Jennifer Westacott interview with Thomas Oriti, ABC NewsRadio

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Thomas Oriti, ABC NewsRadio

Speaker: Thomas Oriti, host; Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive

Topics: NSW Jobs Plus plan; COVID-19 economic recovery; domestic borders

E&OE

Thomas Oriti, host ABC NewsRadio: After being hit hard during the pandemic, Australia's hospitality sector looks likely to benefit from a $500 million boost from the New South Wales government. Now it's been reported that this month's state budget will include a $100 restaurant voucher for each household in a bid to kick start the industry. New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has also revealed a plan to scrap four years of payroll tax for businesses that create 30 new jobs or more. Jennifer Westacott is the CEO of the Business Council of Australia. She joins us live now. Jennifer good morning.

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

Thomas: Can we begin with this idea of vouchers? I mean will measures like this do much to help the economy?

Jennifer: Look I think they'll definitely help that industry which has been so hard hit during this pandemic and I think they will help the economy. And if you're a restaurant, a cafe and you're ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ about 'do I stock up again? Do I get going again?' Having something like that, which is going to create a lot of demand, just gives you that momentum. It gets you started again. So I think it's a really good idea.

Thomas: Do you think though that there are other industries aside from hospitality and tourism that are really in need of a cash injection like this?

Jennifer: Well there are but that's one industry that has just been so hard hit and it's so directly linked to the restrictions. But the other package that you've just talked about. The $250 million package. That's also a real game-changer and I think it's going to make New South Wales probably the most attractive place to invest in the country. That four-year payroll tax deferral. That focus on getting jobs, on bringing forward investment. Don't underestimate what a big contribution that is.

Thomas: Okay so should other states head down the same path then?

Jennifer: Absolutely, I mean we need to do everything we can to firstly get the economy as open as it can be in a COVID safe way. And that will get a lot of activity going and that will see a lot of jobs replaced. The second thing we need to do is get the investment flowing, get those projects brought forward that create the replacement jobs but crucially create the new jobs. And we encourage all other states to take the lead from New South Wales. Not just in the announcement they made yesterday but in the way that they have effectively managed this pandemic whilst keeping their economy running and replacing about 360,000 jobs that were lost in the original lockdown. So it's a very important contribution that the New South Wales government is making to the overall national economy. 

Thomas: But when we look at scrapping at four years of payroll tax and as you say you welcome that, and other states should go down the same path. But if they do, won't it become a sort of bidding war between the states and then it could become a bit of a race to the bottom in a way?

Jennifer: I don't think so. I think there's nothing wrong with a bit of competition. I think it's always been a good thing to have a bit of healthy competition between the states. But don't forget this is mostly about bringing investment forward. And if you couple this together with the terrific announcements in the federal budget around an investment allowance for companies to bring forward investments. The combination of that plus the announcement that was made in New South Wales yesterday, those two things will see investment brought forward. And that's the big job creator. And that's what should happen around the country.

Thomas: While I've got you there. Tasmania is opening up its borders to visitors from New South Wales today. Do you see that as a bit of a positive sign that things are returning to some sense of normality?

Jennifer: Absolutely. Look, absolutely. As you know a few weeks ago we released a report about the aviation sector saying the top priority had to be to open domestic borders and obviously focus on that local containment, tracking and tracing, on the virus. So that announcement by Tasmania is a really crucial step and it's vital for the industries down there who rely so much on mainland tourism as we head into the summer season. So it's a really great step, really important. And bit by bit, decision by decision, we get the country going again. We get those jobs replaced. Particularly in sectors like the airline industry. And we give that signal that we're starting to get back on track.

Thomas: Yeah I mean I'm talking to you today; we've got the latest coronavirus numbers from Victoria just this half-hour, no new cases or deaths. 

Jennifer: Yep that's good. 

Thomas: We are still getting some coronavirus cases that are popping up. There's, of course, no vaccine at the moment. Are you seeing optimism in the sector at the moment? Or do you think we've still got a long way to go?

Jennifer: Look there's still a long way to go here. But what I think New South Wales has proven is that you can clamp down when you see these local outbreaks. And if you get the tracking and tracing right, and you get the measures right, you can actually keep functioning. And then crucially, if we get quarantining right and we get a nationally consistent standard for quarantine, we should carefully, cautiously be able to do things like bring international students back. And that's vital because we need to say to those students, particularly those who are not already enrolled, we are open for term one next year. Don't make a decision to go to the United States. Don't make a decision to go to the United Kingdom. Because Australia is an incredibly safe place to come and study. But we need to send that signal and we need to get the quarantining arrangements right. So I think it's a decision by decision basis. But we need to give that sense of where we're going so industries can plan. An airline industry is not like starting up the old car in the garage that's been there for a few months. There's a lot to get planes back in the air. And we need to give the two airlines that sense of how things are going to unfold so they can plan and gear up.

Thomas: Okay Jennifer Westacott thanks very much for your time.

Jennifer: You're very welcome, thanks very much. 

Business Council media team: (02) 8224 9214