Jennifer Westacott interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

22 July 2020

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Michael Rowland, ABC News Breakfast

Speaker: Michael Rowland and Jennifer Westacott

Topics: JobKeeper, COVID-19


Michael Rowland, host ABC Breakfast News: Jennifer Westacott is the head of the Business Council of Australia. She joins us now from Canberra. Jennifer good morning to you.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Good morning.

Michael: Starting with the changed JobKeeper payments and the fact that they'll now run until March next year but at a reduced level, is the business community broadly supportive of that?

Jennifer: Yes we are. We think these are very sensible and necessary changes because they target the assistance to businesses and people most in need. They get the incentives right for people who can work. Can work I must emphasise that and for businesses that can get back up and running. And they deal with some of these anomalies that treasury found of people being paid more on JobKeeper than they were beforehand. What really matters now Michael is that we really work hard to create those new jobs, that we get activity going in the economy again. That's about getting our health situation under control, getting activity going through, getting incentives for business to invest, and of course continuing with unlocking the balance sheets of governments on those vital infrastructure projects that create jobs, that stop a second wave of job loss in the construction sector. But also those infrastructure projects that position us to go forward and grow the economy for the next 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth. So we need a package of things but those changes yesterday are very sensible.

Michael: The $1,500 a fortnight payment ends in September on the JobKeeper front, how many businesses do you fear will go under once September reaches? Many have been struggling to stay above water really since March.

Jennifer: Well we simply don't know that. We'll get a better sense in the economic statement of some of the forecasts from treasury but there's no doubt that some businesses are just hanging on and many of them will not be able to come back. But this is why we have to Michael get our health situation under control. We have to get our systems right. We have to get those national standards for how we deal with these local outbreaks right so businesses know the rules so they can go forward with some kind of confidence. We've got to get the community's confidence back that we can manage our health situation. And that will give greater community confidence and obviously allow us to stay the course with opening the economy and get those businesses going. But there's no doubt some businesses are not going to be able to come back from this.

Michael: Will the economy simply have to adapt Jennifer Westacott to a situation, if the health situation doesn't improve radically, to further lockdowns, further stop-start based purely on very valid health reasons?

Jennifer: I hope we don't do stop-start Michael. I think we have to find a continuous way of managing these local outbreaks and containing them. And making sure that if we are going to shut borders that we've got systems in place for permitting and things like that. That we get our quarantining right. That we get the training right for people doing quarantining. That we get our tracking and tracing right. That we're really clear about what has to shut based on the health advice. Because the reality is that we have to live with this for quite some time until we get a vaccine. So we have to find a permanent way of managing these local outbreaks in a way that allows businesses to know the rules, people to know the rules, and of course as you've been saying this morning, as you've been saying every day, we've all got to be vigilant. Workplaces have got to be vigilant and I'm really proud of what business has done to keep their customers and their staff safe. But as individuals, we've got to do those things. Get the app on, keep our hands sanitised, keep our distance, practice those things that we know are going to minimise this community transmission.

Michael: I hear what you're saying and Jennifer you could have the best intentions in the world but we also know this virus is wildly unpredictable and if health authorities, if the chief health officer in New South Wales for argument's sake says again for valid health reasons parts of the New South Wales economy have to shut down, parts of the economy of the New South Wales economy will have to shut down won't they?

Jennifer: That's exactly right and the governments have been very clear that we have to act on that health advice and we have to do that. But that's very different to locking the whole state economy down on the basis of local outbreaks. And I think we've got to get the conversation right. We are going to have to do those local lockdowns. We're going to have to manage those local outbreaks. But the idea that we then trigger an entire state lockdown, of course, is another measure altogether. But what has been very effective in Australia's management of this crisis has been governments acting on health advice and we've got to continue to do that. But we have got to find a way of getting activity going because we've got to find a way of creating those jobs so people are not unemployed and businesses can get back up and running.

Michael: Let's all hope that recovery comes sooner rather than later. Jennifer Westacott thank you so much for joining us.

Jennifer: You're very welcome thank you.


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