Jennifer Westacott - AM, ABC Radio

Event: Interview with Sabra Lane, ABC Radio – AM

Date: 13 February 2017

Topics: energy, company tax


SABRA LANE: One of the alliance signatories calling for an end to the partisan games on energy is the Business Council of Australia. The Council's membership is made up of the CEOs of Australia's top companies, including mining and energy groups. The Council's chief executive is Jennifer Westacott, and she joins me now. Good morning.


SABRA LANE: Is energy security the highest priority for business right now?

JENNIFER WESTACOTT: Well, I think it's a combination of energy security and getting our economy to be more competitive through, you know, in the first instance, a lower tax rate. But on energy, yes, this is a huge issue, and we need - the point of putting out that statement amongst groups, some of whom, you know, would have quite different views on a range of issues, is to say we need a calm and informed debate that allows us to get energy and climate change policy to achieve affordable supply, secure and reliable supply, keep our economy growing and, obviously, reduce our emissions over time.

And we need some certainty here, because really, Sabra, what matters here is business. The only people who are going to make the investments are business, and they need that sense of certainty that's only going to come from bipartisanship.

SABRA LANE: Can the politics be taken out of this to design a policy that is acceptable to the major parties and that delivers for business and householders?

JENNIFER WESTACOTT: Well, you know, I think the politics has to be taken out. We're sort of now at the point of, "Can we keep the lights on? Can we keep the bills affordable for the average household?" That's actually what's at stake here.

And, you know, when we start hearing those discussions about, you know, potential blackouts in New South Wales, surely that's a call to every politician of every political party in Australia and every level of government to get together and say, "How do we achieve security, reliability, affordability, keep our economy growing and transition to a lower emissions economy?" I mean, what's the alternative if we keep blaming and nit-picking, albeit very interesting in the media? This really matters now, and we need some urgent, urgent collaboration.

SABRA LANE: You've got some big energy users who are members of the BCA.


SABRA LANE: Are they telling you that they're considering going offshore because of the unreliability or the instability?

JENNIFER WESTACOTT: Well, I mean, that's a big call for companies. But over time, you know, we need investment. I think I'd flip that around and say this is going to require major investment, and without that certainty – and, of course, you know, without sort of more competitive settings in our tax environment – we're certainly not making it very attractive for people to put money into projects that really have to go over 10, 20, 30 years. And, of course, I would pick up on something the minister said which I agree with – we do need to have, in this country, realistic, achievable targets, and this kind of the states setting these big targets and then doing things like a moratorium on gas, that is not helping at all.

SABRA LANE: Are you worried about the prospect of more blackouts once Hazelwood closes next month?

JENNIFER WESTACOTT: Well, we – that's, I guess, the question, isn't it? And that's why we need the state and federal governments and the business community to come together and say, "How do we make sure that we can give that security and reliability, and, of course, the affordability that households and businesses are looking for?" That's the sort of analysis we need, because we can't keep going with setting these targets, putting moratoriums on gas, seeing, you know, major base load being taken out.

And, of course, the big issue is about how we actually organise the market so that things like renewable energy can be integrated properly, given its volatility.

SABRA LANE: Now, the taxation plan is going to be discussed before the House of Reps today. The Senate looks set to block it. What do you think the government should do?

JENNIFER WESTACOTT: Well, the government's got to stay the course with this, because this is the right policy for the country. I mean, my question to the Senate is this – “What is Plan B? What is the alternative plan so that we can get business investing, which is the only way of creating jobs for the future, and it's the only way of creating higher wages? Where is the alternative plan in this country to grow the size of the economic pie if we do not have something that encourages businesses to invest in the face of a global economy which is seeing other countries – the United States, the British, the Asians already with very low taxes – in the face of that global competition for investment, what is plan B?"

SABRA LANE: Now, just quickly, the Treasurer's using a statement, excuse me, by the Federal Bank governor, Philip Lowe, last week saying that there should be a review of the corporate tax as an endorsement for the government's plan. Did you see it that way, as an endorsement?

JENNIFER WESTACOTT: Well, he's certainly making the point that we've been making, and many others have been making, that we need a more competitive tax regime if we are to get investment up. Business investment now at the lowest level since the 1990s recession. What is the plan to do that if we are not going to change our competitive settings? That was his point, and I agree with him.