine. So nobody is suggesting a free for all. And we need premiers to stick to that plan and for that plan to be carefully outlined. Because if you're a person in the community at the moment and you have been in lockdown, in the case in Victoria for months and in Sydney for weeks and weeks, you need to think, 'okay the kids are going back to school, we can plan Christmas.' If you're in business and you're a tourist operator you think, 'okay I can have an uninterrupted tourism season.' If I'm a big company I can start that project, get the skilled workers in I need. If I'm a small business I can put on the staff I need, get the inventory ordered. We need people to stick to the plan to drive confidence and hope.

Laura: The Doherty plan says 80 per cent vaccinated, there will still be upwards of 200,000 cases in six months and there will be up to four deaths each and every day. Is that a reality that we just need to get comfortable with?

Jennifer: I think it is. And of course, every death is tragic, and we should continue to focus on those health measures. Really that laser focus for vulnerable people whether they're in aged care settings or whether they have chronic diseases. The continued use of hand sanitiser, masks where appropriate, and of course you will have, as they expect, some local lockdowns where you get particular outbreaks. But we do have to change I think Laura increasingly, what is the focus here? What are we trying to achieve here? We're trying to make sure that people are safe and they're well and the purpose of vaccinations is to stop people getting sick. You can see some of the numbers they put out today showing just how effective the vaccine rates are. But the focus has got to be, how many people have been vaccinated? How many people are hospitalised? How many people are in ICU? We've got to change that focus to the community and get everyone focused on getting vaccinated, keeping people well. This idea of elimination, it is simply not achievable. It is not practical. Delta I think is completely thrown that out the door. And we've got to give people a sense of what are we trying to get to here. That will give people a sense of confidence.

Laura: Josh Frydenberg threatened, in no uncertain terms really, to pull money if the states did renege on this deal once we get to 80 per cent. Is that the kind of tough message you think is appropriate and what business needs at this point?

Jennifer: Well I think he's right to say, 'look we all agreed on this modelling. We had it commissioned independently. We all agreed on those targets.' If people want to just break out from that, unless there's an extraordinary event, then the Commonwealth just can't keep footing that bill because we must be passed $350 billion now in the federal government basically propping up the economy. And they've made really amazing decisions there. And I think people are a bit hard on them sometimes. I mean our governments have been, in terms of assisting businesses and assisting people, pretty good. But the question I think Laura, is how long can this go on? Where we've got a plan, a plan that people agreed to, a plan that carefully, gradually opens up our economy but maintains very, very high health requirements.

Laura: There is a financial safety net at the moment. Perhaps, some people say it is not enough for their businesses and they'll fail regardless. As individual payments, perhaps we forget that we are shielded from the worst of that because of that government safety net at the moment. But we've talked about before, the productivity drain, just simply on children not going back to school. Employers have been really alive to the difficulties of working from home but how long can they be patient for Jennifer?

Jennifer: Look I think employers have been amazing and they have been amazingly patient. And I think they will continue. Because good employers know that their best assets are their people. And if they look after people in this particularly difficult time those people are going to come back. Those people are going to stick with that organisation. So good employers know that. I think the main thing I'm worried about is that women, whether people agree with this or not, overwhelmingly take that responsibility for making sure the kids are doing their Zoom classes and things like that. And it's a real juggling act for families. It's putting a lot of tension on families. I'm really worried that many women have reduced their hours and that holds them back in their career, it holds them back from their superannuation savings. We've got to make sure that we get a plan to get our schools back up and running so that people can either do that full day of work from home, if they're still working from home, or they can go back to work. But not being able to get kids at school I think is something that all the premiers have got to start thing about - how do we get that back-to-school plan? And of course, keep kids safe and keep teachers safe.

Laura: Jennifer do you agree with the Treasurer that the underlining fundamentals of the economy is still strong? Are we going to see the same bounce-back that we did after the last prolonged lockdown?

Jennifer: I think so. I think each time this goes on and certainly if we go on before 80 we make it harder. I mean the longer we stay a fortress country, the shallower and longer our recovery will be. But our economy has been pretty resilient. You see those employment figures last week, albeit they're kind of out of date in terms of what's happening now, but we do show that when we release activity we do bounce back, and the economy has that underlining health to it. But the longer it goes on the less true that will become. But also we've got to think about not just the next six months, but we've got to think about the next six years. And if we don't have skilled workers here, if we don't have international students and they decide to go somewhere else, if we can't get these big projects up and running, if we can't pick the crops on farmers' land, we will fall behind as a country.

Laura: Jennifer Westacott, always good to talk to you. Thank you.

Jennifer: Thanks very much Laura.


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