Jennifer Westacott interview with Fran Kelly, ABC RN Breakfast

17 February 2020



Fran Kelly, host: Over the weekend The Business Council of Australia trucked in demountable buildings to the fire ravaged town of Mogo down on the New South Wales, South Coast. Dozens of businesses in Eurobodalla Shire lost their premises in this summer's bushfire crisis. 500 homes were lost in the area too and lives too. The BCA has now set up a pop-up mall in the main street of Mogo in a bid to try and kick start the local economy. Jennifer Westacott is the chief executive of the BCA and she joins me here in the breakfast studio. Jennifer, welcome back to breakfast.

Jennifer Westacott AO, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: Thanks very much Fran.

Fran: Here on RN Breakfast we were down in Mogo just a couple of weeks ago and saw firsthand the devastation from the fires. Seven weeks on from the Clyde Mountain fire, what did you find in Mogo?

Jennifer: Well, we found that people were very hopeful. They had, there was a real sense of optimism when those trucks rolled into town, people cheering and clapping as the trucks came in.

Fran: Is that right?

Jennifer: The military was band playing. People were saying, "okay, we're going to turn a corner, we can get our shops back up and running, we can set up this little CBD," because you know a lot of businesses, about 25% of businesses, were destroyed in the fire. But you know there's that famous leather goods shop there, they were so excited...

Fran: Roman's. 

Jennifer: Roman Leather Goods. There was a sense of this being a turning point, this is a kind of, ‘okay we can now get our businesses up and running.’ So, a sense of incredible sadness and loss but a sense of optimism and hope.

Fran: How widely did you consult, the BCA with this fund you've got set up, consult with the community before you moved in with the demountables?

Jennifer:Well we went down to that community very early, down to Batemans Bay and that broader area, and we've been going around communities and they were very clear, the community, what they needed. Very specific. And so this is really about communities bouncing back not about what the BCA is doing and they were very specific - this is what we need...

Fran: Shops.

Jennifer: Shops. We need some kind of demountable kind of 'pop up mall', we're calling it, so we can get our shops up, so we can get our cashflow going, so we can keep our staff on. They were very specific with us in terms of their needs and then we worked with the local government who was fantastic. Then we worked with the great company ATCO and Nancy Southern the global head of ATCO was there on Saturday, and they just cut through everything to put them all up in time.

Fran: Why has the BCA decided to focus on Mogo? You represent big business, these businesses we're talking about in Mogo, you mentioned Romans Leather Goods, they're small. Many of them, you know, some of them have, you know, turnovers not more than 60,000. Where's the synergy?

Jennifer: Well, first of all our BizRebuild initiative is bigger than Mogo, this is just a tip of the iceberg thing. And we've been around various communities with our flying squads going in and looking at what's happening with local businesses. What's it going to take to get them back on their feet? Giving people vouchers for things like accounting advice, legal advice, giving people their tools so they can start working again, getting a cashflow in. I think Tim and I, Tim Reed our new president, saw this; here's an opportunity for the Business Council to coordinate for impact, to get big and small working together because you know we can't afford to have these regional communities fail and business is the lifeblood, small business is the lifeblood of these communities. And if they don't have cashflow and they're not up and running, we'll see these communities gradually die and that's not good for the country.

Fran: So the pop-up mall and then you're out or is there more?


Jennifer: Oh no, there'll be more, there'll be lots more. We're going community to community. We're doing some sort of short-term things like these vouchers I've talked about. You got to get some legal advice, you've got to get some accounting advice, you've got to get a business plan.

Fran: And local vouchers, right?

Jennifer: Local vouchers exactly. Giving people tools, there was a company in Bateman's Bay called Beach House Stairs, they'd lost all their tools. They couldn't see a way that they were going to keep their apprentices on. We rang Bunnings and said, can you give them some tool kits? They did and they're up and running again and they'll be able to get some of that contract work is part of the rebuilding initiative. So Fran, we'll be around all of the affected areas. We've been around to nearly all of them to my recollection. Basically sitting down with the chambers, with the local community saying, what do you need? And our focus is business rebuilding.

Fran: You're listening to RN Breakfast, it's 11 minutes to eight. Our guest is Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. This summer's bushfire crisis has reignited action on climate change and the climate wars within the government, we've seen on show. It's fuelled calls for stronger climate action. You've backed, the BCA is backing now, Zali Steggall the independent's, private member's bill for net-zero emissions by 2050. Are all your members on board with that?

Jennifer: Well the net-zero target has been a target of the BCA's for quite some time. And all of our policies are worked through with members, we've got quite a structured process but Fran I think post this terrible summer that we've had, everyone in the country needs to draw a line in the sand and say, first of all, where do we want to get to? And we're saying the net-zero by 2050, because the science directs us there, is the place to start. But then the how really matters. How are we going to do this in a way that drives technology? How are we going to do it in a way that drives regional jobs? How are we going to do it in a way that preserves affordability and reliability? How are we going to do it in a way that brings the community along? Because if we do not do that, we will go back to the kind of decade we've had where we make a start and then we stop.

Fran: I want to come to the how. But you say zero emissions by 2050 has been your policy for a long time, but it was only not that long ago when the BCA was describing the policy Labor took the last election, which included 45% by 2030, as an economy wrecking and yet that was what the science told us was needed to get us there too.

Jennifer: Don't forget that was a very ambitious target across the whole of the economy.

Fran: But it was led by the science.

Jennifer: Well, you know there are debates about that but most importantly, there was no plan. There was no costing, there was no policy to drive it and, that's why the how really does matter. But you know, we're talking about an economy wide target over quite a short period of time, to 2030, without a plan. Now the Labor party itself has moved away from that target. But I think the crucial thing Fran, is that the country has to draw a line in the sand and move forward and what we've tried to do in the last couple of weeks is say, well okay, let's try and set that net-zero 2050 target. Let's try and get the country focused on that and let's try and work out how we're going to do it.

Fran: Because it's not like just putting it off to 2045 right?

Jennifer: Absolutely not.

Fran: To achieve zero emissions by 2050 in this country, climate experts say Australia will have to shut down our fossil fuel industry, not overnight, but over the next 20 to 30 years for instance. Do you accept that? That we need to start mapping out that kind of transition?

Jennifer: Well we need to map out a transition. We need to say, 'where is the technology readiness?' We need to remember that 65% of our power is coal fired power produced. So we are in for a transition and we have to make that transition. We have to find a way of making sure that as we bring renewables on, and we're one of the fastest take ups on a per capita basis of renewable energy, that we build in the reliable power, which will be things like battery, pumped hydro, gas obviously the big transition fuel, hydrogen. We have to do this in a staged incremental way. We have to map out, which is the very important feature of Zali Steggall bill, these five-year carbon budgets and we have to do that in a way that says, where's the technology? What's the impact on the economy? What are going to be the policy settings that drive that technology harder. And most importantly, Fran, how do we make sure that we're creating jobs at the same time and we're creating them in those regions.

Fran: And is it to be spoken of in terms of a cost, I mean aren't there opportunities?

Jennifer: Absolutely there are. We should be a clean energy superpower but that is going to require planning. That's going to require things like continuing our LNG exports, continuing to unleash our incredible gas reserves, which of course are 50% more efficient than coal fire. But one really important thing to remind everybody about the 2050 target is a net-zero target.

Fran: It's doesn't mean we don't emit.

Jennifer: Correct and it's very important that we do not take technologies off the table, that we continue to investigate carbon capture storage, carbon storage, carbon sequestration as it's called, that we think about the whole economy's role, not just the energy sector’s.

Fran: Okay. Sections of the government, including the leader of the Nationals and the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, say the economy can't afford this and they'll do all they can to ensure it doesn't become Coalition policy. Let's hear Michael McCormack from Insiders.

Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister: Well, I think if you go down that path, what you're going to do is send factories and industries offshore, send manufacturing jobs offshore.

David Speers, host, Insiders: So that's a no?

Michael McCormack: That's not the Australian way. Regional Australia is more than doing its fair share as far as making sure that we have lower emissions and, of course we don't know what technologies are going to be invented over the next 30 years. It's a long way down the track to 2050. I want to make sure, and what the Nationals are working towards, is making sure we have reliable, affordable energy.

Fran: So is Michael McCormack right? The risk is it'll send jobs offshore or we've got to go beyond that?

Jennifer: Not if we do it properly, and that's the challenge. So you've got to have a kind of end point, where do we want to head but the how, as I keep saying, really matters. How do we do this? How do we drive those technologies and let's keep a focus on affordability and reliability and let's keep a big focus on regional job creation. So for example, existing plants, can they be converted to different uses? How do we make sure that we're keeping an open mind to technology change? How do we make sure that this is about the energy mix as opposed to picking one sector of the economy? And saying, how do we get there with the right energy mix and the right policies? That's what our work is going to do. Step it through and say, this is how we can do this. What's the alternative?

Fran: Just back to cost versus opportunity. The Prime Minister's vowed he'll never commit to this particular policy until he knows what it would cost the Australian people but why is this the only economic transformation in history that's economy wrecking? I mean that seems to be the way it's talked of. Are we lacking leadership in explaining this transition?

Jennifer: I think it doesn't have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn't be that way because look at all the incredible advantages we've got. We should be a hydrogen superpower as Allen Finkel, the chief scientist has said, we should be unleashing our gas reserves. Our LNG has contributed enormously, 95 million tonnes of carbon taken out of the atmosphere through LNG. That's 22 million cars off the road. We've got to take a positive view to this. How do we set a goal for the future? How do we get there? But keeping in mind, we've got to have at the front of our planning, how do we create new jobs? How do we manage the transition and how do we make sure those jobs are in regional communities?

Fran: So the government in your view, should declare this target soon?

Jennifer: Well I want both sides of politics to sit down, surely after this summer - surely - we can actually sit down as a country and sort of say, well here at least we can agree where we want to get to. The how is obviously more contested space. But we believe there's a way forward and we believe that's the conversation the Australian people should have. Now we need now some bipartisanship on at least where we're going.\

Fran: Jennifer Westacott, thanks very much for joining us.

Jennifer: You're very welcome. Thank you.


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