Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Ben Fordham, Ben Fordham Live, 2GB
Speakers: Ben Fordham, host Ben Fordham Live; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Topics: Federal budget; wages growth; productivity; energy prices; net zero economy
Ben Fordham, host Ben Fordham Live: Jennifer Westacott is on the line the CEO of the Business Council. Jennifer, good morning to you.
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Good morning, Ben.
Ben: Where do we start? Maybe with wages, because that's probably what a lot of people are thinking about, the news from the Federal Treasurer last night, wages aren't going to be going up anytime soon?
Jennifer: No, they are not Ben, and this is the challenge for the budget. It's not a bad budget, it's pretty responsible, it's careful, there is some good stuff in it around skills, getting women back to work, a big infrastructure spend, some sensible reining in of spending. But to your point, the important point, we've got a big set of numbers that are very problematic, our productivity, and that's the thing that drives wages, doing stuff smarter. It’s at a 60 year low, that's the biggest handbrake on wages. We've got a debt at a trillion dollars, the fastest growing payment in the budget is the interest bill. That's faster than the NDIS over a decade, faster than education, faster than health. We've got feeble economic growth at 1.5 per cent. That's what drives up wages, rising to 2.5 per cent. We've got rising unemployment. So, my message, Ben, is we've got to get out cracking on getting this country moving again. Getting industries growing, getting companies to invest in this country, getting people skilled, getting kids finishing school properly, we've got to stop kicking these big decisions down the road.
Ben: Okay, how do you get businesses to invest and to expand when they're told in the budget speech last night by the Treasurer, that power prices are going to go up 50 per cent over the next two years?
Jennifer: Well, there's a few things that will help companies invest. First of all, we've got to have a more competitive tax system. I look around the world Ben and I talk to all these companies, ‘why don't you do more in Australia? Why don't you do more in Western Sydney?’ Which I'm passionate about. And they say, two things. ‘It's too hard to do business in Australia, there is too much red tape, taxes are too high, we can go somewhere else.’ And of course, ‘energy prices are a real block.’ Now what do we have to do about that? First of all, we've got to stop mucking around with policy, which has been going on for a decade. Encourage companies to invest in transmission, we've got to get some kind of what they call a capacity mechanism in place. Which was all about reliability and affordability. That's been scuttled by the states who say, ‘oh, we can't talk about gas.’ Well, we have to have gas in that system, if we're going to have reliable and affordable power. Then we've got to stay the course on a really sensible transition to a low carbon economy, a net zero economy. So those are all the things that have to be done. And we are going to have to look at making sure that the most vulnerable people in the community don't slip through. But we are in this position, in some cases, because of what's happened around the world. But in most cases, because of the decisions we've made or not made that have got us to this point.
Ben: Give it a score out of ten or give it a report card, A B C, what does it get?
Jennifer: Look, I don't do that because I think it's not the right way to look at it. I think it's a good budget for where we are in the government cycle. What matters now is the budget in May, and that budget in May cannot sweep the big decisions. It cannot make decisions that are going to deter investment. The May budget has to be about getting the economy cracking.
Ben: We always love getting your take and I know you've had a late night and early start this morning. So, thanks for joining us.
Jennifer: You're very welcome.