Event Jennifer Westacott interview with Sarah Boorer, 2BS Bathurst    

Speaker Jennifer Westacott

Date Monday, 6 May 2019

Topics: Regional growth and planning, energy and big and small business  


Sarah Boorer, host: Business people from across Bathurst and the region in fact came together to hear about the future of business in the Bathurst region, talking about the opportunities, where as well, we need to find a few more strengths. And joining us on the line now, chief executive officer of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott. Good afternoon.

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia: Good afternoon.

Sarah: Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. There was a lot of discussion on Thursday afternoon about the Western Sydney Airport and the potential that could have. Do you think that often the potential is overlooked?

Jennifer: Absolutely, this is going to be the biggest airport in the country and it’s going to have an agribusiness precinct which will be huge. It’s going to have a port dedicated to agriculture, so the opportunity there is enormous. It’s also going to have the space agency there. So, you’re going to see these big technology companies invest in the aerotropolis, the city around the airport. So, I think, businesses in Bathurst need to be thinking about that Western Sydney Airport.

Sarah: The Business Council of Australia have a Strong Australia – can you tell us a little bit about what Strong Australia actually is and how businesses benefit from it?

Jennifer: Well, the Strong Australia campaign is about getting out to the regions of Australia, talking to small and big business, and basically reinforcing a couple of things: The first is that big and small businesses need each other, they need to work together. The second is listening to local business people about what is really going to work for them. And thirdly, for me to take back from that messages to corporate Australia and to governments about what is it going to take in each of these areas to really get things going.

Sarah: From your visit last week, overall how do you think business is going in Bathurst?

Jennifer: I think Bathurst is going really well. The Central West is going really well. It’s got very low unemployment, it’s a diversified economy, so there’s many things to build on, there’s some interesting new things happening around innovation and this incubator called Upstairs, giving people a chance to come and develop their ideas. The agribusiness products are still strong. The Simplot involvement and relationship is still huge. So, there’s lots to do, lots of opportunities, the challenge is how we get coordination across businesses, how we get prioritisation of infrastructure so we can really unleash the potential of the area.

Sarah: When we’re looking at unleashing the potential do you think that we need to be planning in advance for this so that we know in 20 years’ time we know exactly what goals we need to have achieved by then?

Jennifer: Absolutely, the places that have worked the best around the country are people who have had a long-term plan, a long-term vision, they prioritise things, they’ve coordinated across business and government in these areas, they’ve got into the queue of government spending and they’ve got stuff done. So, a long-term plan, a vision, a set of priority projects, that’s the way to get things really moving.

Sarah: I know as well on Thursday a few concerns remained around electricity prices, where do you think this will go in the future?

Jennifer: Electricity prices are still the kind of unfinished business of big and small businesses around the country. We have just got to get our head around this as a country and there are some simple things we can do that the competition commission has recommended, we should just get on and do them. The way companies set their bills so that people can compare prices, getting rid of some of these green schemes that are no longer needed anymore because things like solar can stand on their own. Those sorts of practical things will get bills down in the short-term and in the medium-term we have got to create the environment where companies invest, in particular that baseload power be that upgrading an existing coalfired power station, or investing in new renewables, we’ve got to get the climate for investment so that supply gets on board, that will put pressure on prices to go down.

Sarah: And this was discussed a little bit during the question and answer time on Thursday, but it’s talking about the competition between different councils and how we should actually be working together, you can’t be the best at everything, we need to be supporting each other. Do you think we need more of that?

Jennifer: Absolutely, cooperation is the key to regional success because the simply reality is governments, be they local governments, be they state or federal, they don’t have unlimited spending. Companies don’t have unlimited places where they can put investments, so it is important to coordinate and to prioritise. And if councils, within say the Central West region, are all in competition that just tends to send the investment somewhere else. So, it’s really important to send a unified voice, a clarity of kind of this is what is going to get the region going and for everyone to sort of be on the same page there.

Sarah: For sure, Jennifer Westacott, thank you very much for your time this afternoon. I appreciate it.

Jennifer: You’re very welcome, thank you.

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