Jennifer Westacott interview with Murray Jones on 4CA radio Cairns

23 July 2019

Event Jennifer Westacott interview with Murray Jones on 4CA radio Cairns

Speaker Jennifer Westacott

Date Tuesday 23 July 2019

Topics Regional Australia, investment, tax, and big and small business



Murray Jones, 4CA host: It's 8.46am, 4CA, the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, got a big luncheon happening today but unfortunately tickets are sold out. But we do have some keynote speakers. One of the keynote speakers joins me this morning. It's Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia. Good Morning, Jennifer.

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

Murray: How are you?

Jennifer: Very well.

Murray: Great to have you back again and now look you were just telling me off air that, I mean I'm a serious fisherman, me and my son. But you've been out here, you’ve actually had a few days off to kind of relax and do a few things. How many fish have you caught on your holiday here in Cairns?

Jennifer: Thirty-five we caught on the reef. I have to give them a little promo, Reef Runner, Danny and Dan, great guides. We went out, quite a long way out, and we had a great day. I didn't keep them all obviously.

Murray: Yeah, sure.

Jennifer: Then we took them back to the Salt House and they cooked us a cracking meal for our beautiful coral trout.

Murray: Fantastic.

Jennifer: And we had a terrific time.

Murray: Well, you’re a woman of many talents and by the sound of it, I think me and my son might have to come out with you, when it comes to fishing next time round.

Jennifer: Sometimes you get lucky. I think I got lucky the other day and then we had very good guides.

Murray: Excellent, well, look welcome to the tropical north. At least things are a little bit warmer here because it's been a bit cold as you probably realise the last, the last week or so. But let's talk a little bit more about, you know, I'm keen to talk to you about some of the bigger picture things with, with respect to business here in Australia, shortly. But let's talk a little bit more about some of the things that you're doing here in Cairns and the luncheon today.

Jennifer: We're very excited about the lunch today as you say, it’s a sell-out. What we are doing as part of our Strong Australia campaign, getting around to the regions of Australia, getting in front of the local chambers, listening to small business, listening to their priorities, listening to the local community, what's working, what's not, how can we work better together, how can we get more investment into places like Cairns? What's the infrastructure we need and how do I then, as an ambassador for the area, come back and say to government, look these are the things that communities like Cairns need. These are the infrastructure projects that are necessary. And then how do I say to the large corporate part of Australia that I represent, look these are some of the things you might think about investing in or doing in places like Cairns.

Murray: And I think that's one of the things that certainly come out in the last at least couple of years here in the tropical north, having a coordinated approach with respect to some of our key infrastructure, port projects, major road projects and also our airport. And I think in some ways, maybe we've had the eye off the ball, but having a coordinated approach so we can actually get to all levels of government. But also having, I guess that business working with us to assist with respect to making those things happen is one of the key things that we need to do.

Jennifer: Absolutely, and all economies need to diversify. You’ve got a fantastic tourism industry and a wonderful agriculture industry. Can we do more with those? But you know, tourism is a very cyclical thing. You had a bad start to the year with a lot of wet weather, in a kind of non-part of the season, I was speaking to the guys who were telling me the other day and, you know, it's kind of what can we do to diversify? How do we get people to be skilled? Is the TAFE stuff working well? And then, you know, what's the infrastructure that allows the Tablelands to sort of bring some of that world-class produce to an international airport, get it to some of those pristine markets. I was up at the Manbulloo Mango Farm yesterday, who are supplying to Coles. Coles is their really big customer.

Murray: Yeah, a million mangoes a year.

Jennifer: Yeah, huge and, 90 per cent of those go to Coles, but they're also exporting quite a bit as well. And you know, they get a premium price for those mangoes in markets like Korea and Japan and China. And then how do we remove the obstacles for them being able to do more of that? And that's about infrastructure. It's about some of the kind of marketing of Australian products. It's about some of the logistics. These are all the things we need to think about to make sure that those sorts of industries just thrive because they're great for Australia.

Murray: Let's talk a little bit more about the business, sorry, the tax cuts that have come through for business in recent times. And obviously I should imagine from your perspective, you know, the bodies that you represent, those tax benefits are a great thing moving forward for business. Obviously, there's been, some people have been concerned about, you know, some of the people, I guess the day-to-day mums and dads on the streets, that it is causing some issues that those tax cuts are going to the higher level and also the potential moving forward with respect to austerity from the government. But do you imagine and see that some of these tax cuts are going to have those flow on benefits in the longer term?

Jennifer: Absolutely, well, they haven't gone far enough because remember the plan was to go across the whole of the corporate sector. The Senate wouldn't let it pass $50 million. So, for those companies with a turnover of $50 million, their tax rate will go from 30 to 25. That's fantastic. And those companies will make those investments in technology, in their staff, in their workforce, in training, and that will improve their revenue, which of course improves how much they pay in tax. Interestingly, you know, the corporate tax take for government goes to $100 billion in the budget, so they're actually going to be paying more tax because they're doing more, they're having more activity and that means they employ more people, they create more economic opportunity. We would like those tax cuts to be across the whole of the economy because we're concerned that companies that get to that $50 million suddenly get a big tax bill, and that's a kind of not an incentive to grow. Look, you know, the Senate doesn't agree with that and that's very disappointing. You know, I've just been to Europe for work and you know, those big tax breaks that they give companies mean they invest. But look, this is all about getting investment into Australia and getting it into places like northern Queensland. If you can't get any investment into Australia, you can't get it into anywhere else.

Murray: Look, you know, there's a lot of things that we can talk about. I know that vocational education and training is something that certainly the Morrison Government is looking at stepping forward and actually stepping up to the plate with respect to that because having those skilled workers is also essential. But I’m keen to talk to you about some of the catch phrases that have come out, particularly, in the last election was the big end of town. The number of times we've heard that. I wish I had a dollar for every time we heard that during the election. But that type of language I guess is very polarising and it seems even with the Labor government sorry I should say the Labor opposition, they're looking at standing away from using such a divisive language.

Jennifer: And I hope they do. I really do because it is divisive. And what's really interesting, Murray, when you get around to regions like Cairns or you know, places like Adelaide, where you know, I remember someone saying at one of our lunches there, the big problem with big business in Adelaide is we don't have any. And you know, we have got to stop this divisive stuff because you think about that Manbulloo mango story, that's Coles working with a local farming producer, they're working on all sorts of technology changes so that they can produce more and export more. That's going to create more jobs in this region, more jobs across the economy. So, when people divide Australians like that and they use those expressions at the top end of town, it doesn't help think through the economy. It's just a catch phrase, and of course it is divisive. And I think the other thing that people realised, with some of the proposed policies was the top end of town was them. We should stop, you know, punishing people for being successful. Most Australians want to get ahead. They want the kids to have a good life. They want to have a good house, good health, good jobs. Why, why do we want Australians to feel bad about that? I don't. I want them to be successful. I want them to prosper. I want everyone to have a fair share. That's absolutely right. But I think it's time that we draw a line in the sand on those expressions and stop talking about the top end of town and start talking about what's good for every single Australian, which is big and small business working together.

Murray: And look, you know, I hope that does come forward because you know, that's one of those things that divisive and polarising language. Unfortunately, it's just one of those typical things you see in politics these days and it's very damaging. It would be good if we could bring down to the level of truth and I guess where people can actually make a decision about where they are voting and what they are doing.

Jennifer: Absolutely, and we just need to remind people, you know, there is no big business without small business. There's no small business without big business. They work together, they need each other. You know, we've tried to deal with one big issue, which you and I talked about last time, which is people paying people on time. We've worked very hard to get large businesses to pay small business on time. We now got half a trillion dollars of turnover being paid in 30 days to small business. That's a lot. We've got all the big retailers and so hopefully that'll improve the position of small business. But you know, you come to places like Cairns, you know the importance of big companies investing, taking risk. And of course it's the large companies who have the best capacity to export and to support exporting. So, we need to all work together. And we’re sort of one Australia. So, this top end of town stuff, hopefully that's the end of it because I think the community said, hang on, we don't like that. And we've got to get back to kind of rewarding people who do a bit better, good on them. Who wants to punish people for getting ahead?

Murray: And there's also been a bit of negativity about with, you know, what they’re saying about this trickledown effect. But I think with, with big business and small business, in the way that we can work together like that, there's got to be a trickledown effect. It's been great to talk to you this morning. Unfortunately, we're out of time. But thanks for dropping in and saying hi, and make sure next time you come in, don't just come in and see me. We’ve got to go fishing as well.

Jennifer: We will, terrific.

Murray: All the best. Jennifer Westacott, she is the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia.


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