Jennifer Westacott interview with Narelda Jacobs, Channel 10

22 August 2023

Event: Jennifer Westacott, interview with Narelda Jacobs, Channel 10
Speakers: Narelda Jacobs, host, Channel 10; Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive, Business Council of Australia
Topics: Seize the moment report; The Voice Referendum


Narelda Jacobs: Joining us now is Business Council CEO, Jennifer Westacott. Jennifer, thanks for your time. Let's start at the beginning; how is productivity measured and why is Australia experiencing a slump?

Jennifer Westacott: Productivity is measured in a technical way by units of output but let’s not talk about it like that. It’s about the way we do things, and how efficiently we do them. It’s about whether we’re working smarter. It’s about whether or not we’re getting the most out of people and unleashing their creativities. It’s about working safer. It’s about using technology properly. It’s about creating value in everything we do. Why aren’t we doing well on that? Well, we haven’t had some of the reforms that we’ve needed to really drive productivity, and that’s what we’ve outlined in our report. We’ve had investment going down. Investment drives productivity because it means that companies – small and large – put equipment in, they train their workers, they get access to new markets, they expand what they’re doing. We’ve had an investment drought. We’ve also got a lot of red tape that stops people innovating and doing things differently, and it makes it really hard for people to do business. We haven’t really had our skills system performing as well as it should be. It’s the skills and capabilities of people that really drive a lot of productivity. We’ve put them all together in one plan, and we’re saying that if we do this, the economy will be back to its normal growth rate of 3.3 per cent, that will mean by the end of the decade, the economy is $200 billion bigger, $50 billion of extra revenue for government, and as you say, Australians on average $7,000 a year better off.

Narelda Jacobs: Let’s talk about that for a moment. According to your data, Australia is poised to slip from the world’s 13th largest economy, to the 21st by 2050. If that’s the prediction, how is it possible for Aussie workers to be $7,000 a year better off by 2033?

Jennifer Westacott: A lot of our slippage comes because other people are rising; Indonesia is now forecast to be the fifth biggest economy in the world. Some of it is a relativity issue where other countries are starting to grow and expand. We’re saying this because what we can do is – Australians have got great skills, we need to do more with that. We’ve got these new markets opening up, particularly in that Asian middle class, and we can get into critical minerals, advanced manufacturing, quantum, AI, food manufacturing, that these communities are going to want. We can start to lock in more jobs, better jobs, higher paid jobs. So, we’re saying that we want to maintain full employment, we also want sustained wages growth, which has been very low due to that lack of productivity. That’s why we believe Australians can be $7,000 better off.

Narelda Jacobs: Jennifer, Australians have all the dreams and ideas, but we often have to go overseas to make those happen. How do we keep innovation within our own borders?

Jennifer Westacott: That’s a great question. A few things. First of all, you have to encourage people to invest. If I’ve invented whatever, and I look at the investment environment here, and I look at the investment environment in the United States, or wherever else, and I get a better return somewhere else, you know, if you were putting your money at risk, you might do that somewhere else. So, let’s make the environment to invest as attractive as it can be. Secondly, let’s get rid of the red tape; standards, licensing, planning approvals, permitting - it just takes too long to get stuff done, and that discourages people from being entrepreneurial, discourages them from innovating. We’ve got to make sure we get rid of some of the friction in the economy. Finally, we have got to make sure we’ve got the skilled people here, because the people wanting to invest in Australia will be looking for the skilled people. We’ve really got to get together and sort out our skills system so people can get their skills more quickly, they can get different types of skills, and they can get these kind of skills called microcredentials where you don’t do a whole degree, you can get a particular thing. When employers talk to me about coming to Australia, whether they are big or small, they say it’s the skills of people we’re looking for, it’s the ease of doing business we’re looking for, it’s the access to markets we’re looking for.  

Narelda Jacobs: Jennifer, in a few moments that I’ve got left with you, there’s been a lot of criticism of corporates getting involved in the referendum. Does business have a role to play here?

Jennifer Westacott: Business does have a role to play. Business employs six out of seven workers. Many people have been working in Indigenous communities, they feel very strongly that when we listen, we’ll get better results. Many, many companies have a very strong principled view here that we need to listen to Indigenous people, we need to give them a say over their affairs, and by doing that, we’ll get better results because we’re committed to economic advancement, to getting people good jobs, to creating Indigenous businesses, and this is a way we can do that in a vastly better way.

Narelda Jacobs: Jennifer Westacott, thank you for joining us on Midday.

Jennifer Westacott: You’re very welcome, thank you.


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