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
Date: 30 June 2021
Topics: Covid 19 vaccine roll out; state lockdowns; business investment; Living on borrowed time discussion paper
Laura Jayes, host Sky News AM Agenda: Joining me from the BCA is Jennifer Westacott. Thanks so much for your time as always. You've also put forward a plan today really to lift wages growth. So business going alone without government on a lot of things today. But first of all, how can business help with the vaccine rollout?
Jennifer Westacott chief executive Business Council of Australia: I think there's a number of things we need to do with the vaccine rollout Laura. The first is we've got to get clarity and consistency on the health advice. The second thing I think we need to do is to revisit mandatory vaccination. I understand all of the complexity with this, but it doesn't pass the pub test or the common sense test if you will that we're not mandating aged care workers, that we're not mandating people who are interfacing with the quarantine system. And I think we've got to think about that and reprioritise. The third thing we've got to do to your point is get ready for the mass vaccination process when the supply comes in. And that's where business can play a really important role because just take the Business Council members just on their own, that's 1.5 million Australians who work for them. And what we can do is banks, supermarkets, big employers all are used to doing the flu vaccine, can get their flu vaccine providers accredited to do the covid vaccine. The next thing I think we need to do is – and we can do that across many sites and sites where it's convenient to people Laura. Like your Bunnings carpark, your Westfield shopping centre, your Stockland shopping centre, whatever. Somewhere where people are there. We've got to get I think a bit more information out to people and again I think we've been playing a strong role there in business. Then a couple of other things I think are worth doing. One is to make the vaccine worth doing right? This is where digital can come in and business could really help with that. Could we go to having a green, amber, red thing on our phones that says we've been vaccinated. Then the vaccine could worth something. So I'm in Sydney now obviously, if I'd been fully vaccinated I'd not be subject to stay-at-home orders. So that the vaccine incentive gets really high. And then obviously as part of that to start thinking about how we gradually get back to some sort of state of normal. Now I know people say let's not talk about that while we're in this terrible situation. But we've got to plan for that. Because business has to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and they have to see when things are going to change. And I think we've got to trust the community a bit more. People get it. If you say to people these things will happen but if something goes wrong and obviously things change we've got to trust the community gets that. They'll go 'yeah I accept that'. What they want is a proportionate response. They want to know what's going to happen. So I think there's a few things that we could do. Business can play a massive role in the mass vaccine rollout and we're to step up in doing that.
Laura: Well 18 months into this pandemic Jennifer Westacott we find ourselves in this situation this morning where 11 million Australians are in lockdown. Is that proportionate with less than 300 cases?
Jennifer: No it's not and we've made that point all along. I do accept where we are in New South Wales and in Sydney. And I think just to give a plug to the NSW government here all the way through this Premier has been proportionate, she's been careful and when we sat down with the health officials the other night it was really clear that they had thought through not just two cases, they'd thought through a whole variety of risk issues that they were looking at that got them to that decision. And you know that for this Premier, who's done the best job I think nationally of balancing health and making sure that state stays open, it would have been an agonising decision for her. But when you sat with the health officials, and you went through those risk factors. But you also really know that this government is serious when they say as soon as things change we will get back to business as quickly as possible. And the other thing they did yesterday was a really important support package - payroll tax, assistance to small business who've lost income. But in other places two cases or in other places no cases and that's what I think is not just sending business into a spin, but I think the average person who's trying to get their kids on holidays just says hang on there's two cases. The other thing that NSW hasn't done is lockdown Broken Hill on the back of something that's happening in Sydney. Again it's a proportionate response. It's a big response and it's obviously going to have a big impact, but you know with the NSW government they would have thought it through. I was very impressed when I talked to the health officials the other night. They really thought through the risk factors. Not just one or two cases but the complexity of risk factors.
Laura: Indeed and Jennifer Westacott you've been calling for a plan, not an unreasonable request, for many months now but we seem to be getting motherhood statements without any plan or benchmarks; long-term, medium-term, or short-term about how we're going to live with the virus. Now we're getting motherhood statements rather than these. What does it do to Australia when the rest of the world is opening up? What does it say about Australia as a good place to invest?
Jennifer: Well I think it does not send a good signal. It's not just about investment it's about the conduct of business. We've got people who haven't seen their investors for a while. Now of course you can do things on Zoom like we're going this morning but at some point you need to front people. You need, I think the biggest issue for business is skills and talent. They can't get people here. And when they can't get people here they can't do things. So it's not just a question of, ‘oh well that's just inconvenient.’ It's not inconvenient. It's actually they're not going to do something because they can't get people here. So there's a project they were going to do, there was an IT system they were going to rollout. There was a big investment they were going to make. They're not going to do that. So the question for global companies is well do we do that somewhere else? So we've got to map out this roadmap. Starting with, well okay when we reach a certain point of vaccinations we don't close state borders anymore. And then people planning their work trips, their holidays, they know where we stand. And secondly, when we reach these stages in the vaccine rollout we can bring back international students, we can bring back skilled workers, we can bring in workers to do things in our farming communities who are really suffering from not being able to get people to pick their crops. That's a proportionate, practical set of things. I think people want to see that. Everyone understands that if something changes okay we go back and recalibrate that. People aren't silly. They know how this works. But if they can't see the plan, how does Virgin or Qantas plan their schedules? How do international airlines plan their schedules coming to Australia? They won't do that; they'll do something else. How do small businesses think, ‘okay well I know the rules, I can work that out.’ That's what we're asking for. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for a quite practical way forward here.
Laura: Nope it's certainly not unreasonable. Just finally before I let you go. The BCA are putting forward a plan essentially for wages growth today. This is again in the absence of the federal government doing it or I might say Labor offering an alternative. So will this work?
Jennifer: Yeah look this is not a criticism of the government. Quite the opposite. I think we've had a government that's been very committed and very successful in managing the pandemic and they've done some really important reforms. Huge investment by the government to make sure that we didn't have mass unemployment and huge long-term recessions. This is about beyond covid. This is about what are we recovering to? It's basically saying we've had 30 years of growth; we've had very good successful management of our economy, but we've got some vulnerabilities. We've got a very narrow economy where too many eggs in one basket. By way of example, ten companies pay 30 per cent of all of the corporate tax. We're very reliant on a few industries. We've got wages growth, to your point, stagnating and I think that creates a lot of stagnation in the community. What's driving that is low productivity and low business investment. So we've got some vulnerabilities and we've got some vulnerabilities that the Intergenerational Report this week really put the spotlight on. So what we're saying is let's have a discussion with the community about what kind of country we want to be and how do we get there. We've suggested some shifts - diversify the economy, remain open, skill up our Australians, make sure we get to decarbonising the economy. It's not just a tangential climate change policy it's a fundamental rethink of the nature of our economy. And do that in a way that is job enhancing, economically enhancing and looks after people in our regions. Make sure that nobody is left behind. Let's really deal with the fact that one in 20 kids in Australia are living in poverty. That's not good enough for Australia. And let's look at how we make sure that no one is left behind. Particularly people in our regions. And let's get our public finances in order. We have not put forward specific policy ideas. What we want to do is have a conversation with the community, particularly through our Strong Australia Network which Sky is involved in. Talk to people about what their aspirations are, what they think are the good ideas and bring that back into the public domain and say, ‘hey here's a plan for the country.’
Laura: Okay Jennifer Westacott as always a pleasure. We'll speak to you soon no doubt as we continue to live through these lockdowns.