Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda

18 February 2022

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, AM Agenda
Speakers: Laura Jayes host, AM Agenda; Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: BCA budget submission and women’s statement; China


Laura Jayes host, AM Agenda: Joining me live now is Business Council of Australia chief executive, Jennifer Westacott. First of all, is it fair to say that the BCA thinks that short term labour shortages need to be filled by overseas workers?

Jennifer Westacott chief executive, Business Council of Australia: Well, I think there are a lot of things that need to be done on this. The first thing is to put our budget submission into a bit of a context. So, we're saying we have got to move from this role of crisis management to the private sector taking the lead on recovery and taking the lead on sustained growth. And the first thing we need to do is remove those roadblocks. And that's the labour shortages. There are a few things we need to do there, Laura. The first is to get the most out of people already in the country. So, people who are on temporary visas, extending those from two years to four years, and of course doing everything we can to get women participating in the labour market and advancing. But on top of that, we need to make up the shortfall that we've lost during COVID. We're saying over the next couple of years we should increase the migration intake, put a big emphasis on the skills component of that, so that we catch up. The second thing we're saying apart from skill shortages is to remove the roadblocks on investment, the things that are going to drive higher productivity, higher wages, that's about tax for small businesses, it's about regulation. And then it's about building the capacity for the future, getting the VET system working, getting a clean energy working. Then finally, it's about getting our budget in order over time. Starting with getting some modest changes to the Federation to make it more efficient. But this is the time for the private sector to take the baton. This is the time to focus on growth, but we've got to remove these roadblocks.

Laura: Yep, we've seen a lot of government restrictions removed, particularly today in New South Wales and Victoria, which will help business do that. We’ve seen a huge amount of government stimulus in the last few years, which was necessary. Is this the budget that you'd like to see it stop though?

Jennifer: Yes, look, we can't go on like this and the Treasurer makes this point. We have to move from government stimulus to hand the baton to the private sector. But to do that, you’ve got to get rid of these roadblocks that I'm talking about and it make it easier to hire people, bring in the expert skills we need that drive the projects that we need to go forward. But it's not the time for austerity. And that's the other point we make in our budget submission. This is the time to focus on growth led by the private sector and of course, withdraw that support which has really been incredibly helpful. But now is the time for that baton change.

Laura: Jennifer, many of your companies are China exposed. What effect does the political debate about China at the moment do to business?

Jennifer: Well, I think people are very anxious about the China relationship. Business, of course, is getting on and continuing its business-to-business relationships, but we've always had a position of principled realism. On the principal side we've got to maintain our sovereignty and our security and not give up our values. On the realism side, we cannot have sustained long term economic growth, if we don't take the opportunities that present themselves from the huge growth in China. And that growth won't go away, that will just go to somewhere else. So, it's about striking that right balance. We need both political parties to come together on that and make sure that we're very careful in our language. That we make sure that we stick to principled realism and protect our sovereignty and security and take those national security issues very seriously. At the same time, we have to maintain a strong trading relationship with China.

Laura: Jennifer Westacott, we will speak soon in the lead up to the budget and beyond. Thanks so much.

Jennifer: You're very welcome. Thank you.



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