Interview with Neil Breen, 4BC

01 September 2021

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Neil Breen, 4BC  

Speakers: Neil Breen, host Breakfast with Neil Breen; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

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


Neil Breen, host Breakfast with Neil Breen, 4BC: Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. It represents the biggest companies in the country. She's a non-executive director of Wesfarmers as well. Good morning to you Jennifer.

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

Neil: This is a pretty powerful letter. Who are you directing it at directly?

Jennifer: Well this is an unprecedented coming together of the business community who, as you say, employ a million people. And we're talking on behalf of the people we employ, on behalf of the millions of customers that we serve. We're basically saying to federal and state governments, can you work together so that you can implement this plan that you've agreed to which is a gradual, careful opening when we get to 70 and 80 per cent vaccine rates with health as the priority. And we're asking for that Neil, respectfully, so that we can plan, so that communities and families can plan, so that small business can plan and know what's happening over Christmas. So that people can get their stock right, so they can employ the right number of people. And we have also made it really clear in that letter that we'll continue to do our part. We'll help governments with vaccines, we'll keep our people and our customers safe, we'll keep people in jobs. What we're saying Neil is Australia needs a light at the end of the tunnel. We had a plan. It was a very carefully thought through plan and we need to stick to it.

Neil: Yeah because a lot of these businesses. Obviously, Wesfarmers is a national business and as many is diverse like Kmart, Bunnings, all of them. And then all of these national businesses at the moment the nation is paralysed by the states going it alone and they're almost even angry with each other. It's this never-ending blue of this state fighting with the feds, and that state fighting with, and ‘I'm not going to do this, and we won't do that.’ And it's not the Australian way Jennifer Westacott. 

Jennifer: It is not the Australian way. And I think we've just got to remember, we're one country Neil. We're not the Balkans. I mean we're one country.

Neil: That's right.

Jennifer: And we've got to work together. Because people need us to work together. I represent those big companies, but small business is just really suffering with this.

Neil: Exactly.

Jennifer: And I talk to a lot of small business people say in Queensland where you are. I talked to some people on the Gold Coast a few weeks ago, business leaders. They're really down. They're really down. And they're saying all we want is an uninterrupted tourism season. All we want to do is to be able to plan ahead. We know we've got to keep everyone safe. We know health takes the first priority, but we just want to know what's going to happen over the next six months. Now surely that's not too much to ask and say to our leaders 'hey let's get together, let's get this plan, it's been done properly, let's roll it out so that everyone can see what's going to happen.' Particularly as we accelerate our vaccine rates which is the other point we make in our letter. We're now vaccinating people at twice the rate per person than the US and the UK. So we're getting it done. Now people need to see, whether you're a tourist operator, a cafe owner, a family that is really desperate to see the new grandkid. Okay, I can plan. I'm not asking for a free for all, I'm not asking to open everything up tomorrow. I just want to know that in December I can get together with the kids. Surely, surely as a country, we can do that.

Neil: Well last week our premier was asked about Christmas, and she got sourly. She goes 'I can't answer that. There's a pandemic. Look have you seen Sydney?' Yeah we have. We're adults. We live in this country. It's our country. It's not yours. And we understand vaccinations and risks and everything. And we're not dills. I think Australians have been the most compliant on the planet Jennifer Westacott.

Jennifer: We are very compliant, and people are doing the right thing. I think you're right. Australians have been incredible right? The sacrifices people have made. And it's easy for some people, people like me who can do a lot of their work from their computer. But for a lot of families this is really hard. I mean if you're a cleaner and you have to travel, boy are you in trouble at the moment. My heart just bleeds for those people. It bleeds for those small businesses who say, 'gee do I get my stock? Do I employ some extra people? Do I start ordering stuff for Christmas?' People just need to know that based on this independent medical advice, they can start to plan, they can get things going and of course if something extraordinary happens everyone in Australia has accepted that if something extraordinary happens and the health system couldn't cope then everyone accepts different decisions will have to be made provided people understand what and why. But surely it's not beyond us to say, well okay we've got this plan, we've all agreed to it, let's stick to it, here's what it's going to look like for business, here's what it's going to look like for people travelling. And people can say, 'okay, alright I've got a few more weeks to go in lockdown, I can cope with that because I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.'

Neil: Jennifer Westacott, Business Council of Australia CEO, thanks for your time on 4BC Breakfast.

Jennifer: You're very welcome thank you.



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