Andrew McKellar interview with Gabriella Power, Sky News NewsDay

06 Jan 2022 |

Event: Andrew McKellar interview with Gabriella Power, Sky News NewsDay

Speakers: Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Gabriella Power, host Sky News NewsDay.

Date: 6 January 2022 

Topics: Staff shortages, business closures, rapid antigen testing, coronavirus isolation rules, work health and safety obligations, workplace testing.

E&OE 

Gabriella Power, host Sky News NewsDay:  Joining us live now is Andrew McKellar, CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.  Andrew, thank you for your time. My heart goes out to all the businesses struggling again during a time, which was meant to be a time they were recovering and booming. Could this have been prevented?

Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Good morning. It’s a very challenging situation that many businesses are facing. Obviously, we’ve got a situation of very high unprecedented levels of community transmission at the moment. And whilst the definitions of a close contact have changed in the past couple of weeks, the reality is that many people, many employees are being taken out of the workforce because they have family contacts or they have COVID directly. We have to recall at the moment, we now have more than 250,000 active COVID cases out there in the community. That’s one per cent of the Australian population and that’s taking a lot of people out of the labour force. So it’s having a real impact on business at the moment. And we’ve got to be concerned that, that could reflect the economic situation over the coming months.

Gabriella:  What will be the flow-on effects from this? How do you suspect this is going to impact the economy?

Andrew:  Well, clearly business wants to do everything it can to help stem the tide and help us get through this current wave that we’re experiencing. I think the fundamentals have been strong up until now and we saw the announcements coming out of National Cabinet yesterday. To be fair, it wasn’t what business was looking for. We were looking for a situation where things like rapid testing would be freely and widely available, including to small business. Because small business wants to ensure, and business more generally wants to ensure, that employees have safe and healthy workplaces and that we can do what we can to stem the tide, to prevent transmission of the virus in the workplace, keep more people at work if possible, and ensure that they have that safe environment.  Now, clearly governments are saying we are entering into a different phase. We do have to increasingly live with COVID and the focus is going much more onto the management of the pressure on the health system. So, business obviously will work with that, but there are some important steps that I think we will still be looking for as we move through this next phase.

Gabriella: The Prime Minister has flagged that there could be a further relaxation of rules. So employers may no longer be required to test their staff for COVID-19 to meet occupational health and safety rules. Would you welcome that change?

Andrew:  Well, I think it’s a very important change. As I was saying, business is more than happy to do this, but the tests have got to be freely and widely available. If that’s not going to be the case and that is the decision of government, then yes. One of the most important things from a business point of view that I heard in the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday was that they will provide this relaxation.  That will be essential, that businesses don’t get caught by regulators who are seeking to impose that obligation on them. We’ve heard this in the past. We saw last year when they talked about clarifying the situation in relation to vaccinations in the workplace. In the end, what the regulators did is they turned up their nose at the decisions that National Cabinet took and they didn’t implement them. So we have to sit down with the Attorney General and the state’s Attorneys General. Over the next week we have to ensure that governments do carry through on this and that business isn’t faced with a new regulatory risk or regulatory burden as a result.

Gabriella: If we do change the rules to isolation and work requirements, are we going to get into a situation where workers may feel pressured to come to work, even though they’re sick?

Andrew:  Well, that is the risk and obviously we don’t want that situation. We want people to be very clear if they have symptoms, if they’re feeling sick, the best thing they can do is take themselves out of the workplace. They can do a rapid test. Those tests need to be widely available. They need to be very affordable.  Business wants to do all it can to support its employees in this current environment. As I say, the situation that we’ve got now is what we were calling for, but we have to now try and make it work. But of course, there is a risk that workplaces can become an increased source of transmission in the community. We’re trying to avoid that situation.

Gabriella:  Absolutely and we’ve got to make some changes, so we get out of the situation we’re in now where restaurants and cafes are closing, because they just don’t have the staff. Do you think the government should be boosting businesses and providing further economic support to businesses that are struggling right now?

Andrew McKellar:  Well, it’s a very difficult situation for those businesses. In many cases, they already have labour shortages. Now they’re facing a situation where they’re losing more staff because that they’re close contacts or they’re infected. Obviously, we have to hope that this unprecedented level of infection that we’re seeing at the moment will subside in the coming weeks.  We have to hope that that’s the case, but in the short term, many businesses are really facing a challenging situation in terms of operability in terms of cashflow. And frankly now there’s not a lot of additional support out there for those businesses to keep them going in this very difficult phase. So it’s a challenging time. There are no easy answers and we’ve just got to hope that business will be strong enough to get through this next phase.

Gabriella:  Incredibly tough time. We have to leave it there. Andrew McKellar, thank you so much for your time.

Andrew: Thank you.

ACCI media team

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