Andrew McKellar interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Newsday, Sky News

19 Nov 2021 |

Event: Andrew McKellar interview with Ashleigh Gillon, Newsday, Sky News
Speakers: Ashleigh Gillon, host Newsday, Sky News; Andrew McKellar, chief executive
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Date: 18 November 2021
Topics: Job vacancies, wages, skilled migration, international reopening, cruise ships,
vaccine mandates.


Ashleigh Gillon, host Newsday, Sky News: Joining us live for more is Andrew McKellar, he’s the chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Andrew, is
jobs boom just another way of saying a skills shortage? Is this a positive spin on something that’s actually a real issue for employers?

Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Yes. Hello, Ash. That’s exactly right. We are facing one of the most critical job shortages, skill
shortages around the labour market that we’ve seen in the past two decades. It’s a serious pressure point for business. Yes, the data that we’ve seen from the national skills commission shows a quarter of a million job vacancies. How we get people into those jobs is the critical test for business. Obviously, we want to give Australians jobs who want them. But also, part of the solution here is that we’ve got to open our international borders again. We’ve got to start bringing in skilled migrants. We’ve got to start bringing in working holiday makers, international students, tourists, fully vaccinated. We know that they can come in safely as we hit those critical vaccine thresholds and we’re seeing that in states like New South Wales and Victoria now.

Ashleigh: Is the federal opposition right when they’re warning today that the so-called jobs boom will be short-lived, it’ll be a sugar hit? They’re suggesting that when those borders do open and overseas workers are allowed back in, the casual nature of those jobs might see them dry up.

Andrew: Oh no, I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I think here, there is a lot of pent-up demand out there in the economy. Business has shown great resilience through the most recent series of restrictions. I think we are ready to get the economy moving again, but we do have some supply side constraints that is in goods and materials, and in labour. We have to address those supply side constraints if we’re going to maximize the strength of the economic recovery and our economic growth potential going forward over the course of the next year. I think the Australian economy is in a very good position, but we need to address these pressure points as soon as we can.

Ashleigh: When you talk about the borders reopening, I mean, we are seeing the Singapore bubble kicking off on Sunday as a good first move in terms of some tourism starting to happen again. I see that this week you’ve really gone into that for the cruise industry as well. Where are we at with the plan for igniting that industry? Could it really happen before years end? And when you talk about pent-up demand, do you think demand is really even there for the cruising sector?

Andrew: Well, look, the tourism industry as a whole has been absolutely flattened throughout this pandemic. It’s critical that we get that industry back on its feet. We need to have international tourists, if they’re fully vaccinated, coming back into Australia and we can do that safely. Certainly, in markets like New South Wales and Victoria, we should move to that as soon as possible. The cruise industry is a vital part of that industry. It’s a $5.2 billion industry. There are 18,000 jobs in that sector. It’s been hammered. And look, there are two things that need to occur. The federal government needs to lift its Biosecurity Determination, and the state governments need to open up to that industry again, operating in their waters. Those two things, we believe, can happen before Christmas. It can open up for fully vaccinated customers and it will be a vital part Australia’s tourism industry back going strongly again.

Ashleigh: Andrew, just another matter. I am keen for your view on the proposed laws surrounding religious freedoms, that the government is looking to put to Parliament over the next fortnight. What would those laws mean for employers? I assume that they could very easily be in conflict with other workplace laws. I mean, surely this could be a real minefield for business.

Andrew: Well, that’s exactly the concern of business. These are not easy questions. These are very complex issues where we are dealing with important rights and freedoms that that people should have. And that’s exactly the issue for business. Of course, we want to respect those rights and freedoms. We want a situation where people are not discriminated against on any basis unfairly. We think this is best handled through uniform discrimination laws and I think here, adding another layer of complexity, the risk is if we start to prescribe rights and freedoms in these areas around religious beliefs that we’ll end up in fact, restricting or constraining freedoms. We’ll end up in more litigation, more disputes, more risk for business. And we certainly want to avoid that sort of situation. Look, they’re not easy issues, they’re very complex issues. I think we would just question whether this is the right time and the right approach to be introducing these sorts of measures right now.

Ashleigh: And just finally, Andrew, I know that we’ve spoken for about vaccine mandates and how businesses are handling those. How is this working out in reality now that New South Wales and Victoria are opening up and we are seeing vaccine mandates for some industries being designated by state governments in particular? Are businesses managing this pretty well? Are you seeing what a lot of issues come up on the mandatory vaccination front? What are the issues surrounding providing a safe workplace for people who might not have vaccine mandates in their businesses? What sort of issues are cropping up?

Andrew: Again, it’s a very real issue for business. We are seeing in some sectors, employers are making the choice that in order to promote a safe workplace for workers and for customers, people visiting those workplaces, that they assess that they might need to apply that requirement. We will see an increasing number of cases coming forward where that’s tested, and we do expect that to occur in the very short term. It’s important now, what happens in the Fair Work Commission, potentially what happens in the courts in terms of assessing how of those are being applied, but clearly, some employers are making that assessment that’s the appropriate way to go. If that’s the circumstance, then really, we need some certainty that they have the legal backing to do that.

Ashleigh: Yeah. It can be a very tricky area for CEOs to navigate. Andrew, appreciate you joining us as always. Thank you.

Andrew: Thanks again.

Jack Quail

Media Officer

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