Jennifer Westacott interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC Drive

Event: Interview with Scott Emerson, 4BC Drive

Speakers: Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia; Scott Emerson host 4BC Drive

Date: 22 October 2020

Topics: Domestic and international border report

E&OE

Scott Emerson, host 4BC Drive: The Business Council of Australia has released a new report which finds that the Queensland/New South Wales border closure is costing the economy five million dollars a day since March. Now Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council and she joins me on the line now. Jennifer Westacott thanks for being on 4BC Drive. 

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: You're welcome. 

Scott: Five million dollars a day. That's an extraordinary figure.

Jennifer: Yeah and $320 million across the country if you take into account international travel as well. I guess what that really means is someone is not getting their job back, some business is not able to get up and running again. This is the human toll. And we're calling for the National Cabinet to develop a plan to open our domestic borders by Christmas, get our aviation and tourism industries, and retail industries going again. And then a gradual, careful, staged plan to reopen our international borders. 

Scott: Now National Cabinet meets tomorrow. But there's been a lot of talk that the decisions being made, particularly by the states, are driven less by health, more by the politics in each of the states.

Jennifer: Look I think the domestic border closures, particularly the one between New South Wales and Queensland, it doesn't stack up with the evidence. And what New South Wales has demonstrated is that you can do local containment really effectively. And in doing so, they've unleashed 360,000 jobs that have been replaced. So, what we want to see is National Cabinet, by Christmas, open those domestic borders. That's a three billion dollar gift, Christmas present, to Australians. That's tens of thousands of jobs. And focus on that local containment that's been done so well in New South Wales.

Scott: We've got nine days until the Queensland election on October 31. From your perspective there, are you hoping that once we get passed that election, whoever is in power after October 31, will start to look at opening the borders; no longer shackled by the politics of an election campaign?

Jennifer: Look I hope so. I think it's important that this not become a political issue. It's important that we think about the fact that we've got to maintain the great success we've had in health and no one wants those health outcomes to be compromised. But we know we can do local containment, we know we can do digital tracking and tracing. It's being done in New South Wales. And we've just got to get our country moving again. And we've got to give people a sense of how we're going to do that and a plan to do it. I mean getting an aviation industry back up and running again isn't like going out to the garage and starting the car up that's been in the garage for a couple of months. Getting the planes back up off the ground is hugely complex, as I'm sure you would appreciate. And the airlines need some certainty so they can plan, pilots need to be back in the simulators, the ticketing systems need to be back up and running again. There's huge logistics here and we think there's got to be a very clear timetable set so that those plans can be put in place. 

Scott: The Deputy Premier and Health Minister up here, Steven Miles, yesterday flagged the possibility of the border bubble between New South Wales and Queensland being extended further south next week. Would that be good enough? Or do we really need the entire border opened?

Jennifer: Well I think we need to take whatever steps we can. But we do need that border open. We need our national borders across the country open by Christmas. Because we've got to be able to get those crucial industries going again. And we've got to give people a sense of a plan. This idea of let's just wait and see week by week, for the aviation industry, for small business, it just doesn't allow them to plan in time.

Scott: You mentioned the aviation business but let's have a look at small business, particularly the tourism sector. You say about that Christmas deadline, for many of them, if they don't get open by Christmas, this crucial period for their businesses, there's a big possibility that many of them won't open at all.

Jennifer: Absolutely. Because the other thing that people forget, say you're running a restaurant or a store, you've got to order stuff. So how do I do that if I'm a small business? What do I order? And people are living week to week. They're hanging on by a thread, small business. So, if they've got a sense of 'yep we're opening then. I can order the stock I need. I can get my inventory. I can get my staff back on track.' They can't do that the day before. And many of them will not have the cashflow to do that and then stop and then start again. They'll be finished. And so, we need to make sure that we give them that plan so they can get back up and running again. And so that they can, and to you point, if they don’t, I fear that some of these businesses will not get up and running again.

Scott: Jennifer Westacott, thank you for joining us on 4BC Drive this afternoon.