Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Haidi-Stroud Watts, Bloomberg Day Break Asia
Speakers: Haidi-Stroud Watts, host; Shery Ahn, host; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Date: 11 October 2021
Topics: NSW reopening; BCA’s blueprint to achieve a net zero economy
Haidi-Stroud Watts, host: Jennifer, great to have you with us as always. This is obviously a day of jubilance and relief for a lot of your members. Are they adequately prepared, given so much of the infrastructure behind checking vaccinations, or you know, working out how many people you can have in any given space is really down to the businesses themselves to try to and enforce.
Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive: Yeah, look, they are well prepared, they’ve been working on this for a long time and the New South Wales government is very good at working in detail with businesses to say, well how would we do this? And of course, they've got a lot of practice. This will be the second time we've done this, off the back of the first lockdown. So, businesses know what to do. They've got great systems in place, they've got antigen testing place where it is necessary. As was just said, this is more like easing than freedom day. So, there's still quite proportionate medical restrictions in place, mask wearing and so on. Business really does know how to do this, but today is a day of great relief and great optimism. People are getting back, I've heard stories of hairdressers opening at midnight last night with people queuing up and others being booked out for months. I think this is really going add a big oomph into the economy leading up to Christmas.
Haidi-Stroud: And that's before getting to the crowds I'm sure we'll see for pubs as they reopen! Jennifer, how quickly do you expect a bounce back in some of the hardest hit segments of the economy, particularly as we are now dealing with this kind of melding of crises with inflation concerns, supply chain concerns, going into Christmas.
Jennifer: The first thing we need to do is make sure that we're not going back into lockdown. I think the premier in New South Wales is making that very careful undertaking that you might need to do some very local lockdowns, but no more state wide lockdowns. Businesses need to know that. We then need to get our domestic borders open and we need to keep them open because they're the thing that drives supply chains. And then we need to find ways of getting international labour into Australia, whether that's at the very skilled end in the ICT industry or whether it's people in restaurants or the agriculture sector, we need really quickly need to get skilled workers and then international students back, they're huge part of the economy. That's the plan that we've worked up and we really need government now to sit down and work out how we do that. It will take sectors like hospitality a little bit longer, we might need to do things like small business startup support because there's still quite a lot of restrictions in place. What we know is that last time we did this when we started to release activity the economy really bounced back very fast.
Shery Ahn: In the meantime, we'll continue to see those infection numbers creep up. Victoria state recording 1,612 new cases in the past 24 hours on top of New South Wales recording 496 in the past day. So, tell us a little bit about your members' plans in order to keep businesses and their employees safe? And what sort of guidelines have you received from the government and perhaps support also coming from government regulations?
Jennifer: Yeah. First of all, those numbers are, particularly in NSW, coming down and it shows the power of the vaccine. We know the data is just overwhelming that when you're double vaccinated, your chance of transmission drops by over 80% and your chance getting sick or worse, dying, drops into the 90%. We know that vaccines and working. We've had very good corroboration about the sort of safe distances we need to get people back into offices, to get them back into retail. There's a lot of detailed work going on with government about how that's actually going to work in practice, where we're going to use rapid antigen testing. Obviously, a lot of companies are saying as a condition of employment, they want to see people fully vaccinated before they come into the office and that's a perfectly sensible thing to do. So, there's a huge effort, daily calls with the government now to make sure that we do this safely and that we do this in a way that we can sustain that opening, because that's what business is saying to me, "I need to stay opened up.” Particularly small business, they just don't have the fire power to keep stopping and starting.
Shery Ahn: So, Jennifer, another a huge effort from the Business Council of Australia has been when it comes to your climate targets. I understand that your newest policy paper is calling for a doubling of Australia's efforts to slash carbon pollution. Tell us a little bit about the main objectives here and how you're coordinating also with the government that has off course been heavily criticized over their climate goals.
Jennifer: Yeah. A really important piece of work we released last week. Our objective has always been to get to net zero by 2050, the question has always been how. What we released last week is a plan for how to get there. How to get there by driving better coordination to signal investment, by bringing forward earlier action and that means a greater level of ambition in that 2030 target. A plan to bring forward the commercially viable, easier to do emissions reductions, but to also start sending the signal to drive investment in those harder to abate sectors. We've got a big plan for how we make sure that regional Australia gets the lions’ share of new opportunities and new growth. We've called for a very, very careful re-look at the offset markets to create a credible, deep, liquid offset market, because you can't get to total zero, you've got to get to net zero. We've called to continue work on adaptation. We've called for setting carbon budgets over 10 years so that business can see the cycles. And we've called for a continued focus on technology. Our plan is very much using government architecture, which is actually very good, to say if we do a bit here and we do a bit there, we can bring forward those easy to abate sectors and send the signal for the harder to abate sectors to drive that investment. We believe this is workable, it's ambitious, but it's an achievable plan.
Haidi-Stroud Watts: One of the government's major issues with taking stronger action on climate change is how that transition is going to hit jobs, workers and the Australian people, right? Given that you represent so many of these major employers, the most powerful companies like the big miners, like Wesfarmers, is there a plan to be able to decarbonise quickly enough, but also preserve that labour market element?
Jennifer: Absolutely. I think the big mistake is to assume that by doing nothing nothing is going to happen. Things will happen, I mean the capital market, as you know, are moving very fast in this direction. Business is taking action, whether it's the big miners, bp, Shell, they're taking action to reduce the emissions intensity to get to that net zero. And there's also a huge opportunity here, whether it's in hydrogen or whether it's in green steel, whether it's in the minerals that are going to be needed to power up a battery economy, whether it's in pumped hydro. There are huge opportunities for companies, for regional communities, the challenge is to get those opportunities now, to get in early and make sure Australia gets the lion's share of those.
Haidi-Stroud Watts: Jennifer really great to have you with us. And we appreciate your time this morning.