Commonwealth Bank chairman Catherine Livingstone says Australia should aim to set a clear timeline to reopen its international borders, as she warned the country’s employers were facing a skills crisis.
Ms Livingstone also said leaders should aspire to scrap state border closures by the end of the year, with a focus on getting through the lockdowns and ramping up vaccinations in months ahead.
Her comments came as Telstra chairman John Mullen took aim at political fighting between the states, saying it highlighted the challenges of Australia’s federal model.
As the latest lockdowns threaten to derail the economic recovery, Ms Livingstone on Wednesday said the country was better prepared to handle these lockdowns than it was last year. Even so, she said there should be a longer term ambition to reopen the country.
“It’s clear that the community is uncomfortable with the concept of just living with the Delta virus, so we’re trying to suppress it,” she told at an Australian Council of Superannuation Investors online conference.
“We do need vaccination rates. We do have a major problem that our international borders are closed, and all businesses are suffering with the inability to get the people they need. Whether it’s small business, large business… we are in a crisis point in terms of skills. We can’t get people to come to Australia because they’re worried about being locked in and trapped here,” she said.
“So, we really have a focus, let’s say to the end of the year: get vaccinated, live through these lockdowns, have the support from business and from government and have the aspiration that by the end of the year we should be in a position to not only have our state borders open but the international borders really on a timeline for opening from that point,” she said.
Ms Livingstone conceded political leaders were reluctant to nominate specific timelines because these were treated as firm commitments, but she said reopening should be the “ambition” of business, government and regulators. “The closed borders are not good for the country,” she said.