Jennifer Westacott interview with Peter Ryan, ABC AM

11 April 2019

Event Jennifer Westacott interview with Peter Ryan, ABC AM

Speaker Jennifer Westacott, Peter Ryan, Sabra Lane

Date Thursday, 11 April 2019

Topics A plan for a Stronger Australia, wages, economic growth, Newstart



Sabra: With the election now on, big business is warning both major parties to resist a race to the bottom, where important policies fall off the table to make way for short term political gain. The Business Council of Australia has released its pre-election to do list that includes creating more jobs, lifting wages, lowering taxes and tackling surging energy prices. The Council's chief executive, Jennifer Westacott has been touring regional Australia to take the pulse of voters and she's speaking here from Adelaide with our senior business correspondent, Peter Ryan.

Jennifer: They want to see a plan, they want to see where the country's going, the direction it's going and how we're going to get there. They want their wages up, their power bills down but overwhelmingly they understand that growth really matters because growth is the ultimate test of fairness.

Peter: You say the stakes are high in this election and that that long term strategies are needed rather than sugar hits, but you also worry that, for both parties, this might be a race to the bottom?

Jennifer: We do worry that things are announced without really thinking through the detail and I think Australians are entitled to know how things are going to work. We cannot take our eye off the big reform task, but the lens which we are going to look at every single policy is, will this grow the economy faster? Will it keep out budget strong? Because without those, you know our choices are much more limited. And a low growth environment. Is by definition an unfair environment.

Peter: Given that you have been concerned about the lack of big picture initiatives on economic reform, what hope do you have during the spin of an election campaign?

Jennifer: People have to ask themselves is a 2.3 per cent annual GDP growth rate, off the back of years of over 3 per cent on average, going to be good enough to get people's wages up? Is it going to be good enough to get the sort of services and budgets that people want?

Peter: You've been especially critical of the government over the reluctance to raise Newstart and on budget night last week you suggested the government was a bit mean spirited and that increasing Newstart would actually be the right thing to do. Do you stand by that?

Jennifer: Absolutely. I don't think it's just a question for the government. I think it's a question for both political parties. You know, this seems to me just to be one of those tests of fairness. Surely that's a kind of moral obligation that's one of the dividends of growth.

Peter: The Business Council has had a tense relationship with Labor in recent years, especially over industrial relations but given the direction of the polls in this election, is it pragmatic now to build that relationship and back Labor?

Jennifer: I don't think it's about us backing anyone. I think it's about us backing good policies that respond to what people in Busselton, in Tamworth, in Toowoomba, In Townsville, in Cairns, in Hobart have said to us. That's our job. It's not to take political sides and we're going to support good policy.

Peter: One item on your wish list is lowering energy prices, but Malcolm Turnbull lost his job in part over the National Energy Guarantee and his backing of renewables. So, with no energy policy as such do you agree that the Coalition has pretty much lost its way and voters have literally switched off?

Jennifer: I think as a country and we've lost our way on this, this has been a mess for a decade. We need, I think, a practical approach and we need of course political parties to be clear about how they're going to do things. We can't say to people on energy and climate change, we'll work it out later because the last decade has proven we don't.

Peter: When you've been out in regional Australia speaking to businesses and people, how are they feeling these days about the leadership instability given Rudd-Gillard-Rudd under Labor and Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison in the Liberal Party? Have both a parties paid a big price and have people switched off?

Jennifer: I think that's true. I think people are very frustrated by it. You know, the constant change of leaders in Canberra. They're frustrated with business. You know, there's no doubt we have lost some trust out there, but having a blame game, having an anti-business anti-growth agenda is not going to address the issues that people talk to us about.

Sabra: That's the Business Council of Australia's chief executive, Jennifer Westacott, she was speaking there with Peter Ryan.


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