Jennifer Westacott interview with Matthew Taylor CNBC

25 October 2018

Event: Interview with Matthew Taylor, CNBC from Singapore 
Date: 25 October 2018
Topics: Energy policy, Wentworth byelection 

Matthew: Let's bring in Jennifer Westacott the CEO at the Business Council of Australia, joining us live from the BNP Sustainable Future forum in Singapore. Jennifer, great to see you there.

Let's kick it off. With another level of political uncertainty in Australia with this byelection last weekend, it looks as though the Liberals have lost the seat. It's going to be an independent. They're going to be in minority government for the remainder of the term. How does business view that? Because we have been in this situation before where we've had a hung parliament.

Jennifer: Yeah, look, I think business has got pretty used to this. I mean we've had 10 years of this and either it's  a hung parliament or it's a senate it that people can't work with. The challenge for the parliament is to get on with things. With some of these things. We haven't got a choice to get on with energy policy. We haven't got a choice to get on with climate policy. We haven't got a choice to make our economy stronger. With the backdrop of continued global volatility, we have to do these things, so parliament just can't afford to bury its head in the sand and forget the national interest. Now, you know, business of course has been putting up with this for a long, long time. And of course they shouldn't lecture people in Canberra. We've got our own backyard to fix up. But they've just been getting on with it, making their businesses stronger, employing Australians and continuing to grow and fire powering the economy. And no one should doubt the Australian economy is still in great shape. Last week we had a employment figure out, which was almsot zero unemployment. So the economy is still strong. We need to make it stronger, more resilient. That's what we're calling on the parliament to do.

Matthew: Okay. What is the biggest piece of legislation or policy that business wants sorted out right now, isn't that energy policy? Because we know that the former prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, of course, had his national energy guarantee, the business community was largely supporting that because essentially provided certainty on energy policy, that was of course trashed. And we saw what happened to him as a result, in part of taking that policy to the party room. We know that Scott Morrison's been out this week saying that he's going lower power prices for households, but in terms of an energy policy, it's still essentially lacking. So what does business want to see?

Jennifer: Well, you do have to have a policy that brings together a affordability, reliability, security, and our obligations under the Paris agreement. And of course, you know, if you try and do one of those things without having regard to the other, you end up sort of making a bit of a mess. So you know what we want to see is action on price. Now, the government has many recommendations from the ACCC's report that he could act on to start lowering prices. We can lower prices over the longterm by increasing supply. So removing these moratoriums on the exploration of gas. We can of course do a lot more to give business certainty for investment in existing plant, which is also going to factor in on both price and reliability. And of course, business needs certainty over climate policy. We've got basically unstable policy here. Business supports the Paris Agreement, it supports the 26 per cent to 28 per cent target, but we need to understand how that is going to be implemented at the moment. We've got two completely different policies are from both sides of politics. We need certainty, we need some stability. We need some predictability so that companies can invest and that's not just in renewables. That's in our existing coal fired power stations, many of which need upgrading and renewal. How do you invest in that when you don't know how carbon will be treated 10 or 15 years out?

Matthew: What, from where you sit as the CEO of the Business Council of Australia, are the key policies the public want sorted, because at Wentworth we did of course see people saying that they wanted climate change sorted, but then members of the government would come out and say, yeah, but Wentworth is of course an affluent suburb in the eastern suburbs of Sydney where they have different priorities to the rest of the country, is what we saw in terms of what people wanted a policy direction at Wentworth broadly an indication of what the broader public wants as well?

Jennifer: Look, I think the broader public wants the same sorts of things. They want to have a better wages and that's a big issue in Australia. That wage growth has been low. And of course that can only be achieved by increasing our productivity, which can only be achieved by businesses investing. So people get that, they may not get it in that language, but they absolutely get that it's business that creates jobs and growth in the economy. They want their wages improved, they want job security, they do want action on climate change. And every survey I've ever seen, says this is an across the board community sentiment, but mostly they want to see governments getting on and doing things. When I talk to people in the community they say, for God's sake, can someone just get on with something.

Matthew: Jennifer, we are out of time. Appreciate you waking up early for us there in Singapore to join us this morning. Jennifer Westcott, the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. Thanks for your insights.


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