Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC Drive
Speaker: Scott Emerson, host 4BC Drive; Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive
Date: 25 August 2020
Topics: State border restrictions
Scott Emerson, host 4BC Drive: Australia's most powerful business lobby group says the state border closures are crippling the economy. A joint letter has been prepared for national cabinet slamming the rapid and piecemeal implementation of complex and inconsistent border rules. They claim the rules have caused unintended consequences and exposed Australians to unnecessary risk. They're pushing for a nationally consistent set of principles to determine domestic closures to provide greater operational certainty to business. Now Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott is on the line. What is the issue you see at the moment? Does there need to be a balance between health and the economy?
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Well I think we just need Scott some common sense around the rules for border management and border restrictions. We've got situations where people have got a permit but they're being stopped, and they can't get across. We've got farmers who can't get their equipment through. We've got farmers who can't get to their livestock. We've got families who can't get to the hospital to visit a relative. And we're not in the beginning of this crisis now, we're in the middle of it. We're just asking for some common sense, consistent rules about these border closures so that people can start to plan and get about their lives. Because this is taking a toll on business, it's taking a toll on people's mental health, and all we're saying at the moment is just can we have some common sense here?
Scott: One of the issues we have here in Queensland is obviously we've had very few active cases here in Queensland and obviously south of the Tweed there haven't been many cases close to the border of Queensland at all. But we've had very strict border closures here. Does that puzzle businesses when that given the state of affairs regarding COVID?
Jennifer: I think it does puzzle business. I think it puzzles everyone and I think we've got to remember that we're going to have to live with this thing for quite a long time and we can't have this stop-start approach to things. Because if you're a small business and you're trying to plan, how can you plan in the way that we're doing this now? You just can't. If you're a family, how do you do your planning? And I think this is what is getting people down. How can you plan if there is no plan Scott? That's what's frustrating people. Border closures should be an emergency measure and obviously you've got a situation in Victoria which is much more serious. But we've got to go back to some common sense around how we live with this virus which is about local containment, suppression of community transmission overall, making sure the health system is able to cope with increased demand and looking after the people who are vulnerable, particularly the elderly. And that's a common sense approach. That allows people to say, ‘yep I know what we're trying to achieve’ and then we should only be shutting borders in emergency situations.
Scott: I'm talking to Jennifer Westacott the chief executive of the Business Council. Let me know what you think: 131 873. We do have a state election here on October 31 and many would say these border closures are very popular with voters, do you think there's an element of politics at play here about the decision to keep those borders closed?
Jennifer: I simply don't know whether politics is the issue here. What I think is really important is that we've got to get some common sense back into the rules. We've got to have a situation where people know what's going on, they know what's expected. If they've got a permit they know they can travel. If they need to get to their livestock they can get to it. If they've got to get important machinery across they can. That's what I think we're really asking for Scott. I'll leave the politics to other people. But surely we can have some common sense around this.
Scott: Well this isn't the first time you've been calling for this and you've been urging both the Prime Minister but also the Premiers across Australia to come up with sensible rules in place for border closures including Annastacia Palaszczuk, the Queensland Premier. But so far it seems like you've been rebuffed?
Jennifer: Well look I think it's true we're not getting the response we want but that doesn't mean we're not going to keep trying. I mean the Prime Minister has been making very similar points. But we're interested in the fact that you've got more than a million people in this country out of work. You've got a lot people on JobKeeper who are hanging on for their lives, for their jobs. You've got a country that has managed the health situation better than pretty much any country on the planet. And all we're saying is, for goodness' sake, let's get some common sense in these rules. Let's give people, particularly in small business, the chance to plan. Let's make sure families can go about their business and only do border closures in an emergency and that way people know what the rules are, and they can get about their lives.
Scott: Alright, that was Jennifer Westacott the Business Council chief executive. Thank you for being on 4BC Drive.