Event: Andrew McKellar interview with Patricia Karvelas, RN Drive
Speakers: Patricia Karvelas, host RN Drive; Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Date: 9 September 2021
Topics: Rapid antigen testing, workplace vaccinations, COVID management, reopening plan.
Patricia Karvelas, host RN Drive: With New South Wales revealing today its path out of lockdown, attention is now turning to what safeguards will be required for Australian businesses once internal and international borders are opened up again. Health authorities are calling for ventilation audits in buildings and in classrooms, as well as rapid antigen testing for workplaces. Andrew McKellar is the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and our
guest. Andrew, welcome.
Andrew McKellar, chief executive Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: Yes. Good evening, Patricia.
Patricia: Have you been in talks with the federal government on what businesses should be doing once the country opens up?
Andrew: Well, look, we’re pursuing a number of those issues with officials in the federal government, and out in the states, the individual state chambers are of course talking in great detail to state government. So there’s a lot of discussion going on to fill in that detail. We’ve seen some of that today in New South Wales, and I think that’s a step in the right direction
Patricia: Has ACCI had a policy on vaccinations and have you provided advice to your members about what they should be advising their staff to do?
Andrew: Indeed, we’ve provided very detailed advice, a guide to employers which covers a lot of the legal and compliance questions that they’re likely to face. So I think that’s been very valuable support to business members and I think that’s something certainly where we put a lot of resources into trying to answer those questions.
Patricia: Health authorities say ventilation audits should be conducted to prevent transmission of the virus. Does the Chamber agree with that? And do you think that should be the way that we go forward?
Andrew: Well, look, I think that’s a level of compliance which obviously we’ve got to look at. It’s not an area that I’m particularly familiar with. We’re working on a lot of issues around things like testing availability. That’s something that we’re looking at. Ventilation obviously is one requirement, but there are a lot of other factors that have got to be taken into account as well.
Patricia: Do you think then that … Who should foot the bill if that happens? That’s the thing, some of these ideas are pretty high cost, right?
Andrew: That’s a key issue. So in many areas, of course, business is going to have to take on a compliance role, but we’ve got to balance the cost. So right now we have governments paying for expensive PCR testing. They’re paying the cost of support to businesses with emergency payments and individuals. In many cases, these are extremely high costs. What we’ve got to find is a pathway where we can get back to business, start to reopen the economy, get customers back into businesses and cashflow going again. If there are some ongoing costs to government to protect public health, then I think that’s entirely reasonable. It will actually save them money compared with the situation where the economy is in shutdown, as it is in many places around Australia now.
Patricia: Some industries are already using rapid antigen testing for staff. What’s your position on that? And again, who should be paying?
Andrew: Absolutely, rapid testing, and there are many different forms of rapid testing that have been looked at the moment. But the ones that are currently approved, look, what we would say is this needs to be widely and freely available. It will be a very, very important tool for business and for the broader community as we look to get back to a more normal life. As we hit those vaccine thresholds of 70% and 80% and begin to open up again, it’s going to be important that we have very quick testing in place that you can take every couple of days and get a result in 15 or 20 minutes or less in some cases. So when you have staff coming back to work, when you have children going back to schools, when you have people moving back into public places and venues, you need quick testing that’s going to be reliable. The cost of that, we would say a lot of that needs to be borne by the government. They need to get this testing out there, not impose it on the community and on business. They’re meeting the costs of PCR testing now. This is much cheaper and allows us to really underwrite the level of information about what is happening out in the community in terms of transmission that might occur in the future.
Patricia: And finally, let’s go to freedoms for those who are fully vaccinated. I think the government is talking about a QR code similar to that used to sign into venues. That’s again putting responsibility, though, on businesses. Do you think that’s a good way forward?
Andrew: Well, these are compliance issues here again for business. So I think it’s fair enough to say that in a business they should enforce the social distancing requirements and the patron limits that might apply in a business. I think what’s much more difficult is to expect a business to become the enforcement around whether people are scanning in, whether people are displaying their vaccine status or not. I think that’s not something you can expect an ordinary business to do. Individuals have to take some responsibility as well. And I think state authorities have got to enforce the regulations that they’re putting in place. But certainly we will see a number of different mechanisms coming to bear where people can access their vaccine status and be able to demonstrate that as they move around.
Patricia: Thank you so much for joining us tonight.
Andrew: Thank you.
Patricia: And that’s Andrew McKellar, the CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and that’s the umbrella organization for Australian businesses.
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