Interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda

28 July 2021

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Laura Jayes, Sky News AM Agenda
Speakers: Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Topics: Covid management, business support measures


Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda: Joining me live now is the chief executive officer of the Business Council of Australia. Jennifer Westacott thanks so much for your time. First of all, we're about one month into this lockdown in New South Wales. It's going to be at least another month. That will surpass the 100 days. What are we looking at economically?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: We're looking at some very big impacts in our report yesterday, EY did that analysis that you've just quoted from. But for me Laura it's always the individual impacts. It's the families who are losing income. It's the small businesses who can't see their way through. We just have to find a way through this. And that's why we released a report yesterday that said we've just got to find a way of doing these lockdowns smarter, more effectively, working more effectively with business. So a couple of key suggestions that we made yesterday. Maybe we need to look at that hotspot definition given the contagious nature of Delta. We need to think about the assistance we're giving households and businesses. So we're saying expand JobSaver, uncap it, look at the thresholds, make sure it's Commonwealth state-funded. Look at the disaster payment system, make sure that we're really tailoring that for people who are doing it tough. So it's $1,200 a fortnight now. Should it go to $1,500? Should we do those one-off cash assistances again? And of course, continue to push hard on the vaccine rollout. Particularly getting the health advice a bit more consistent on AstraZeneca where there are as I understand it quite a lot of supplies available. And of course in New South Wales we're continuing to say construction has got to get back up on its feet again because that ripple effect into the economy is really severe.

Laura: Well I can tell you that the construction ban, if you like, will be lifted as of Friday. That will be announced by Gladys Berejiklian today. But it is going to be limited. As I understand it those living in the hotspot areas, the five LGAs in Sydney will not be able to resume their construction businesses and jobs. And also what building can take place will be in non-occupied settings. So if you're renovating your bathroom, you can't get a builder in if you're living in that home. A lot of these trades come out of those five LGAs. We know how difficult it is to line up trades if you're doing any kind of building work. Is that going to be enough?

Jennifer: Let's have a look at what they announce today and obviously the good thing about the New South Wales government is, and I can tell you as someone who is on these calls all the time, is that they will sit down with you. They will sit down and say, ‘how's this working? Does this make sense? Could we improve that?’ And when you suggest things to them they go yep that's a good idea we'll fix that up. And that's a really refreshing change Laura I'll be honest with you.

Laura: What suggestions have you made Jennifer Westacott?

Jennifer: Just things like the original public health orders. And that's why we published that list yesterday of, here's the model template of the public health orders. Just making sure that distribution centres, medical manufacturing, those sorts of things. When you are thinking through supply chains, you've got to think about if you're going to click and collect you've still got to have that capacity to fulfil that click and collect by having people going to stores. It's all those really technical things that happen. And that's why we published that list yesterday to say if you've got to do this, do it smarter and really get these public health orders now that have been worked through very comprehensively with Victoria and New South Wales. Use those as the templates so that businesses know the rules and they know the systems. To me that's a pretty straight forward thing to do. But we've got to get an exist plan. To your earlier conversation we've got to get an exist plan for the country here. And if we don't do that, these lockdowns are very damaging to people's wellbeing. You can see a bit of fracturing in our social cohesion. We've just got to paint a pathway out. I don't think there's a miracle solution to go and buy lots and lots of Pfizer. We've got to stay the course. We've got to get that messaging right though about AstraZeneca because there is a lot of that available. We've got to increase the outlets, we've got to get then that supply in and, as you and I have talked about before, we've got to go hard. And that's where business wants to play a role.

Laura: Yep I'd take that one in a million chance absolutely. Now we are standing by to take our viewers to a live media conference in Queensland. Before we do that let's talk business support. 40 per cent of payroll, up to $10,000 a week. Is that working?

Jennifer: No, we think that's not enough. Now particularly as these things go on. So we're suggesting that the JobSaver program be expanded. That it be uncapped. That the 40 per cent of payroll threshold be reviewed, that it be available to companies of all sizes, maybe using the old JobKeeper triggers.

Laura: Why all sizes? Sorry to interrupt. Because I understood the under $50 million a year turnover was the biggest problem area?

Jennifer: Yeah look I think it's about making sure that there a lot of quite mid-sized companies that are doing it very hard now. Particularly in construction, particularly in the hospitality sector where yes there are targeted assistance packages. So I think again it's about trying to say, ‘what's the problem we need to solve for here?’ And it's not just a problem now for small business. Obviously, that's where the hardest impact occurs but it does sweep across the whole of the economy. So that's what we are saying on JobSaver. Commonwealth-state funded, uncap it, look at that 40 per cent threshold, look at expanding it to a wider range of businesses. And then on the disaster payment look at expanding that back to $1,500 a fortnight. And perhaps giving those one-off cash assistances like last year. Do that for people particularly for those really hard hit LGAs. And then continue with the small business grants which have been very effective that have been rolling out in New South Wales.

Laura: Okay Jennifer Westacott thanks so much. Always appreciate your time.


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