Tim Reed - Opening statement to the Senate Select Committee, COVID-19

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Thank you Chair.

The Business Council and its members welcome the opportunity to appear before you today.

I am proud of the way Business Council members - indeed I’m proud of the way all businesses - have rallied together to support the community and the economy through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We have considered helping Australians through this period as more than our responsibility – it has been and remains our obligation. Business is part of the community, and the community is part of business.

As we did during the bushfires, the Business Council mobilised rapidly to coordinate members to keep people safe and services running. This has been a ‘Team Business’ moment as part of ‘Team Australia’.

Our response has been driven foremost by official health advice. Our priority has been to keep our teams, customers, suppliers and the community safe while keeping people in jobs and ensuring our economy and society continue to function.

In practical and resourceful ways, business has made a difference to people’s lives and livelihoods. Whether it is introducing new types of pandemic leave and flexible working arrangement or temporarily deferring loan repayments, deferring or waiving bills, extending operating hours, investing in home delivery and speeding up payment times to suppliers to help with cashflow, business has stepped up.

Companies that have never done so before drew on their underlying capabilities and converted their production capacity to domestically manufacture ventilators, they restocked shelves quickly during hours they were previously not allowed to operate, changed rostered to safely keep the lights on and to boost internet and phone coverage.

Now as restrictions ease, the Business Council is determined to be at the forefront of a jobs-led recovery. We are focused on the priorities of getting businesses back up and running, ensuring people can return to secure work, creating new and more jobs, giving people the skills they need to find a new job, and getting people’s lives back on track.

We are also committed to continuing the unprecedented levels of cooperation that have steered us through this period.  We’ve seen big and small businesses pulling together across supply chains. And, at the Business Council, we have worked collaboratively with other groups, including the ACTU.

As we come out of this tumultuous period, we must guard against further entrenched disadvantage, particularly for people at risk of long-term unemployment. Furthermore, we must not only create jobs and skill people, but also ensure our welfare system is adequate. Our long-standing call to review the rate of JobSeeker is now more urgent than ever.

The success of the recovery must be seen in how it improves the quality of people’s lives, in a manner that is consistent with the values of our Nation.

To this end, the Business Council has set up 14 member-led economic recovery working groups to safely reopen the rest of the economy, accelerate the recovery, and put in place the structural reforms necessary to deliver decades of sustained and faster economic growth and higher wages.

If we are to guarantee the high and continually improving living standards we are used to, Australia must remain a growing, competitive and open trading economy.

We must also be an aspirational society that rewards hard work and puts money in the pockets of ordinary Australians, and an entrepreneurial society where we can keep and attract the best and brightest.

We must be a nation that:

  • attracts investment
  • creates more secure and higher-paying jobs
  • skills its people and innovates
  • bridges the metropolitan and regional divide
  • enables all citizens a pathway to economic mobility
  • plays to its strengths whether they are existing or new, and partners to build on the strengths of others
  • values successful businesses and successful Australians, and
  • can hold its own against the rest of the world.

The speed of our recovery will be determined not by the growth in government spending in the years ahead, but rather by the ability of private enterprise to succeed.

We are enthusiastic and willing partners in what we believe must be a cooperative national effort to shape a stronger and more competitive Australia that leverages our strengths but also remains true to who we are.