Andrew McKellar interview with Julie Snook, NewsDay Sky News

21 Jan 2022 |

Event: Andrew McKellar interview with Julie Snook, NewsDay Sky News.
Speakers: Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Julie Snook, host NewsDay Sky News.
Date: 21 January 2022
Topics: W.A. border reopening delay, labour shortages, supply chain pressures, visa rebate changes, rapid antigen testing, close contact isolation exemptions, close contact isolation period duration, National Cabinet.


Julie Snook, host NewsDay, Sky News: Joining me now to discuss this and much more CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Andrew McKellar. Good afternoon to you, Andrew.

Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Hello, Julie.

Julie: Almost afternoon. I got ahead of myself there. First of all, your reaction to the news out of WA overnight.

Andrew: I think it’s very disappointing news. And I think from a community standpoint, from a business and economic standpoint, this sends a very worrying signal. We’ve seen other states take the hard steps, make the preparations. Of course, we understand that there are many challenges with reopening the border, but we really think that once you’ve announced a plan, do th preparations, get ready and implement them. I think to be constantly chopping and changing with now, no clear position on when that border will be reopened. I think it’s very disappointing, indeed.

Julie: You couldn’t help but feel this was coming. What does a move like this mean for business and the broader economy?

Andrew: I think Western Australia is really struggling like everybody else with severe supply chain shortages, with severe labour shortages. In fact, the labour shortages, the skill shortages in Western Australia are more severe than just about anywhere else in Australia. It will mean Western Australia will now not get international students in this first semester. That’s a very significant boost to the economy that they’d be missing out on. So look, it’s going to put more pressure on. It’s going to mean significant investment projects are going to struggle to be able to progress their timetables. I think it will have an economic cost attached to it for sure.

Julie: Well, this week, the Federal Government scrapped visa application fees for backpackers and international students, what’s been your response to that?

Andrew: I think that’s a valuable step. It’s a small step. It will help to attract some of those existing visa holders, international students, working holiday makers, backpackers to come to Australia. And we need them at this time. I mean, in a normal year, we’d be getting 400,000 or 500,000 international students. It’s a $40 billion a year export industry here for the Australian economy. There’s about 150,000 existing visa holders that can come to Australia this year at the moment. We need to get them here and boosting the economy here. They can make a valuable contribution in terms of helping to plug some of those gaps that we have in the labour force at the moment. So, I think it’s a valuable step. We will need to go further in the coming weeks as we get past this Omicron surge, then the Federal Government is going to have to really start grappling with its timetable now to fully reopen the borders to other categories of travellers, including tourists. That’s something that’s going to be very much on the radar screen for the coming weeks. So, we just put that up there as forward notice. They need to start thinking about that right now.

Julie: National Cabinet did meet yesterday. Quite a few things were on the agenda but no changes are going to be made to the seven day COVID isolation period for positive cases. Which we are seeing in other parts of the world. The U.S. bringing the seven days back to five, you were hoping that would change? What’s your reaction to that?

Andrew: Well, just to clarify, I mean, on the seven days to five days, honestly, business here has been guided by the health advice and actually it’s not an issue that we’ve ever raised at all with government. So there were some very puzzling things that were on the agenda for national cabinet yesterday. That was one of them. The issue around reducing age for the forklift drivers. This was another puzzling thing. These are not issues that I’ve heard anyone in business really talking about. The things we have been talking about have been broadening, those reduced isolation and requirements for other categories of workers in retail, in hospitality, more areas of small business, getting that on the agenda to address labour shortages in those sectors. The widespread availability of rapid antigen testing, getting those out into the community, getting more supplies ordered. Making them freely available in the community and to business, particularly small business. None of those things were addressed. These are the issues that businesses are really wanting to see addressed. And they apparently again, weren’t on the agenda.

Julie: Just quickly before I let you go. Andrew, we are having these conversations over and over. We’ve been discussing this since Omicron hit our shores, which essentially was a month ago. There seems to be a disconnect between the retailers, between hospitality, between business, between transport, between health, all of these sectors and those making the decisions.

Andrew: I think it’s getting to be quite frustrating to be honest. Look, we’ve seen that National Cabinet, I think, is really struggling to come up with a cohesive position. There’s a struggle to try and keep the states on the same page and the Western Australian situation just amplifies that again. So look, it really does take, I think, some strong leadership here and some determined direction, clear signals, sit down with business, sit down with others in the community. Let’s, really make sure that we are addressing the issues that are important, but honestly, I think it is quite frustrating to see the lack of results that’s coming out of that process at the moment. And I think we’re going to have some real economic risks in the months ahead if we don’t get back onto that agenda very quickly.

Julie: Andrew McKellar from Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Thank you for your time. Thank you for standing by. I know you’ve been there for some time now. We appreciate your patience.

Andrew: No problem.

Julie: We appreciate your insight as well.

Andrew: Thank you.

Download PDF version here.

Want to hear more from us?

    NewsletterMedia Releases