Jennifer Westacott interview with Andrea Crothers, Sky News

05 July 2021

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Andrea Crothers, NewsDay, Sky News

Speakers: Andrea Crothers, host NewsDay; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Date: 5 July 2021

Topics: COVID management, Living on borrowed time discussion paper, National Cabinet


Andrea Crothers, host NewsDay: For more on this joining me live is Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. Thanks very much for your time today Jennifer. Firstly, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce, he says these targets which are due to be released should be on vaccine availability rather than uptake. Innes Willox also warns that Australia could be held hostage to vaccine hesitancy. Where do you stand?

Jennifer Westacott chief executive Business Council of Australia: Look I think the plan that the National Cabinet came up with last week is good. I think there's a couple of really important things in it. The first is that we have to change the way we think about this. Rather than talking about the number of positive cases every day we start talking about vaccines, we start talking about people in hospital. And of course indicating that we're going to get a more flexible approach to quarantining. That's very important. What business wants though is a bit more certainty. We need a bit more precision. So what are the thresholds? What are the timeframes so that business can plan? And then to the point that others are making that has got to be achievable and realistic. If we set that threshold too high we just run the risk that we can never actually get things moving again. Business needs to see that when certain milestones are reached we can start opening things up, we can start obviously ending these really damaging local lockdowns and we can chart a path forward for opening up international borders which no one is suggesting it just be a free for all, but we believe there is a careful, staged approach about international students, returning Australians and those vital skilled workers that are essential to keep our economy going.

Andrea: Do you fear that vaccine hesitancy will stop any target being achievable? Any high target?

Jennifer: I think a way to deal with vaccine hesitancy is to make sure we've got consistent health advice coming from the health officers. I mean to be fair to the average person you can understand why people would be hesitant when they get one piece of advice from one level of government and then another completely contradictory piece of advice from another. We really need national cabinet and the chief health officers to settle on a standard advice so the community can actually build confidence. And obviously, we then need to once we get supply really accelerate that vaccine rollout as we've been saying for a while now business is ready to step up and play a really active part there.

Andrea: Now under this current phase of that plan, lockdowns are to be used as a last resort but what exactly is that? Because we know that NSW has a much higher risk threshold than other states.

Jennifer: Well that's why we need the thresholds. I mean we have always argued that local lockdowns or state-wide lockdowns when you've got a particularly localised outbreaks have been really disproportionate. Now what NSW has always done is acted proportionately, proportionate to the risk and very clear risk indicators. So we just need some national consistency here using the hotspot definition, ending local lockdowns when we reach a certain threshold of vaccinated Australians, stopping border closures and trying to make sure that we are reasonably able to say that what's going to happen in one state is going to be the same that happens in another. Because we know that this is hurting small business, we know it's hurting sectors like aviation and tourism. But it's also hurting confidence amongst the business community, amongst the community more generally. We know over 50 per cent of people don't want to travel because they're not sure that they can get home. And we've seen another school holiday chaos. So what we want to see is a nationally consistent plan with clear thresholds and clear understanding that when we reach this, this isn't going to happen anymore.

Andrea: Businesses you've spoken too off the back of the plan being released, are they bracing for more snap lockdowns for the next six months?

Jennifer: Well I think they're hoping that we find a way to avoid them because each time we do this particularly for small business it's just harder and harder to come back. Small businesses particularly in the catering area they just can't keep going on like this. We need to reset and that's of course the importance of national cabinet meeting last Friday. Now we need some thresholds, we need some precision because we just can't keep going on like this. If you're a small business every single time this happens it's not just, ‘oh well that's a setback.’ It's one step forward, five steps back because you lose your inventory, you can't get the workforce, you don't always have the money to come back. We've got to find a way of charting our way out of this. And also we're sending a really bad message internationally. We've don't better than any other country practically on the planet in managing this. We've got to continue to send that strong message that we are a country that has managed this well, we're getting back on track, we’re getting ourselves open, we're going to be getting skilled workers back and we're going to be open for business.

Andrea: Jennifer Westacott thanks for your time today.

Jennifer: You're very welcome.


Latest news