Jennifer Westacott and Peter Strong - Interview with Murray Jones, 4CA AM

Event: Interview with Murray Jones, 4CA AM
Speaker: Jennifer Westacott and Peter Strong
Date: 7 March 2018
Topics: Company tax, Australian supplier payment code, regional economies, regulation, investment and decentralisation

Murray Jones, host: The last couple of days some really interesting things happening in town, especially when it comes to business - big and small. Chief of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott and Small Business Australia CEO Peter Strong join me this morning. Good morning to you both.

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

Peter Strong, chief executive Council of Small Business Australia: Good morning.

Murray: Nice to have you here. Welcome to Cairns. A very busy couple of days, I believe you went to a breakfast yesterday here in Cairns?

Jennifer: Yeah, and that was fantastic. We met with businesses across the economy. Tourism to banking, really important discussion about the importance of North Queensland. The sort of some of the big challenges around red tape, getting the investment, getting unemployment tackled, lots of, kind of, examples people gave but also a lot of enthusiasm in the room there wasn't there? There were some people really wanting to get going.

Peter: One of the things I can do is go back to Canberra and say to them again and again and again, there's a power house out there and there's a lot of smart people out there. The brains trust of Canberra isn't the brains trust of Australia.

Murray: Yeah, sure. And look, you know, that's maybe a parochial thing that you certainly hear in the tropics and something we often feel is that we are often forgotten when it comes to policy, when it comes to business initiatives because of the smaller areas, less people, less power of the votes. The politicians aren't listening. So, especially with the small and the large, it's great to see, I guess a synergy and I believe there's more to come?

Jennifer: Absolutely. And look, I think what’s really interesting is, one of the reasons Peter and I wanted to come here is a) because these are hugely important centres, Cairns and Townsville, to the Australian economy. People forget that. And to Australian society and to our image abroad and so on. But also, the national debate, to use that expression, is just being framed by people in Melbourne and Sydney and the policy agenda is being framed by people in Melbourne and Sydney and people are forgetting that regional Australia is absolutely vital to our well being as a country. So, when Peter and I have been out here, there is no debate about the role of business. There’s no anti-business agenda. There’s no 'we don't want company tax cuts', ‘we want business to be strong here because that's the best way that we can thrive as a community, give young kids a chance, get unemployment down.’ So, it's a really different feel coming here than if you were kind of in Sydney where you just cop a whole lot of stuff about 'business is hopeless', 'business is terrible' and you think, well what would you do without them?

Murray: And Peter, I guess, being more involved with small business, diversity I guess is one of the
keys, often we come from sugar backgrounds. Diversity is one of the keys.

Peter: It is the key to any economy because if we rely upon one thing and it closes, well you are in big
trouble. Diversity exists right across this area from the hospitality sector, particularly in Cairns, it’s a
huge sector but you've got normal little coffee shops, you've got the tradies out there doing what they
do. You've got a whole range of little businesses that work with big businesses or work with each other
to go and provide jobs and do what they do. And I've got to say that this partnership is a really
important partnership because the last couple of years there's been an attack upon business,
particularly big business in Australia. And I've gone to my members, I said look most of them are okay
and they said well they are, we need them. We work together quite well. Now we did go to Jennifer
and her members and say there is one issue and it's about payment. So, for some reason we
developed a culture in Australia of paying later and later between businesses, some up to 120 days.

Murray: Yeah, right.

Peter: Just having brought that up with the Business Council with Jennifer, they went well that's wrong.
So, once you tell someone something and they work out it's wrong, they go and do something about it
which they've done.

Jennifer: So, we've introduced a code that says, large companies will pay small companies in 30 days
and they will help them set up electronic invoicing. So, we can kind of get a lot of stuff done together
but the other message coming out of our visit is that big and small, they've got to work together. So,
when mining drops off, I mean you see the ripple effect across, you know, unemployment, across
hospitality, across cafes. Kind of ripples across the whole economy so we need big and small together
which is why Peter and I stand side by side wanting a company tax cut. The whole economy, because
unless those big mining companies can compete with companies across the world, they won't invest in
Australia and that's a really important point we're making and if they don't come here, then all the
things that hang off, mining services and all the kind of ripple effect across the economy of having a
big investor, that just disappears.

Murray: Can we maybe talk about, instead of just the challenges, because there's things happening on
the international stage with respect of tariffs and all that type of thing that are going to impact. Let's
talk about some of the, I guess, the positives. Some of the things that in the future that are going to
assist especially smaller regional economies like we have here. What do you think are some of the
key things that we should be looking at?

Jennifer: I think decentralisation and I know it's a jargon term but we don't talk about it anymore in
Australia. Like you need population here. Townsville, where we were yesterday, you need population.
And, you know, we have this big debate about Sydney and Melbourne being full, well you know,
people want population in Townsville and Cairns so duh why don't we do something at the national
level to sort of make it easier for people to come and settle in Townsville and Cairns so that's one
thing. I think you've got to back your sort of strengths as well. Like, you know, the hospitality stuff a
massive strength here. You've got a university sector that's a big strength. You've got the reef which is
a huge strength. You've got mining which is a strength. So why aren't we doing more to say, play to
our strengths. So, you need that diverse economy but you've got to back in that stuff that is really good
and it is really good here and then you've got to make sure that we've got the right training for people
so that you've got the skilled workforce that can actually kind of deliver the services in hospitality or
mining or whatever. So, that we are employing local people not just importing labour from other parts
of Australia or overseas.

Peter: And it's a great point about the good things that are happening. There's a lot of innovators in
Australia and we're working on a project at the moment to get that published more and more and more
about this little business here, this little business there, this person who's come up with some way of
doing something and this is how they did it and quite often they've done it with big business. Or quite
often they've done it and succeeded and been bought out, very happily been bought out by business.

Murray: Sure.

Peter: We’re all happy to get money. So that there's stories out there about innovators and in the education system. This one is often thought of as kids in school who are doing real business activity whether it's online, whether they're manufacturing something, whatever it is and it's the girls and boys out there that are doing things and we have got to publish that more and more as well.

Murray: The unified approach in some of the things that you are doing between small and large businesses is definitely something that should be commended as well. It's been great to talk to you. Wonderful to see you here. We are looking forward to seeing you again and I guess identifying some of those opportunities moving forward not just talking about the challenges. Chief of the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott and Small Business Australia CEO Peter Strong. Thank you so much for your time today.

Jennifer: Thanks very much.

Peter: Thank you.