Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda Sky News
Speakers: Laura Jayes host, AM Agenda; Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: BizRebuild, disaster resilience, businesses assistance
Laura Jayes, host: Joining me live is the Business Council of Australia CEO, Jennifer Westcott. Jennifer, thanks so much for your time. It's not just government stepping up, and of course perhaps they need to do a little bit more, but there is a role for business here. So what are you doing?
Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive: So I'm here in Brisbane today, I'm going to be meeting with local chambers, I've met with government officials this morning, trying to assess what's the impact on the ground and how we get assistance to small business. Then to your point it's those vouchers, it's that stuff that allows people to keep going. What we've got is of big companies like Rio Tinto, Origin, BlueScope, Katy Page from Harvey Norman and Gilbert + Tobin, donating money to then give to small businesses, so that we can give those vouchers out and get people back up and running. It's that stuff that, while government assistance gets rolled out, lets people get their tools replaced, they get their laptop replaced, they get their equipment up and running. You know, some people have lost their printer, their stationary, it's all those simple things that mean that they can't actually operate their business and get money coming in the door. The other thing we can give them is a package to get advice and that advice is essential because there's a lot of government assistance but some people don't know how to get it, it helps them sort of fill forms and things like that.
Laura: There's an altruistic element to this, of course, but what is the motivation for big business helping those down the food chain?
Jennifer: There is of course a moral kind of argument here as you say but businesses are the lifeblood of communities and what we've seen in many disasters is that a lot of businesses just don't get back up and running again. It's not in anyone's interest to have businesses exit because when they exit other people exit, and then the economy of those regions starts to fall away. So, this is sort of helping people because obviously the first priority is a moral one but the second one is about keeping communities strong, keeping our regions strong, keeping their economies strong by keeping businesses active.
Laura: So how do you get these vouchers? Is it easier than going through government websites because we know that's a little bit onerous at times.
Jennifer: Yeah. Look, it's a very light touch requirement. We require very little in the way of form filling, it's a sort of simple online process. You just need to have your ABN and your drivers license so that we know you're a real person, you apply for the assistance and then we get it out to you really, really fast. We're not the government, we can obviously take a different approach. We're not giving the size of grants that the government's giving and it's really important that we do that while government does what I think it has to do, which is the due diligence on those big grants that were announced yesterday - $50,000, $75,000 for farms and so on. But you know, it's a very easy process, and the one thing people have given us feedback on is that that the process was so easy and it was so quick and they could sort of get stuff happening again
Laura: In Brisbane, you know, it was 10 years ago, 11 years ago that we saw those floods under you now, and all the businesses along river who've had to rebuild. Those floods in Lismore as well, it was only five years ago. They're talking about, they essentially have businesses in locations that are uninsurable because the cost is totally prohibitive, more than what they make a year in many ways. So what needs to change in that sense?
Jennifer: Look, I think once we recover from this terrible situation, I do think we need to step back and look at the whole kind of question of resilience. And that goes to, is our infrastructure resilient so that we can actually give people greater protection? What's the role of the zoning systems, the planning systems? At the moment the priority is getting people safe, getting them secure and obviously getting them back up on their feet. But I think the question you are raising is an important one. I do think it's time for us to stand back as a country and say, "we're going to have these events over and over again, so how do we make sure that our infrastructure is up to the task?” And that we looking at raising road levels, creating better evacuation centres and looking at the levies and infrastructure to make sure that it's actually going to cope with bigger events.
Laura: You've seen businesses go through tough times before. We've just been through two years of COVID. We have oil prices that are through the roof, historic highs, and then some businesses smashed by floods, then on top of that, you've got supply chain issues. Just how hard is doing business at the moment, right across the board?
Jennifer: Very hard Laura, and on top of that it's hard to get workers. I think one of the challenges we're going to have is getting the labour we need to do the rebuilding at the scale that's going to be necessary. People have been, as you rightly say, for two years they've just been smashed, one thing after the other. Whether it's locked borders, whether it's lockdowns, whether it's bushfires, whether it's other floods. But that's why we all have to get around people and say, "we are here to support you". You'd be surprised how these vouchers, they really give people hope and they say, "yeah, I can get going again, I can get cash flow coming again, I can get customers back in the door and I can start working again". Then they get the bigger assistance by government. I think to be fair governments, for the last two years state and federal governments, I think they've done a pretty remarkable job of actually having the backs of Australians. They put a lot of money out there, whether it's for COVID relief or floods or fires, I think there's no sign of that stopping. I think people understand the task at hand and that we need to get these businesses back up and running.
Laura: Well, government has lived so large in our lives over the last two years because it was necessary in COVID, we can often forget what it was like before. And to that point, we can all do something and often it's to hard to see how you can contribute but you can donate. You're enabling people to donate to BizRebuild rebuild as well. aren't you? So it's not just your members, anyone can do it?
Jennifer: Anyone can donate to BizRebuild and it was great during the fires to see a lot people wanted to donate to BizRebuild because we are the only charity in Australia that can give money to a business. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg passed that legislation after the bushfires. If you're interested in helping a small business, if you're a small business in another part of the country that's doing okay and you want to help your colleagues out in this very impacted part of Australia, you can donate to BizRebuild at BizRebuild.com. It's a deductible donation because this is a charity and that money is going to go to somebody so they can see hope, see light at the end of the tunnel and get things back on track.
Laura: We love practical solutions here on AM Agenda. We appreciate your time today as always, Jennifer Westacott, Good to see you.
Jennifer: Thank you very much.