Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

22 October 2020

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News

Speaker: Laura Jayes, host; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Date: 22 October 2020

Topic: Domestic and international border report


Laura Jayes, host Sky News: It's no secret aviation has suffered significantly during the pandemic, I should say. It's now been quantified to be about $78 billion. And the Business Council of Australia is pleading with National Cabinet to get a plan in place by Christmas. Jennifer Westcott joins us live now. Jennifer Westacott thank you for your time. We've seen a special report quantifying the cost of domestic travel, essentially being halted. Is it worse than you thought?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: It is worse than I thought. And I think the really crucial thing here Laura is this is tens of thousands of jobs that are just being held in suspension because we've got these artificial border closures. And what we're saying to National Cabinet is get a certain plan to open our domestic borders by Christmas, a $3 billion gift to Australians, tens of thousands of jobs. And then a very careful six-month gradual plan to reopen parts of our international borders, starting with returning Australians. But then international students. 250,000 jobs related to the international student market and workers. We're hearing from farmers, the best harvest they've had in a decade. They can't get backpackers who traditionally do this work to actually go and harvest this incredible crop we've had for the first time in 10 years. So, we need a careful plan. We're not asking for a free for all. We're asking for a careful plan based on a risk approach, based on good quarantine practise, based on nationally consistent quarantine practise so that we can get things going again.

Laura: Do you have any faith that National Cabinet can sort this out though? Given the palaver we saw over the New Zealand travel bubble this week?

Jennifer: Well, I think we've got to kind of keep asking for these things haven't we? I mean, you know, the reality is Australians are desperate now to get their jobs back. You know, we've got nearly a million people out of work. A million people out of work well, it's a statistic, but it's actually about that person's life. And how they're feeling as they head into Christmas with a very uncertain future. Small business on their knees in Victoria. Small businesses wanting a sense of direction. Small businesses who rely on those domestic borders being open. And then, of course, our two aviation companies on their knees, on their knees, and we have to give a sense of hope and direction before Christmas. And I think the other thing Laura, is we cannot afford as a country to fall behind. You know, I'm hearing that in other countries, they are targeting that international student market. As I said, 250,000 jobs. They're encouraging students to go to London, to go to Cambridge, to go to Oxford, to go to the US.

Laura: We can't even get Australian citizens home. There's an arbitrary cap imposed by the states and by the federal government, I might say surely, that's one of the first things that needs to be lifted.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Australians want to come home and we've got a great story to tell. We've managed this better than most countries on the planet. Our economy is still running well, going well. I mean, obviously, we're in a terrible situation, but compared to other countries, we're going much better. We're not doing the opening at the same rate as other countries. We've got a really important advantage that we should be prosecuting. At least send a signal to those international students. We're going to open for term one. And obviously, you'll have to go through quarantine, et cetera, et cetera. But start giving people a sense so they can plan. It's the planning that we've got to start doing.

Laura: We've seen the shutdown in Victoria in particular. One of the biggest engines of the Australian economy essentially shut down. Any criticism that's been levelled at Daniel Andrews, he's dismissed as political. Is it?

Jennifer: No, it's not political. I mean, it's not political for business to say, 'hey, we need a more certain plan.' It's not political for business to say 'we want to work with you. We want to work constructively with you so that we open Victoria up again safely and we keep it open.' That's not political. That's common sense. That's a plea for getting people's livelihoods back. Getting those businesses, particularly small businesses that are just hanging by a thread. Day to day proposition. They can't wait and see Laura. They can't. They need a plan. They need some certainty. And also, you know, it's not political to say, 'hey, look at the numbers. They've come down. They've come down dramatically. They're now either the same or less than New South Wales which has done a really good job at local containment. Why can't we do that in Victoria?' That's not political. That's just a set of common sense questions that people who are worried about whether or not their business is going to survive until Christmas are entitled to ask.

Laura: And just quickly have you been consulted at all or adequately by the Victorian government?

Jennifer: No. And, and we're disappointed with that because we had...

Laura: Not at all?

Jennifer: Well, not recently. But certainly, when the first big lockdown occurred. We got very late consultation. To be fair, the government responded to some of the concerns that people raised and they made some changes. But there hasn't been that regular consultation. Like in New South Wales, it's like weekly discussions with business about what do we need to do here? How do we work more cooperatively together? That's the sort of stuff we need to say around this country. Business, government working together to get the country open again.

Laura: Fingers crossed. Jennifer Westacott, great to talk to you.

Jennifer: Thanks a lot.


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