Jennifer Westacott interview with James Glenday, ABC News Breakfast

30 March 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with James Glenday, ABC News Breakfast
Speakers: James Glenday, host, ABC News Breakfast; Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Date: 30 March Topics: 2022 federal budget; wage growth; skills and training; housing affordability

James Glenday, host, ABC News Breakfast: Good morning, Michael, we're here trying to get all the budget reaction as you guys have been talking about. I'm joined now by the Business Council of Australia chief executive, Jennifer Westacott and also Cassandra Goldie from the Australian Council of Social Services. Thank you so much for your time this morning. The birds are a little bit loud but hopefully we'll make it through. I want to ask you first of all, Jennifer, are workers actually going to get a pay rise in the foreseeable future? Can we trust these wage rise estimates that are in the budget?

Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia: The wage rise estimates are there. The work has to be done on getting those wage rises. Some of that work is done in the budget, the skills package is very good, there's some real incentives for small business around training, but the hard work of getting sustained wage increases is the stuff around lifting our productivity. It's the stuff around lifting our skills, it's the stuff around getting business investment going and business investment is forecast to go up obviously, but then it does come to a cliff. I think the wage rises don't come by just doing what's in the budget. We need those other policy settings about making it easier to employ people, making it easier to do business, making Australian an attractive destination for investment and making sure that our workers have got the best skills they can have. Finally, it is about restoring the enterprise agreement system. That is the system that Labor introduced under the Hawke-Keating Government. That is the system that is time and time again given people higher wages and that system is in free-fall and we need to get that system back on track.

James: Interesting. Cassandra there’s a lot of headline grabbing figures about the cost of living, cash handouts, tax offsets, obviously petrol prices, the excise being halved, is this going to reduce the cost of living? Are people going to notice this?

Cassandra Goldie, chief executive officer, Australian Council of Social Service: Well, we’ve got a budget that puts temporary fixes in, but not the permanent solutions we actually need. We’ve got some people, people on very low incomes, for whom this is a crisis. Their incomes have not been lifted. We got that $250 one-off payment, but if you're on just $46 a day on JobSeeker, you'll rely on it for a week, maybe two, but you’ve got to pay the rent every week.

James: That was one of my questions. Putting a roof over your head in Australia at the moment, house prices, rents, things like that, is one of the most expensive bits of the cost of living, what would you liked to have seen done to try to address that last night?

Cassandra: First of all, we’ve got to get incomes up for those who have got the least. Social security income support must be enough to cover the basics. We didn't get any increase again, in Commonwealth rent assistance, which is the one that helps people in the private rental market. That's where it's crushing and everybody has been saying invest in social housing. Those first homeowner schemes are very damaging actually to housing affordability because they drive up prices every single time.

James: The guarantee program?

Cassandra: That's time. The super saving scheme and the first home guarantee scheme, all those do is put more demand into the market and of course, house prices keep going up. We didn't get what we needed on housing affordability, we certainly didn't get what we needed for people on the lowest incomes. Those tax offsets, they're expensive and they're going right up the income scale to people on $100,000. I think there's a big question there. We would have been much better to spend those dollars on people who are really struggling, facing homelessness and hunger, not to those who've actually got a bit of savings put away.

James: But there's an election to be won. Jennifer, I wanted to ask this extra spending on skills. Unemployment is obviously low, forecast to near record lows. Why do we need to be spending on this now?

Jennifer: There are a couple of reasons. In the short term, what businesses large and small say to me is they need two things. They need labour and they need skilled labour and we do have a skills gap. The economy is changing really fast. We've got the rise of technology, we've got digitisation in almost every aspect of the economy and many people don't have the skills to do the jobs that are going to be in the economy. The second thing is we need to transition our economy to a low carbon future. We need to attract those new industries, we need to get to advanced manufacturing. Again, you need the skill base to do that. It's absolutely essential that we invest in skills and that we invest in skills in a way that allows people to up-skill really quickly. Obviously, their big apprenticeship announcement the $2.8 billion is hugely important, but there's a very important announcement there, which is a $550 million tax offset for small business to train their people. Now many small business just don't have the bandwidth to do the training that’s needed, so that people have got the skills to stay and work, get promoted, get higher wages. So, the skills package is a huge underpinning of a more successful economy.

James: Well Jennifer Westacott, Cassandra Goldie thank you so much for joining us this morning.


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