Tim Reed speech, address to the 2021 annual dinner

Speaker: Tim Reed, Business Council of Australia President

Venue:  The Fullerton Hotel, Sydney  

Topics: Economic recovery, Business Council policy priorities

 

***Check against delivery***

Thank you Jennifer & welcome Prime Minister, Treasurer, other members of parliament, welcome friends & guests & of course, welcome BCA members.

I’d also like to acknowledge that we meet on Gadigal land and pay my respect to their elders past, present and emerging.

Tonight is different from other BCA events.  Traditionally these nights are focused on policy and politics – but tonight, just for one night, we’re putting that to the side and instead we’ve come together to celebrate.

Prime Minister, it was in this forum a couple of years ago, that you said words to the effect: that it is not up to the Government to do the batting on behalf of business.  That if we want policies that make Australia a better place to do business then we must get out into the community and make those arguments for ourselves. 

I’ve stated on several occasions that I completely agree with your point.

And it is in line with this sentiment that, under Jennifer’s tremendous leadership, the BCA have sought much greater levels of community engagement, and tonight is a part of that. 

This started with and continues through our Strong Australia events – forums that take the CEOs of our nation’s largest and most complex businesses to regional communities to listen and discuss the issues that are on their minds.

We’ve also engaged far more actively with other community groups: whether it be the ACTU, ACOSS, the ACF, the WWF, COSBOA, AiG, CEW, the MCA, the NFF, ACCI, the ABA, the ARA, APPEA, TTF, the ICA or the RCIA – all of whom I believe are represented in the room tonight – and might I apologise if I’ve missed one of our partners. We are working with these groups to try to find win-win solutions to some of the nation’s biggest problems. 

And, of course it is this approach which led us to form BizRebuild which, thanks to some expeditious efforts from the Treasurer, with support from your government Prime Minister and the Labor opposition, is the only charity in Australia that can support small businesses struck by natural disasters. 

You’ll hear much more about BizRebuild later tonight from Sir Peter Cosgrove.

The next six months

But let me start tonight by turning my attention outside of these walls, and to the months ahead. 

Last year the BCA reframed our purpose, which is now states that “we work to ensure Australia is economically strong to support a fair, free and inclusive society for all Australians”. 

We believe achieving this requires successful, well-run businesses that create meaningful jobs and inclusive work environments which reflect the values of and are accountable to the broader Australian community.

Along with that, we published six policy platforms off which our advocacy work is based. 

We’re currently undertaking our annual review of these platforms, but based on feedback to date I’d say it is likely they will continue to focus on such things as:

  • ensuring Australians have the skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow;
  • becoming a leading top five digital nation by 2030;
  • on encouraging greater investment in projects that transform our economic base, including accelerating decarbonisation - allowing us to not only achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and creating new, clean, export industries and thereby assist other countries decarbonise, and
  • and getting better at commercialising our research so it can contribute to our prosperity.

In addition, I expect some updates to reflect:

  • The work undertaken as a part of our budget submission to improve the economic security of women in our community including through childcare and paid parental leave reform; and
  • Our submission to the process your government is running Prime Minister, supporting constitutional recognition of and a voice for Indigenous Australians

Of course, pleasingly, this work will be undertaken with the context of a dramatically improving economic outlook.

Prime Minister and Treasurer let me congratulate both of you on the work you and your government did to underpin the Australian economy in 2020, you must be as delighted as we are to see unemployment back down at 5.6% and falling, under-employment at pre-pandemic levels, participation rates at an all-time high and job advertisements at a 12-year high 

May I also congratulate you on staying the course to withdraw JobKeeper and on increasing the weekly JobSeeker payment. 

While very much needed at the time, JobKeeper was an emergency measure that will have to be paid for by future taxpayers.  With the economic recovery now well underway it is, in our opinion, the right time to remove such support.

Celebrating the role of business over the past year

But as I said, tonight we are here to celebrate the role of businesses over the past year – both big and small, through teams and the contribution of individuals - with the awarding of the BCA’s inaugural Biggies awards

We were inundated with entries which had a constant theme running through them – the absolute pride that executives, employees, and customers have in their companies.

The judges had an enormous task of whittling down the entries to just a handful of finalists – but let me be clear, by celebrating tonight’s winners we honour the entire business community

Whether it be through the bushfires, COVD or more recently the floods, business – and by that I mean the 11 million people who work in a business, the mums and dads who own businesses, the shareholders, the customers and the suppliers – has stepped up. 

So tonight, we’re celebrating the rapid reconfiguration of supply chains to kept our nation fed through the pandemic,

We’re celebrating additional volunteer and pandemic leave, and waived or delayed debts and accelerated payments 

We’re celebrating resource exports that kept our national accounts in – at least some sort order - and the balance sheets of our banks that served as shock absorbers to the economy

We’re celebrating landlords who forgave billions of dollars of rent.

and the energy, transport infrastructure and telecommunications companies who expanded their hardship programs, supported front-line workers, kept us connected and our lights on.

We’re celebrating the innovators who converted their production lines to make respirators right through to the distillers who swapped alcohol production for hand sanitizer.

Never before has it been more important to have profitable, successful businesses with great leaders and strong balance sheets.

These assets, along with strong political leadership, our national balance sheet and a re-found sense of community spirit is what gave our nation the capacity and resources to mobilise for impact.

It was Team Australia at its best and to our members may I say – Jennifer and her team, the board of the BCA and I personally are extremely proud to represent you – you embody the spirit of our nation. 

Introducing the Prime Minister

And Prime Minister, that brings me back to you and how delighted we are that you are here with us this evening, for no-one played a bigger role in our nation in 2020 than you.

When you joined us in November, I spoke to the point that Australian was then in an envious position not due to luck, but through a combination of leadership, hard work and community spirit.  I kicked off by detailing your personal leadership in 2020, calling out the importance of articulating that true north statement of lives and livelihoods, through to the formation of National Cabinet and the creation of JobKeeper, JobSeeker … the list went on. 

Members will be relieved to know that I won’t go through all 12 minutes of it again but let me jump to the end and again from all of us here say thank-you.  Thank-you to your government and thank-you personally for the huge amount you contributed to our nation

But as we gather here tonight, the task at hand remains far from complete.

We have to ensure we continue to keep our citizens safe; we have to get our nation vaccinated, with over 1 million people still unemployed we have to continue to drive economic growth by predictably re-opening our economy, and we at the BCA believe, we should aspire to take what we’ve learned from this crisis and to build a stronger, more aligned community. 

I believe there are close parallels between where we are today and where the US was towards the end of WW2.

During that time, it is recorded that while President Roosevelt was naturally primarily focused on the war, there remained a constant view in his administration that there was no point winning the war if there was not a better country for their servicemen to come home to than the one that they had left. 

Prime Minister – here at the BCA we look forward to continuing to work with your government on all fronts: keeping the pandemic at bay, getting our nation vaccinated – and may I note that many businesses stand ready to be involved in that process when and wherever it is useful; on re-opening the economy to continue to drive growth - and to President Roosevelt’s point – to ensuring Australia comes out of this crisis a freer, fairer, safer and more sustainable nation. 

A nation with a strong economy, the fruits of which are shared with all citizens. 

And it is in that spirit that I ask all of you here tonight, to put your hands together and give a very, very warm welcome to the Prime Minister of Australia, the honourable Scott Morrison.