Jennifer Westacott interview with Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic, The Today Show

31 March 2020

Event: Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott interview with Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic, The Today Show
Speaker: Allison Langdon, Jennifer Westacott and Karl Stefanovic
Date: 31 March 2020
Topics: JobKeeper payment, COVID-19 response

Allison Langdon, host The Today Show: While our hospitality industry is reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, many other businesses are also suffering. So we're going to talk this morning about how the government's latest multi-billion-dollar stimulus package will help keep them afloat.

Karl Stefanovic, host The Today Show: Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia and joins us from Canberra. Jennifer, good morning to you.

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

Karl: Scott Morrison has confirmed he will subsidise wages for Australians. What will this mean for business owners and their employees?

Jennifer: I think this is a country changing moment. Six million people getting paid. Six million people with a decent standard of living. Keeping people attached to their employers. Keeping people who have been stood down able to renegotiate with their employers to come back. This will allow people to keep their businesses going, to restructure their businesses and rebound the economy and rebound their business and keep those people in work when this crisis is over. And you know what this is Karl, I think this is just an injection of hope into this country and it's the hope and confidence that we needed.

Allison: I think that is the perfect word here Jennifer. I think hearing that message yesterday and realising that the government has our back and will protect us through this time, hope is the perfect word. I mean, it's $130 billion. We keep talking about or the government keeps talking about worst case scenario six months. What happens if it goes beyond that?

Jennifer: Look, I think you've got to see it in tandem of course. The $130 billion yesterday is on top of the $189 billion that was announced last week and lots of other things, particularly for the sort of businesses you're talking about this morning. I don't think people know. But I think what's been fantastic about what both the state and the commonwealth governments have been doing is that they have been adjusting as this gets worse. I do think we're going to need to start thinking about giving some cash flow relief for some of the bigger companies, so that they don't get into distress. Things like payroll tax deferral that the New South Wales and Queensland governments have done. Maybe putting the company tax payments that are normally monthly to quarterly, that will free up a lot of cash. But I don't think anyone knows. This is changing by an hour by hour basis. What we've got though is governments working together, people working together to make sure we get through this.

Karl: I think from the businesses I've spoken to and people who work for businesses as well, they are a little bit concerned because they can't get through to government departments. They can't get through to the ATO. It’s just those practical logistical things and they need money now. Is there anything that you are putting pressure on in terms of that and try to relax that?

Jennifer: As I understand it, say for the JobSeekers, the kind of doubling of Newstart, they have given people the capacity to put an intent in because they can't get through the Centrelink system. That will allow them to be backdated and obviously get their money faster. Look, I think governments are going as fast as they can here. The ATO website for getting the JobKeepers payment yesterday, the packages yesterday, the $1,500 a fortnight, that was up and running yesterday afternoon. I think they had 65,000 inquiries or something. Look, I just think we have to be patient here too Karl. These systems have not been set up for this kind of crisis. But I can tell you something, governments, state, federal, are doing everything they can to get money out faster to people.

Karl: Fingers crossed it all works. Good on you. Thank you so much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Jennifer: You're very welcome.


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