Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Neil Mitchell, 3AW Mornings
Speakers: Neil Mitchell, host 3AW Mornings; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Topics: Omicron COVID-19 variant
Neil Mitchell, host 3AW Mornings: Joining us now is chief executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott.
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Good morning Neil.
Neil: Okay. Can we cope with this without a total lockdown? That has to be the aim, doesn't it?
Jennifer: Absolutely, everything you just said is absolutely spot on. The worst thing we can do is panic, we've got to get better information. And as you say, we know what to do. We know how to target lockdowns; we don't need total state wide lockdowns. Over 85 per cent of the population is vaccinated. We know how to do that. We know the vaccines are very effective. We know how to do very targeted approaches rather than shutting state borders again. We know how to get information out to people. So we can do this. The worst thing we can do is panic. The worst thing we can do is overreact. And the worst thing we can do is stall economic momentum, particularly for small business. I don't think people can keep going through this. Not just financially, but emotionally, small businesses, they've just been through hell, and we just can't keep stopping and starting, that will be a disaster.
Neil: Of course we don't yet know if the vaccine will work against this, there are indications it will. You're right, we've got to get down that track, we've got all these things working in our favour. That's the point I was trying to nail, emotionally small business people, a lot of people will be getting up to today and say, ‘Oh no, no, no, no. Are we going down that path again?’ What do we do about that? How do we fight that? How do we take that on? How do we help them?
Jennifer: Well, I think we have to assure them how this is going to work this time. Because with over 85 per cent of people vaccinated, unless the information is completely different, but everything you just said suggests that people aren't going to get as sick. We know how to do the treatment. So the first thing we need to do is give them information and tell them how we're going to respond and give them assurances that unless there are extreme circumstances, we're not going to go into lockdowns again. And we're not going to go into overwhelming lockdowns, state wide lockdowns. We're going to keep the borders open. We're going to stay on these timetables for releasing these restrictions. We might have to put masks back on again, but we'll let you know in advance. So people can say, ‘Well, okay, I know what I'm doing. I know what I can order, I know how many staff I can put on. I know what's happening.’ The other thing is, and this is more for national businesses, is for goodness’ sake can we have the same rules across each state? Can we get a nationwide permitting system? I was meeting with some people in Wodonga a couple of weeks ago, virtually of course. And they are pulling their hair out. They just say, ‘Well, hang on. Why can't we have the same rules for Albury and Wodonga? We live in one country here.’ So that kind of messaging would be good.
Neil: What about the federal government's already talking about international students and skilled workers, does it concern you if the borders are closed to them, at least temporarily?
Jennifer: Absolutely. We need about 500,000 workers back in the economy so that things can get going because everyone is in this kind of position where they can't really ramp up because they haven't got enough staff. Farmers can't get people to pick their harvest. The universities need to be able to offer enrolment. But we could do that through effective quarantine, there are systems where industry-based organisations are willing to do the quarantine with expert health people who are willing to do the checking and manage the quarantine and the states don't have to take all the burden for that. We need to get that system up and running.
Neil: Thank you very much for your time. Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia.