Jennifer Westacott - Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

Event: Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB
Speaker: Jennifer Westacott
Date: 28 February 2018
Topics: Energy, company tax and regulation

Ben Fordham, host: This has been a debacle, power prices going up - not only for the family home but for Australian businesses too. Well, we learn today, that a top American executive and an ally to Donald Trump, Andrew Liveris, has told business leaders that our unreliable energy market was a good reason not to invest in Australia. He said our energy policy had been formed on voodoo instead of science and that policy uncertainty is driving business away from Australia. I am very happy to say that on the line we have Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. Jennifer Westacott, good afternoon.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Thanks Ben.

Ben: Not many people would be too surprised here in Australia considering the power bills coming in but it's a bit of a worry when you hear this from a top American business executive.

Jennifer: Yeah, look I was at that meeting with him and other business leaders and this is a big issue for American investors and for Australian companies that we've got uncertainty about policy, we've got very high prices, we've got states doing their own thing. All that creates, on top of things like tax and regulation, an environment where people don't want to put their money in Australia and we've got to actually be a destination for Australian companies to do more and international companies to come here. As you rightly said, energy policy has just been a debacle in this country for far too long. The government though, put out the National Energy Guarantee before Christmas. We think that's the right way forward. What is needed is for the states to not play politics, get on board and get it done.

Ben: Well, I hate to talk us down but why would a business invest in Australia when they can pay lower power prices and lower taxes elsewhere?

Jennifer: Well, this is the point we've been making, Ben. People think that people will just come to Australia because they love us. Well, sorry, if you are running a big company, whether it's an Australian company that operates overseas or an international company that has choices about investing in Australia - you've got an obligation to your shareholders to get the best return. All this stuff about, ‘people love Australia’, well they do, and we were over there celebrating over a hundred years of mateship. Well we are mates, but we're competitors. I tell you what, we better get competitive and energy is part of that, our massive red tape is the other, and of course our uncompetitive tax system is the other kind of cornerstone of our lack of competitiveness.

Ben: What do you think Andrew Liveris meant when he said our energy policy has been formed on voodoo instead of science?

Jennifer: Well, it's all on ideology. It's on people's, kind of you know, for example, one of the issues he talks about is the moratoriums on releasing gas. Now one of the things that the Americans have done is they have unleashed their shale gas and that has made them a net energy exporter. Once upon a time they were importing from other countries and now they are exporting to countries they once imported from. They have done that under very strict scientific controls. Now we've got in New South Wales and Victoria, we are continuing to have moratoriums on unconventional gas. Notwithstanding the chief scientists have said, here is the right way that we can actually get this gas into the marketplace but all of this, you know, uncertainty that deters investment, locking up the supply, all of this just puts upward pressure on prices.

Ben: It's not a happy story but it's one that we need to talk about. Jennifer Westacott, thanks for coming on.

Jennifer: Good on you, thanks.

Ben: Jennifer Westacott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. It doesn't fill you with confidence does it? We've known it’s a problem for a long time and now we've got major business and investors overseas pointing out the obvious - why would you invest here when you can get lower power prices and lower taxes elsewhere?