The following op-ed by NAB CEO Ross McEwan appeared in The Australian Financial Review on 5 August, 2021.
Lockdowns have been an effective short-term measure to protect our communities and shield Australia from the worst of COVID-19’s health and economic destruction.
At the same time, they have landed heavy blows on many people whose livelihoods depend on us being out and about, particularly small businesses.
Despite support from governments and banks, their resilience has been tested. Uncertainty and the risk of further restrictions are the biggest concerns cited by NAB’s small business customers.
Thankfully, National Cabinet’s planned phasing out of COVID-19 restrictions, aligned to strong levels of vaccination, gives us hope that widespread lockdowns won’t be needed for much longer.
It gives us all a light at the end of the tunnel, and the ability for businesses to plan for a more ‘normal’ future. But there’s work to do to get there.
The Prime Minister said that the timing of when we reach these targets depends on all of us. I couldn’t agree more. We all need to do our part and get vaccinated as soon as we’re able. The ‘wait and see’ approach helps no-one.
I’m grateful to have received both doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. I have been encouraging NAB colleagues to get their jabs, as well as giving them time off work to get it done.
We’re working on a way to offer vaccines to our colleagues, in our workplaces. That’s how we’ll play our part in helping Australia get vaccinated.
Our flu vaccine provider is helping us do this, and we’ll be getting started as soon as we can. This is particularly important in places where colleagues are most in need, like Sydney.
Many Australians have shown they will do what it takes to suppress the virus and protect the community. The fact that eight in 10 people already intend to get vaccinated does give me optimism.
A year ago, we didn’t even know if safe and effective vaccines would be possible. Now we have a roadmap where everyone will have the opportunity to protect themselves and, in turn, our community.
Individually, it will mean that we can resume doing all the things we’ve missed out on. I look forward to getting out on the road to see NAB colleagues and customers around Australia, as well as hopefully getting together with family living overseas.
Collectively, it will enable businesses to operate effectively, support our economy to grow sustainably – and secure a V-shaped recovery, rather than enduring a W-shaped one.
I have said many times in the past year and a half that there is no other place in the world I’d rather be living and working, than here.
I’m optimistic about the long-term outlook. Our economy has recovered far faster than anyone expected, and the world is watching how we do it.
Before Sydney’s recent lockdown, NAB expected GDP growth to reach 4% this year. Unemployment had dipped below 5% for the first time in nearly a decade.
The current outbreaks will certainly have an impact. We expect a negative GDP number in the September quarter, but how severe the contraction is will depend on how soon Sydney eases restrictions.
After previous lockdowns, consumer spending has rebounded quickly, supported by the Government’s income support measures.
But a consumption-led recovery itself will not drive prosperity in the long-term. Business-led productivity growth, through innovation and investment, will create new jobs, lift wages, and provide ongoing confidence for consumers to spend.
In many sectors and in many parts of the country, small businesses are seeing strong demand and are pursuing growth.
This June, Australian businesses borrowed $11.2 billion, up from $9.6 billion in May. In June last year, at the height of the pandemic, overall business borrowings reduced by net $6.2 billion.
As Australia’s largest business bank, NAB lent $3.8 billion to businesses in June. We are committed to playing our part, supporting customers and helping them capitalise on opportunity.
Together, we all now have the power to move the biggest obstacle standing in the way of small businesses being successful.
Let’s get the job done on vaccines, for the small businesses of Australia and the five million people whose livelihoods depend on them.