Jennifer Westacott interview with Gareth Parker, 6PR

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Gareth Parker, 6PR Breakfast

Speakers: Gareth Parker, host 6PR Breakfast; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Date: 2 March 2021

Topics: Three steps to reopen Australia’s economy, vaccine roll-out, COVID economic recovery

 

E&OE

 

Gareth Parker, host 6PR Breakfast: On the line, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, who has a new blueprint for the vaccine and how it can help unlock Australia. Jennifer Westacott, good morning.

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

Gareth: Thanks for your time. What's your plan?

Jennifer: So we’ve got a common-sense plan that’s got three themes to it. The first is as the vaccine rolls out, so as we get to the end of each stage, we reopen and keep open elements of the economy. For example, when we've finished everyone who is vulnerable, high risk workers, workers working in higher risk locations, we start to do things like lift caps on venues. We permanently open the state borders and end this stop-start, stop-start. And then as you get towards the end of the vaccine get more and more things open. So, when you finish the bulk of Australians, particularly people over 60 and over 55, you start letting international students in, you start letting targeted migration in and of course you've got to always keep returning people home. So it's a common-sense plan. Second thing in our plan is to get the message right about health, sharpen the message. It's got to be less about reporting on positive cases every day and more about how many people are being vaccinated. How many people being vaccinated twice, how many people are in hospital. And then the third thing is we've got to continue to support those industries that can't open due to restrictions and that's through targeted support rather than JobKeeper. So that we focus on those industries like aviation, like tourism and continue to help them out in a really difficult time.

Gareth: Do you reckon that the focus on cases is unhelpful?

Jennifer: I think so, because I think - certainly as the vaccine rolls out - it becomes more and more unhelpful because the purpose of the vaccine is to stop people getting sick. So we have to move that message to people to say, how many people are being vaccinated? How many people are in hospital? And less about that daily reporting of positive cases. Obviously, we have to track transmission. But as you and I talked about before, one case does not equal a disaster. One case, a positive case, does not justify in my view shutting state borders and shutting down a whole pile of things.

Gareth: But that's not the rhetoric is it? Because one case can lead to a Victoria style lockdown?

Jennifer: Yes and I think that's not helpful to people. I think people have got to feel confident, do you know that 50 per cent of people in people in Australia won’t travel interstate? Not because they are frightened of the virus, they’re frightened of being left there. They’re frightened of a lockdown. Now that’s a lot of people Gareth. And that means there's a lot of businesses, particularly on those border towns or particularly in tourist locations in regions, who aren't getting people through because people are so worried about the fact that the border might shut behind them. So I think as we roll it out, surely the vaccine is the time to draw a line in the sand and say let’s get a plan to open things and keep them open.

Gareth: How do you convince the premiers? Particularly the premiers like our premier, who've been very strong on borders?

Jennifer: I understand that. But at some point you've got to say, how long can Western Australia just be completely estranged from east coast? And at a point where it actually starts to hurt the West Australian economy. Now obviously mining has been very good to Western Australia, but you kind of got to think over time, the longer that goes on, the more harmful it’s going to be. So that’s the first thing. I think the second thing is, if you only vaccinate people and we stop people getting sick, great, but surely that's half the job done. The job is to get things open and get the economy moving again, because we just can't go on like this. With these random border closures, random lockdowns, inconsistency between the states. Imagine if you were an airline trying to plan your scheduling, which takes about six months? We just need to say let’s take this opportunity of having done such a great job of getting a really good vaccine roll-out to carefully introduce more and more easing of restrictions in line with the vaccine roll-out. Surely, that's just common-sense Gareth.

Gareth: Jennifer Westcott. Thank you for your time.

Jennifer: You're welcome. Thank you.