Jennifer Westacott interview with Rachel Pupazzoni, The Business

Event Interview with Rachel Pupazzoni, ABC, The Business

Speaker Jennifer Westacott

Date 20 September 2019

E&OE

Rachel Pupazzoni, host, The Business: Jennifer, thousands of businesses, workers, students are protesting today about climate change. What's the Business Council's advice to its members today?

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive, Business Council of Australia: I think it's a company by company decision. I think some companies are letting their employees take the day off. Some of them are asking to take leave. I think it's one of those things that you let companies make individual decisions on.

Rachel: Today we've seen Atlassian's CEO, Mike Cannon-Brookes, a very outspoken person on climate issues, lead his workers out on strike. His position is based on science and he's one of many. Are we seeing a growing split between that position and the government's policies on climate change?

Jennifer:  I think where we want the debate to be is how we make this transition. How do we make the transition to get to the Paris Agreement? How do we accept the trajectory of the Paris Agreement? How do we do that in a way that drives technology change, that drives innovation? How do we drive in a way that creates affordability, that creates new jobs and businesses and obviously preserve security and reliability.

Rachel: The BCA says it supports a carbon price signal. The only carbon price we've seen in Australia though was with the Gillard government and the BCA was quite against that. Why the change?

Jennifer: Well, we were against a fixed price. So the point of a carbon price is it's part of a trading mechanism as part of a price that floats based on demand. And this was a price that was set very high at $23 and it was well above the global average. And it didn't have some of the arrangements that you normally have when you would set an emissions trading scheme, which we had always supported where you're allowing companies to trade. And so to us it was kind of like a fixed price and we were very supportive of the government trying to move it to a more flexible arrangement. And we sat down originally and said, "Look, if you start this off at $10 and put sort of trading arrangements in, we'll support that." It was the fixing of the price that was the problem.

Rachel: Okay. So if it was a lower price? Would...

Jennifer: Well, it's got to be a lower price and it's got to be a price that allows a whole lot of trading. It's got to be a proper trading scheme. We supported the carbon pollution reduction scheme, we supported an idea of an ETS. We've supported all of these attempts to try and get our country to a lower carbon future, to be the most carbon efficient country on the planet, and to make sure that we do that by driving innovation, by driving technology.

Rachel: Is there a price or a magic figure that meets all those expectations?

Jennifer: That's the problem with governments wanting to set prices. Markets set prices and that's the really important thing.

Rachel: Last week on this program, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility accused the BCA of undermining action on climate. They represent a wide range of companies, Atlassian is one of them, the Church of England Pension Fund, calling for BHP to sever ties with the Business Council of Australia as well as other lobby groups. What's your response to that campaign?

Jennifer: Well, I think it's a campaign of misinformation. I've just gone through our position and it lines up with many of the companies that they're targeting. We support action on climate change. We support the Paris Agreement. We support the trajectory that the Paris Agreement takes us on. We support renewable energy. We support an energy mix that gets us to that net zero carbon target that people talk about. It's about getting the transition right. It's about having an the honest conversation with the community. So we reject that campaign of misinformation. We would like to see a fact based respectful conversation. And if I were a member of that organisation, I'd sort of say, "How are my funds being used to kind of target a particular business lobby versus to actually kind of get outcomes in the environment?"

Rachel: You've said you support a transition to a more climate-friendly approach, the Paris Agreement, but you've also talked about the issue of costs. So does one sort of outweigh the other?

Jennifer: They have to work together because if we have a scheme or a mechanism that drives industries out, then we won't get that technology change. We need companies to be investing in new technologies. We need investment in the country. We need to make sure the economy remains strong. We need to keep prices down. This is one of those balancing things.

Rachel: You've talked about Paris, I just wanted to check, does the BCA support the use of Kyoto credits towards that Paris?

Jennifer: Yes, we do because we believe that you've got to reward early action. And why wouldn't you try and reward early action taken by businesses. But these are things that are sorted out as part of the negotiations. It's a legitimate provision of the Paris Agreement and as we go forward, those sorts of provisions will be negotiated as countries renew and update the Paris obligations.

Rachel: The split with some businesses on the response to climate change, do you think that the coalition's approach is sufficient?

Jennifer: Look, you know, we've said for a long time you need a comprehensive approach to both energy and climate change policy. And what we want to see is both sides of politics, working with industry, working with the environmental lobby to say, "What is the most sensible way that we can make that transition?"

Rachel: Jennifer Westacott, thank you for speaking to The Business.

Jennifer: You're welcome. Thank you.