Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Peta Credlin, Sky News
Speakers: Peta Credlin, host Sky News; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Topics: Mandatory vaccination for high-risk workers
Peta Credlin, host Sky News: Jennifer Westacott wants the states to step up through the use of public health orders. Jennifer Westacott joins me now from Canberra. Jennifer, thank you for your time.
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia:Thank you.
Peta: I was surprised that they came out of National Cabinet on Friday and pushed this all back to individual employers. They've got enough on their plate. Why there can't be common ground nationally here. But you find yourself on a unity ticket with Sally McManus, will you get some change?
Jennifer: Well I hope so. I mean the first thing Peta is we want this to be done in a positive way. We want it overwhelmingly to be voluntary. We've got to get supply right. We've got to get access right. And business wants to help with that. But there are going to be circumstances where we are at least going to have to have the conversation about mandating in certain cases. So I think about this as things like system risks. So the whole quarantine, all the hard work we've done because we're not willing to do international aircrews and make that mandatory. High risk workers - meat processing, food processing, aged care. And we want this done through public health orders, so you get consistency. Because if you leave it to each individual employer and everyone's fighting an industrial battle, you'll end up with inconsistency. And inconsistency will mean that we lose control of the health issues again. And you just can't expect employers, who are just so busy at the moment trying to keep goods and services running, keep their people employed, to just try and sort this out on a case-by-case basis. And the other really important thing, this is going to be done for risk reasons not as a means of getting to the target, that’s something that we should put a firm line in the sand. This is about risk. It's about employer's obligations to protect the safety of their workers, which they are legally obligated to do. And to your point, it would be great to see some national consistency on these public health orders. Think about aviation, only two states have got public health orders on aviation - South Australia and New South Wales. This is the stuff, and we've been talking about this tonight, that is just driving business crazy. This inconsistency. We've got to do this in a consistent way because if we don't we put more risk overall into the system and we never get this situation under control and we're in and out of week on, week off lockdowns until Christmas.
Peta: And we've also got massive delays. If you try and do a business by business or even industry sector by sector and it runs through the industrial courts, we'll be having this same conversation this time next year. We're 18 months into this pandemic. The idea that there cannot be a better use of National Cabinet, national decisions taken with premiers as well that stick, that's a frustration people have. You released some modelling recently looking at the impact of these sustained lockdowns. I suspect the numbers have only gotten worse. I mean we've got Sydney and Melbourne locked up here. That's got to be a huge drag on the economy?
Jennifer: Well just think about it. Sydney is 30 per cent of national GDP. I'm in Canberra tonight and we've gone into this seven-day lockdown off the basis of one case. And what we're saying is look these short, sharp lockdowns might be effective and no one is questioning that we have to keep the disease under control, we have to focus on suppression and containment and keeping our capacity in our health system. I think the conversation about elimination is extremely unhelpful. But surely it's not hard to get some consistency about how we manage these lockdowns, how do we do it smarter. What happened to the hotspot definition? Now if we need to change that because of Delta being more contagious, fine change it. Let's get a nationally consistent approach. Why can't we get nationally consistent public health orders about workers who are essential? The movement of workers, the permitting system. If you're in a border town at the moment, people tell me places like Albury–Wodonga, it's really difficult at the moment. Why can't we just have some consistent principles. If you're a national employer it is so difficult and you're trying to keep food on the shelves, you're trying to keep your people employed. Why can't we just have a bit of common sense? The stuff you were talking about in the paper this morning, why can't we have a bit of care and compassion for people and some consistency about what people can expect. The thing I think we've got to be willing to debate urgently is, if I've had my two doses of the vaccine, which I have, why can't I have more freedom? Why can't I have more reward for doing that? Because people would be saying, ‘well what's the point? If I don't get a sense of extra freedom?’ That in itself I reckon is going to drive more people to the vaccine centre than almost anything.
Peta: I 100 per cent agree. You're not Pollyanna. You've been around Canberra a long time. I know it intimately as well. You were there just saying why can't we do this? Why can't we do that? You're absolutely right Jennifer Westacott but we're 18 months into this. Surely the bloody people we elect can sit around the table, the Prime Minister crows about 50 meetings of National Cabinet. What has it achieved? If it can't fix these things that you went through, an absolute litany of failure, things that we are expecting governments to resolve for us because business can't do it, TV hosts like me can't do it. Why hasn't it been done?
Jennifer: I genuinely don't know. I mean if I had the answer to that we would be able to say, ‘do this, do this.’ I just don't understand it. I don't understand why you can't have a consistent set of public health orders for things like what's an essential worker, who moves outside of a hotspot, what's a hotspot at all? You shut Cairns down on one case. I understand what people are trying to do. They're trying to contain, they're trying to suppress, they're trying to make sure that we keep the health system having capacity, trying to stop people getting sick. I get all of that and we agree with that. But surely to goodness we can say, well okay that's an essential manufacturing worker doing a national supply chain. Let's get a common definition for that. Here's a common permitting system so people can move either out of LGAs or between these border towns. I'm just, I'm bewildered why this is so difficult because the impact on people now - mental health, economic health.
Peta: It’s massive. It’s massive.
Jennifer: You think about a small business in Victoria, in Melbourne Peta, one week on, one week off, one week on, one week off, what do you do? Do you order your food? Do you put your casuals on? Or do you just say suddenly I give up.
Peta: Well you keep going. I've got to talk to a business right now. We'll see what it's like at the coalface. But you keep going Jennifer Westacott we're all relying on you. Thank you.
Jennifer: Thanks very much Peta.