Jennifer Westacott interview with Ticky Fullerton and Adam Creighton, Business Weekend

Event: Jennifer Westacott interview on Sky News Business Weekend

Speaker: Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive; Ticky Fullerton, host; Adam Creighton, host

Date: 6 December 2020

Topics: COVID-19 economic recovery, jobs, workplace relations reform, China

 

Ticky Fullerton, host: So, what now as we haul ourselves through to recovery? Well, joining us live from Canberra is Business Council of Australia chief executive, Jennifer Westacott. Jennifer, great to have you here.

Jennifer Westacott, Business Council chief executive: Thanks for having me.

Ticky: The multimillion dollar question, what happens? How do we pivot to get off the government teat when the stimulus comes back and get through it back, I suppose, onto big business, your members?

Jennifer: Well, it's a great question. So obviously we saw the national accounts this week, much better than everyone expected. Certainly, growth in areas, as you were just talking about, like housing, where people were not expecting the market to continue to grow and still a high-performing stock market. So, all of the seeds are there for a very strong 2021 but to your point, and Adam you wrote about this this week, so much of this continues to be driven by government stimulus and government spending. So, what do we need to do? We need to unleash that private sector economy. We need to do that in three ways. We've got to reactivate the economy by opening up those parts of the economy that have been shut down, where we can do that in a safe way. We've got to continue to drive investment so that people accelerate growth, accelerate things in their businesses like online. And thirdly and most importantly, we've got to start putting in place the building blocks for long-term sustained and very high growth because that will be the best way that we get out budgets back in balance. That will be the best way that we get debt down and most importantly, that will be the best way we get wages going up. I don't want to see us return to a 2.8 or sub-three GDP growth number because that will not do the heavy lifting that we need to do. To your point, that's about unleashing the private sector economy. Businesses need to continue to invest, they need to continue to take risks and they need to put in place what is going to make them sustainable going forward.

Adam Creighton, host: Just on the labour market there Jennifer, certainly we've seen some good momentum in Australia. A big improvement in jobs growth, a drop off of the JobKeeper numbers but we've seen in the last few days in the US a massive loss in momentum for November, job growth actually halved and the jobless rate barely changed. Do you think that we'll see a similar slowdown in Australia in the momentum in the job market?

Jennifer: I think the circumstances are so different though, Adam, they have completely lost control of the health situation over there. I think they're dealing, I read somewhere the other day, with a forecast of 450,000 deaths by early next year. I think we're just dealing with completely different scenarios. There's no doubt we have to make sure we really watch very carefully that as we withdraw JobKeeper that we put in place the antecedents of getting growth back. And that's about continuing to release bits of the economy and driving investment. Some of the things in the budget, which were fantastic, like the instant expensing, but also that work on deregulating the economy.

Ticky: Well, exactly. You talk about building the blocks. Now, one of the big reform agendas was going to be industrial relations. It doesn't seem to be that strong, that much of a reform from what we're hearing so far?

Jennifer: I've been part of those discussions and obviously I'm bound by the confidentiality. I think people will see a couple of things. First of all, the process has been important. It’s been important to get unions and employer groups together and that is a foundation for us to continue to work in a more constructive way. Secondly, what I understand will be released this week is a package of reforms and I think people need to see the package in its totality. That package goes to many of the problems that employers have raised.

Ticky: Will it make a difference?

Jennifer: I think it will make an enormous difference because it goes to the issues that people like me have been raising for a long time. But most importantly, Ticky and Adam, nobody ever expected radical reform because radical reform would have been divisive reform. We need to move beyond that. We need to get to the practical, doable reform that is not going to spend three months stuck in a toxic debate in the Senate. Get stuff done, make improvements, build the platform so we’ve got the relationships to go forward.

Adam: So, just moving on to the growing escalation of tensions with China, you’re obviously all across the details. I've been reading reports recently some saying that we should actually fight back and we should restrict our iron ore exports to China which of course would send the price even higher. Do you think that there's any wisdom in that?

Jennifer: Well, I'm not sure who it would benefit given the important role that iron ore plays in our economy. Look, this is a very complex situation. We've got to have that principled realism that maintains our principles, our sovereignty, our security and the realism that we have to have an excellent trading relationship with this country if our economy is to grow. Remembering that so much of that trading relationship is demand driven, it's our companies, our universities responding to demand. It's very important that we take whatever steps can be taken to stop the relationship deteriorating even further and that we take a patient long-term view about getting that relationship back on track because it is absolutely vital to our long-term prosperity.

Adam: Okay. Jennifer Westacott. Thank you so much for your time.

Ticky: Happy Christmas.

Jennifer: You're very welcome. Yes, you to. Thank you.