Big business writes open letter to end lockdowns

An open letter signed by 80 of Australia's biggest businesses has called on state premiers to stick to the country's national reopening plan.

Doubt has arisen over the likelihood of lockdowns ending once the national vaccination rate reaches 80 per cent, despite all states and territories agreeing to a unified plan as part of National Cabinet.

Under the Australian Constitution, the power to control state borders rests solely with state governments.

READ MORE: Lockdown extended until Victoria reaches 70 per cent first vaccine target

Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council, said the business community does not want special consideration – rather it wants a clear plan with a timeline.

"CEOs are not asking for anything more than for state and federal leaders to stick to the national reopening plan so business can begin to plan and give the country confidence that we are going to move forward," Ms Westacott said.

A full copy of the letter can be read below.

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Signed by businesses such as Coles, Telstra, Shell, all of the big four banks, Woolworths, Wesfarmers and Qantas, the letter represents the employers of almost one million Australians.

"Australia is juggling a mental health emergency at the same time as a global pandemic. Some of the impacts of current lockdowns are hidden, and the effects will be long lasting," the letter reads.

"As vaccination rates increase, it will become necessary to open up society and live with the virus, in the same way that other countries have done.

"The National Cabinet has agreed to a roadmap which provides a path out of lockdowns, with an easing of restrictions from 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates. We need to stay the course."

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Treasurer Josh Frydenberg joined the business community in its call to stick to the plan.

"I want to focus on the fact that today you saw an unprecedented number of CEOs from Australia's leading companies, BHP, Telstra, Coles, WestFarmers, Qantas, Commonwealth Bank, AGL, across-the-board representing more than 1 million workers in our country, that it was important for them to voice their support for the national plan," the Treasurer said.

"If we don't stick to the national plan, jobs will be lost. If we don't stick to the national plan, our debt burden will increase. If we don't stick to the national plan, the well-being of Australians will suffer."

As of the 31st of August 2021, 35 per cent of eligible Australians over the age of 16 were fully vaccinated.

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Read the open letter from the business community:

We, the undersigned, represent businesses which employ almost one million Australians, and provide products and services to people right across the country. We have seen how effectively this country can come together over the past 18 months – with state and federal governments working alongside communities and businesses.

We have seen the effectiveness of lockdowns in suppressing the virus last year, and in slowing its spread today while we vaccinate the population as quickly as possible. We are encouraged by the building momentum in the vaccine program, with Australia now administering more doses per capita each week than the UK or the US ever achieved in their programs.

At the same time, we can also see the impact of lockdowns on our people, on our customers, on our small business suppliers, and on communities and families right across the country. Australia is juggling a mental health emergency at the same time as a global pandemic. Some of the impacts of current lockdowns are hidden, and the effects will be long lasting.

As vaccination rates increase, it will become necessary to open up society and live with the virus, in the same way that other countries have done. The National Cabinet has agreed to a roadmap which provides a path out of lockdowns, with an easing of restrictions from 70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates. We need to stay the course.

Informed by modelling from the Doherty Institute, it balances the risks from COVID in a more vaccinated population, with the risks of indefinitely keeping our country divided and cut off from the world, our children out of schools, our friends apart from loved ones, and our small businesses closed.

Businesses will continue to do whatever we can to support our people to get vaccinated and to provide a safe environment for our customers and the community, including the prioritisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities as originally intended.

We ask governments to work together to implement the National Plan and chart a path out of the current lockdowns. Providing a light at the end of the tunnel will encourage more Australians to get vaccinated. We need to give people something to hope for, something to look forward to, something to plan around, and to be confident about their futures.

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