Jennifer Westacott interview with Rebecca Levingston, ABC Radio Brisbane

Event: Mornings with Rebecca Levingston, ABC Radio Brisbane

Speaker: Rebecca Levingston, host; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia

Date: 22 October 2020

Topics: Domestic and international border report

E&OE

Rebecca Levingston, host ABC Radio Brisbane: Joining us now is the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia. Good morning, Jennifer.

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

Rebecca: What are you calling on the Prime Minister and national cabinet to do?

Jennifer: We want a few things. We want a plan by Christmas to at least open domestic borders, because that would be a $3 billion gift to Australians and tens of thousands of jobs. And really focus on those local quarantining arrangements, that local containment, that New South Wales has done really effectively. The second thing we are asking for is a six month, very careful, very staged approach to opening up our international borders. Starting with Australians who want to return home; international students, which are worth $40 billion to our economy, 250,000 jobs; and then targeted visas for skilled workers and other workers. You would be hearing from farmers I'm sure, this is the best harvest in parts of the country we've had for a decade and they can't get people like backpackers to go and pick the harvest. And a nationally consistent approach to quarantine. We're not asking for free for all. We're asking for a very careful, health-driven, quarantine, careful, gradual reopening of our international borders.

Rebecca: When you mentioned domestic borders opening up by Christmas, you said that would be a $3 billion gift to the economy. How do you calculate that?

Jennifer: This is based on the amount of money that we're losing on a daily basis. So if you combine domestic and international travel we're losing $300 million a day, Rebecca, in lost opportunity. So Ernst and Young who did the work for us calculated that cost of getting borders open by Christmas would be $3 billion back into the economy based on what we've lost. Like in Queensland, you've lost $2.7 billion in border restrictions. So, no one's asking for a free for all here. We just asking for the national cabinet to come up with a plan. And it's really important that we do the planning. Of course to get an airline up and running again, it's not something you do in 24 hours. You need a few months to actually do all of the work that's associated with ticketing, with training, with refreshing people. That's all we're asking for. And we don't think that's too much to ask compared to what other countries are doing.

Rebecca: Jennifer Westcott, the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia urging national cabinet when it meets tomorrow to take up a plan to get more domestic and international passengers ready for take-off. Let me know what you think of the ideas: 1300 222 612. Jennifer, you’ve talked about what we've lost because of border closures. What about what we've gained? Because there's lots of people in Queensland in particular, who have managed to essentially return to normal life. People are also looking at the catastrophic conditions in Europe, in the United States. There'd be a lot of people going, ‘whoa this is too soon.’

Jennifer: Well that's why we are saying it's got to be a three-month plan on domestic borders for Christmas and then a gradual, careful six-month plan. And Rebecca, none of us are talking about removing quarantine. Not at all. What we need is a nationally consistent well-run quarantine system. So no one is sort of saying, ‘throw the doors open’ at all. We're talking about highly targeted. So, Australians wanting to come home and you've just heard from someone who wants to come visit their mother and many Australians want to return home and why shouldn't they be allowed to return home if they quarantine? So no one is talking about throwing out the health restrictions we've had in respect of the way where we've done quarantine successfully. No one is suggesting that for a minute. But we should take advantage of the fact that we have been a very well-run country. And what I'm concerned about Rebecca is we have a fantastic advantage in respect of international students. Now, what I know is that many countries are now targeting those students. We are a great place for companies who are now saying, ‘gee, where should we put our headquarters?’ Well, why wouldn't they put it in Brisbane? Why wouldn't they put it in Sydney? We should be making sure that we're sending a message to the rest of the world, that we want you to come to Australia, carefully, under quarantine, under the required health restrictions, so that we can open up the economy again. But no one's saying throw out the health issues at all.

Rebecca: Just finally Jennifer, you're also calling for five key safe countries to be opened up for us to travel to. Which countries are you talking about there?

Jennifer: Well, particularly Japan, South Korea, potentially Singapore, New Zealand and obviously there's already been movement there. But that's something that probably isn't in the near term, but it's something we should be doing the planning on. And the planning is really important. The worst thing we could do is not do the planning so that we can’t take advantage of these things when the times arrive, when the conditions are right. Let's get the planning done. Let's get the planning done on freight, let’s get the planning done on a gradual, careful re-opening of our aviation businesses so that people can get the jobs back. And those sorts of countries, we should be in conversations with them saying, ‘how would we make this work? How would we do it with a risk-based approach?’

Rebecca: Good to talk this morning, Jennifer thanks so much.

Jennifer: Thanks very much.