Event: Jennifer Westacott interview with Kim Landers on AM, ABC Radio
Speakers: Kim Landers, host; Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia
Date: 27 July 2021
Topics: COVID management, vaccine rollout, lockdowns,
Kim Landers, host ABC Radio AM: Well, the lockdowns in Greater Sydney, Victoria and New South Wales have cost about $2.8 billion dollars a week according to new analysis commissioned by the Business Council of Australia. While restrictions are expected to ease in Victoria and South Australia later today, Greater Sydney’s lockdown appears indefinite and it’s coming at an estimated cost of $257 million dollars per day. The federal and New South Wales governments are combining to make cash payments to workers and small and medium sized businesses, the Business Council of Australia wants some tweaks to that system and for more I spoke with chief executive, Jennifer Westacott. Jennifer let’s start with business; what changes do you think should be made to the grants being paid?
Jennifer Westacott, chief executive Business Council of Australia: Well, a couple of things that we’re proposing, on the JobSaver, we think that there should be a national scheme now based on the NSW JobSaver scheme, it should be Commonwealth/state funded, it should be uncapped, we need to look at the payroll thresholds to see if they’re generous enough, so that it does the job of JobKeeper, which is keeping people at work, keeping people attached to their employer. On the disaster payment we think that’s obviously a good scheme, we should look at if that $1200 a fortnight should go to $1500, based on the extension of the lockdown and maybe looking at cash assistance to families in very hard-hit areas and of course continuing to do all of the small business and business grants that are being done across the places where there are lockdowns but also continuing to look at those sectors that are really hard hit, tourism and aviation and whether or not we need to do more there.
Kim: Let me pick you up on that Covid-19 disaster payment going to workers. You’re suggesting it going up to $750 a week when there’s an extended lockdown. What do you mean by extended? And have you had any hint that the federal government would actually take up that idea?
Jennifer: Well, extended possibly means two weeks and beyond and they’re the sorts of things that National Cabinet and the federal government need to look at. At what point do you need to extend that payment?
Kim: Given that we already gone beyond two weeks in Sydney, are you saying that what the federal government are offering workers, the $600 bucks a week isn’t enough?
Jennifer: I think it needs to be reviewed, and to be fair, the federal government has constantly throughout this crisis, been flexible and said look if it’s not working or things aren’t targeted enough then let’s do some more and look, we’re encouraging that it should be on the table and also looking at the idea of one off supplements which was done last year. Look, clearly people are doing it very, very tough Kim and we need to make sure that people who have been stood down from their jobs have got an adequate income support so they can get back into the workforce and make sure their lives stay on track.
Kim: When it comes to businesses offering workplace vaccinations, is there any progress on giving employers the same indemnity against adverse reactions that’s offered to doctors and pharmacists for example?
Jennifer: We’re looking at all of this with the government. We’ve got a very good conversation happening with both state and federal governments at the moment, but particularly with the federal government, about how businesses can play their role in the vaccine, whether it’s giving it to their employees, whether it’s helping with remote communities
Kim: But are you any closer to businesses being able to do that, like they do with the flu shot?
Jennifer: Well, that’s going to depend on the vaccine supplies getting in. But look we’re a few weeks away from that because there’s a lot of logistics to work out here about how to do it safely and making sure we’re not taking resources out of the health system. But we’re working really well with the federal government on this plan.
Kim: Does business support rapid antigen testing like retail, possibly construction?
Jennifer: Look it’s one thing we’ve got to consider because you know all of these things add up. Obviously it’s not a replacement for having the health test, but it is something else we can do, whether its giving someone a temperature check, doing the antigen testing. It’s all about making sure that people who don’t feel well, do not come to work and as we’re seeing in some of the data, people are still moving around. So all of these things are part of a consolidated effort to make sure that our workplaces are safe. They’re the safest in the world, and that we stop people moving around, and particularly stop them coming to work if they don’t feel well.
Kim: Finally, France is implementing a health pass where customers at restaurants and cafes would have to prove that they’re vaccinated or that they’ve tested negative. Would businesses in Australia be interested in something like that?
Jennifer: Look, I think all of this needs to be on the table. You look at what other countries are doing, particularly where they’re having these extra waves, I think we obviously want to make sure people obviously have freedom of choice. But you talk about the millions of Australians who are in lockdown at the moment, I don’t think they feel that freedom of choice, but, all of these things have to be on the table in a respectful way, respecting people’s civil liberties and their rights. But we have to make sure that we find an exit path out of this and that’s about doing lockdowns smarter while we’re in this position where the Delta strain is clearly a gamechanger. It’s about making sure that we’re driving that vaccine as hard as we can and it’s about making sure there are benefits in getting the vaccine. All of these things should be on the table as we push to that big vaccine rollout when the supplies are in place.
Kim: Jennifer Westacott thank you very much for talking to AM.
Jennifer: You’re welcome.