Jennifer Westacott interview with Sally Bryant, ABC Riverina

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Sally Bryant, ABC Riverina

Speaker: Jennifer Westacott, Sally Bryant

Date: 17 November 2020

Topics: NSW budget, Strong Australia Network

E&OE

Sally Bryant, host ABC Riverina: So tomorrow in Tumut there's a panel to talk about how the business community can work together and create some new jobs. The webinar is being hosted by the Business Council of Australia and the Tumut Regional Chamber of Commerce, and you can tune in online from 11.30am tomorrow morning. Jennifer Westacott is the chief executive of the Business Council of Australia joining me to talk about this, this morning. Jennifer good morning.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive: Good morning Sally. 

Sally: When the pandemic has hit businesses hard and particularly in hospitality, how do you create new jobs in such a tricky time?

Jennifer: The first thing is we just have to get used to living with this virus and open up as much of the economy as we can. And there is no substitute for that to be honest. That's going to get people working and get people back to work and back to business as quickly as possible. And I think New South Wales has done a fantastic job of managing local outbreaks, managing containment. But we do have to live with this virus for quite a bit longer as we roll out a vaccine. The second thing is the big stimulus projects. So, we'll see hopefully in the budget today some big infrastructure projects. Obviously, you've got Snowy 2.0 down there which is 4,000 jobs. And then other big projects across the state. I think the Out and About initiative that is forecast to be announced in the budget today, they're giving people vouchers to go to restaurants, I think that's a cracking idea. Because a lot of hospitality would be thinking, 'Do I open up again? Do I get all the stock in?' And they'd be looking at their bookings and they'd be thinking, 'I'm not sure' and then suddenly those bookings pick up and they've got the critical numbers to get going again. So that's a great idea. There's lots of things we can do. And finally, we've got to get better at skilling people. We've got to do better at short courses, lifting people's skills in digital and things like that so people have got a chance to get some of the new jobs and stay in them.

Sally: Now the Strong Australia Network was set up by the Business Council of Australia to get a better connection with regional communities. How much involvement has there been from the business community in the Riverina?

Jennifer: Well there's a lot of activity in the Riverina. You've seen obviously Snowy 2.0 is a huge commitment, but you've got lots and lots of stuff happening there. I mean you've got Harvey Norman putting the pop-up store in Tumut after the fires. You've got a big presence by the supermarkets. And look one of the things we're trying to do Sally is to go around Australia and identify what else can be done. What else can the business community do to support regional Australia? What's the infrastructure that's going to be needed? What are the skills systems that are going to be needed? Where can we encourage mid-sized and some of the larger companies to go to regional Australia set up maybe some of the things that they might otherwise put offshore. That's the sort of thing that we're trying to do to get people's ideas and see what else could be done so we increase the number of jobs, increase economic activity and of course increase people's living standards. 

Sally: Now what do you hope is going to come out of tomorrow's webinar?

Jennifer: Well first of all we want to hear from people. It's been really important to do these because it allows us as a big business organisation to go into things like a budget bidding process and highlight to Canberra, to state governments, these are some of the priorities that communities are telling us. So, listening to people about their priorities. Listening to what's working, what's not working. Often people spend a lot of time talking to me about red tape and then I'm able to give that back to ministers as a 'here's a concrete example of a piece of red tape that's holding a business back'. And looking at things like how much of a difference the investment allowance, the government made an announcement about in the federal budget, trying to encourage businesses to take that up to take a bit of risk. And to try and get a sense of what business can do, what the community's priorities are and what are the settings, policy settings to use that jargon, that are needed so that people can really get cracking. 

Sally: Now we've heard that the New South Wales government is going to be giving out a hundred dollars in vouchers for people to spend in restaurants, cafes and clubs, as well as cultural and entertainment activities. It will be a boost to local businesses but it's only going to be trialled in Sydney CBD over December and won't be rolled out state-wide until next year. Any thoughts about that?

Jennifer: Yeah look let's try it. Obviously the restaurants in Sydney are really struggling because they rely so much on international tourism. But I think it's a great idea. I think it's going to be important in regional Australia. I think it's also about getting people out and about as it's called. I think it's a great idea. Look it would be great if it could be brought forward earlier. Obviously, government wants to try it, get it right, I understand that. But I think it could really make a difference to many parts of regional Australia so that people, as I said, get that critical mass to say, 'yep I can see I've got those bookings. I can order the stuff in. I can take the risk. I can get going again. I can hire those extra people.' That's really important I think to get things moving again.

Sally: What else would you like to see in today's budget?

Jennifer: Look I think you've got to see a couple of things. We want to see some tax relief. The government made an announcement a couple of weeks ago called Jobs Plus and that was fabulous. Giving payroll tax relief to people who are going to bring forward their investments. Some tax relief I think is important. Some tax reform. We've got some pretty ordinary tax systems around the country and the New South Wales government I think is really serious about getting that right. Obviously, we'll see some big infrastructure announcements and that's important for job creation. Hopefully, we'll see something on social housing because there's a big need there. 

Sally: And there has been a big push in Victoria but not too much mentioned in NSW at this stage.

Jennifer: No, exactly. I think there's a lot we can do there and we should use this time while we don't have population growing at the rate it was to fix some of the big problems we've had in some systems like the social housing system. Whether it's new housing or some of the maintenance liabilities that have built up. Getting those sorted that creates those smaller jobs that particularly resonate with regional Australia. So some of those things I think would be really good and obviously anything on the skills front. Although the government has made some good announcements on that. We've just got to find a faster, better way of skilling people rather than sending them all off to uni for three years.

Sally: Jennifer Westacott we've run out of time but thank you so much for joining me this morning.

Jennifer: You're very welcome. 

Sally: Jennifer Westacott speaking there about this event that's happening tomorrow from 11.30am until 12.30pm. It's free but spaces are limited so if you want to go register on Strong Australia Snowy Valleys business webinar if you go onto Eventbrite and you can track it down there.