Jennifer Westacott interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News, First Edition

21 July 2020

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Peter Stefanovic, Sky News, First Edition

Speaker: Peter Stefanovic and Jennifer Westacott

Topics: JobKeeper, JobSeeker, COVID-19


Peter Stefanovic, host Sky News: We are joined now by Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. Jennifer good morning.

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

Peter: Well can I get your reaction to the announcement from the government that JobKeeper and JobSeeker will remain the same until the end of September. But then there will be a six-month extension at a slightly reduced level. What's your reaction to that so far?

Jennifer: Look I think this is really sensible. You're targeting it to the businesses who can't get back up and going because of restrictions. You're making sure that the incentives are right for people to get back up and running where they can, and for people to work when they can. And of course, you're removing some of these anomalies where people have been paid more under JobKeeper than they're actually getting before. That's all very sensible but Peter I think the real challenge now is to make sure that we get activity going in the economy again. That we get people working, we create those jobs and that's got to be done by making sure we're managing the health, give the community confidence, go the course on re-opening the economy based on the health advice that we're getting and get that activity going, get businesses investing, get those infrastructure projects going so that we've got not a big second wave in the construction sector of unemployment. And make sure that we're putting money in people's pockets. Some of that JobKeeper extension is vital to that but maybe we should think about things like bringing forward those personal tax cuts so people have got money in their pockets.

Peter: Yeah I mean you mention there managing health Jennifer but isn't the issue that managing health sometimes that you've got to shut things down?

Jennifer: Yeah look I think you've always got to act on that health advice. I think the challenge for us as a country is that we find the nationally consistent systems to manage these local outbreaks. Because what we can't do is this stop-start stuff. I mean there are so many businesses who say to me, 'look I think I can't get up and running again if we do this again'. Because it's not just having JobKeeper, people have got to go into their savings to restock their shelves and get their inventory going. I think we've got to try and get a permanent systemic approach across the country. And something that is consistent, so business knows the rules, people know the rules, and of course we've got to maintain that vigilance as people around hand sanitiser, around keeping our distance, around keeping the app on. All of those things remain important because we're in, Peter, for a long haul here. I think people just keep thinking this is a couple of months. We are here for possibly a couple of years and we've got to find a way of functioning as a society until we get a vaccine or a treatment.

Peter: You mention that the Australians, and there's 900,000 of them, who effectively received a pay rise. Is it right that those payments should continue right up until the end of September as was legislated by the government?

Jennifer: Look I think the government just got to do the practical thing. I mean the systems changes Peter that were involved in getting these payments to people have been enormous I think, trying to stop and start these things. Versus giving people certainty to say from September that payment will reduce. And of course keeping a higher level of JobSeeker is what I understand the government is going to do. Certainly until December and then possibly, as we would encourage, a permanent increase to the rate of JobSeeker because it was too low on Newstart. Let's see what the announcement is today. But I think people have got to just be practical about what can be done with these massive systems. I mean you're talking about 900,000 people. It's not easy to just change these things every week.

Peter: Yeah no doubt about that and yes, you are right, we don't have the specifics until later on but it has been reported this morning that JobSeeker will at least be above $700. I mean Matt Canavan said it can't be too high because then that might be a disincentive for people to work. But is that enough do you think? Bearing in mind that the business community, confidence, availability and jobs might not be that high in the new year, especially in regional areas.

Jennifer: Well that's right but that's why I go back to my point that we have got to keep our focus on job creation. I mean my estimate if you take 3.5 million people on JobKeeper, 1.4 million people on JobSeeker we probably have got about 2 million jobs that we've got to create. And that task is colossal. We've got a great starting point as a country and I think people have got to remember the good starting point that we had before we went into this. But we can't keep our eye off the main game which is getting activity going in the economy again so we can create those jobs. But there's no doubt Peter that the Newstart allowance was too low. It was not adequate enough for people to live on. So what will be interesting to see today is do we have a temporary increase and extension until December? And then I would imagine in the budget is when the government would permanently make any changes to the JobSeeker.

Peter: Where do you think that needs to be Jennifer?

Jennifer: Look we've always said that it used to track closer to the aged pension and that would be where it should track now. It's not just the allowance Peter it's also making sure that the programs for people who are unemployed are right. That the training is there, that the skills development is there, that the proper placement services are there. It's not just about the allowance albeit that's very important. But I can't keep coming back to this enough, we've got to create those jobs. And we do have to make sure that the incentive for people to work is higher than the incentive for people not to work. And also I think just to remember, people don't want to be on welfare. They want to have a job. Because a job is a life of purpose, a job is a sense of advancement. People want to get ahead in this country. We've got to make sure that we create the jobs for them to go to.

Peter: Okay, Jennifer Westacott the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. Appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for joining us.

Jennifer: You're very welcome thank you.



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