Jennifer Westacott, interview with Gary Adshead, 6PR

22 August 2023

Event: Jennifer Westacott, interview with Gary Adshead, 6PR
Speakers: Gary Adshead, host, 6PR; Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Seize the moment


Gary Adshead host, 6PR: CEO of the Business Council of Australia joins me on the line, G’day Jennifer.

Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia: G’day.

Gary Adshead: Seize the moment, is it? Seize the moment, sounds like that movie, carpe diem. Seize the day. Are we not seizing the day at the moment?  

Jennifer Westacott: No, we’re not. Our plan is a plan to drive higher wages, it's a plan to lock in full employment. It's a plan to lift Australia's living standards now and into the future. And we want to do this by a few things. Firstly, we've got to grow our economy faster, it's not growing fast enough. We've got to be more productive to do that, more competitive by doing things smarter, that will then allow us to tap into these new, fantastic value-added supply chains across the rest of the world. And that will allow us to broaden the base of our economy, which is too narrow. Ten companies pay 30 per cent of all of the tax, we've got too many things in one basket. Then we need to skill our people, focus on a system of lifelong learning from your early childhood in through your working life. We've got to make sure we deepen those relationships with those emerging Asian economies and get more out of our free trade arrangements. We've got to make sure this is all private sector led, it’s the private sector that can do the heavy lifting on growth. But we also need government to do their bit, we need to make sure our budget is in a strong position so that our community can get the services they want, now and into the future. It's a comprehensive plan. It's a commonsense plan. And if we could do this and get our economy growing again at its long run average of just over 3 per cent, our economy in the decade will be $200 billion bigger, governments will have an additional $50 billion in revenue, and the average worker will be $7,000 a year better off.

Gary Adshead: As you point out, you know, coal, iron ore, natural gas, education, gold and wheat, that's it really; that's 60 per cent of our exports to the world. I know we talk about this, I'm sure that there are plenty of companies out there that are doing innovative things, but they probably need a leg up to sort of take it overseas. But why aren't we very good at being innovative and just become sort of bogged down and so reliant on … here in WA, iron ore, natural gas, it stops there.

Jennifer Westacott: Yeah, that's a really good point. Look, I think there's a few reasons. One is, in the past, manufacturing was driven by, let's be honest, cost of labour. That world has changed, because it’s all now incredible technology driven. It's all about digital, it's all about really advanced technology, like 3D printing. And what is going to characterise people getting access to those markets are the skills and capabilities of our people. And we've got that in abundance, I think we've not really been able to scale things up. So, I see, particularly in parts of the east coast where I spend a lot of time in Western Sydney, I see these fantastic, small manufacturers, but they're not exporting. So, we need to make sure that we scale them up, that we bring in bigger investors, that we encourage investment because there's no shortage of demand. So, it's about encouraging investment and getting things to scale up. And then we need to make sure that our free trade agreements get us into the markets that are the big demand markets with this huge Asian middle class that's growing. So, look, there's a lot of reasons, but we shouldn't underestimate how good some things are in the economy. Critical minerals is a big opportunity we need to get into. We just need to, to your point, we need to just get rid of all the noise in the system; the rules, the red tape, the stuff that holds people back, and create a better investment environment for people to get on do stuff.

Gary Adshead: GST - now you’re talking about reforming the tax system. So, where does GST sit in any reform?

Jennifer Westacott: We think the GST has to be on the table, at least for discussion. I think where we've got to in the last ten years, every time someone talks about tax reform, someone says something about the GST and everyone stops talking about it. And the simple reality is that the tax system is not going to be good enough to do the two things that it needs to do – it needs to raise the revenue for the services people need, and it needs to do it in a way that drives investment, drives incentives, drives the economy harder. It’s not doing either of those at the moment. So, we're saying, let's have the conversation about tax reform. Let's look at the mix of taxes to make sure that we're as efficient as we can be. This is not about increasing the burden of tax on everyday Australians. This is about a system that's more efficient, more modern.

Gary Adshead: Does that mean possibly increasing GST to sort of create that revenue?

Jennifer Westacott: That’s a matter of government. I mean, it's one of the options that we put on the table. But you know, you've got to obviously weigh that against the potential of broadening the base as well, like there are options available to government to think about it, but it can't be taken off the table like we've done for the last decade, where we just end up talking about a couple of taxes, and then we don't actually get the whole system working properly.

Gary Adshead: Where does migration fit into your thinking at the moment?

Jennifer Westacott: We’re supporting migration, but we think it needs to be carefully planned. We think the government's target which is basically returning to the number before COVID is the right number. We think that the agreement by the government to move that to the skilled end of migration is really important. We think it's important that people have permanent pathways. And we think that, you know, migration is good for the country, it brings the jobs, people to fill the jobs, and small business particularly are still telling me they can't get workers, can't scale up. But it also brings the skills, you know, the kind of skills transfer of people working in cyber, and some of these, you know, these new digital areas, we get those people working in our economy. So, it's a good thing. But it's got to be carefully managed and carefully planned, and that's particularly about fixing the housing market.

Gary Adshead: Does the BCA give any consideration to more companies allowing four day working weeks? I mean, you talk about productivity a lot. Where do you think that four day working week sits in the productivity?

Jennifer Westacott: Yeah, look, it'd be a matter for companies to think about that. This is going to be a different story for every company, isn't it? Like, you know, it's like working from home. You know, it's great for some companies. But, you know, there are things where you absolutely need people to be there, and customers want people to be there, and you can't say, you know, this person's working from home today. So, I think it's going to be a company-by-company decision, and that's a good thing. But we should think about all the innovation we can bring, all the technology we can bring to unleash the potential of our people who are our best asset.

Gary Adshead: Cutting red tape, I reckon is probably high on the agenda. There's still a lot of it, isn’t there?

Jennifer Westacott: Absolutely, we've got a whole chapter on cutting red tape; planning approvals, licensing arrangements, occupational classifications, it's just too hard to do business in this country.

Gary Adshead: Ties us in knots, that red tape. All right, thanks very much for talking to us, Jennifer. Really appreciate your time. Good on you.

Jennifer Westacott: No worries.


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