What sort of world do we want now?

Published on Fri 29 May 2020 3:44pm

Nothing that I have seen in my life has swept through so widely and gravely, changing the way we live, and not just re-setting our horizon, but making the horizon hard to see.

Over the past two months I have heard from people experiencing pretty much every aspect of the coronavirus pandemic – people caught overseas, people pushed out of work, or having their surgery cancelled, or having their business shut down, parents teaching kids at home, many of us unable to see older parents or celebrate milestones, and sadly some people getting sick and not surviving.

Nothing that I have seen in my life has swept through so widely and gravely, changing the way we live, and not just re-setting our horizon, but making the horizon hard to see.

Through all of that I have seen people across the Fremantle electorate rise to this challenge. I have seen good humour and resilience and selflessness and great generosity of spirit.

In a matter of weeks, this health crisis moved quickly from being an item on the news, to being the most widespread shift in social, economic, and community life in Australia for at least half a century.

Mercifully we’ve flattened that trajectory by working together and taking dozens of changes in our stride.

Like all of us, I’m grateful that we’ve so far managed the health aspect of this crisis so well. That is a credit to our system of government and to the conduct and decision-making of the PM and Premiers within the National Cabinet, not least the leadership in WA of Premier Mark McGowan and Health Minister Roger Cook.

It is a credit to our health experts and our health workforce. And we couldn’t have done it without all the frontline workers in aged care, schools, early childhood education, transport and freight, chemists, supermarkets, and especially cleaners. Australia’s fourth estate has also played a key role as people turned to the national broadcaster and local newspapers for updates, guidance, and scrutiny of government decisions. This was particularly critical at a time when parliament was interrupted.

This crisis has certainly been an opportunity to reflect on the contribution of a lot of workers who don’t get enough recognition, and are often not paid enough. They are the essential workers, and we should remember that when we get through this.

It is remarkable that we are now in a position to begin easing restrictions.

We have to do so carefully and with discipline because until there is an effective vaccine, we will remain at risk of a virus that is incredibly contagious and that we know is a killer.

We have been in the survival phase. The recovery phase lies ahead, and it will not be easy. Parliament must be at the heart of decision-making as we navigate our way forward.

It is of course risible to suggest that we will snap back. There is a greater risk for many businesses and households that what lies ahead in fact is a further snap. Not just the prospect of a second wave of infections, but the likelihood of successive waves of economic squeeze for business and for workers.

The wage subsidy that Labor always said was necessary was implemented by the government in the form of the Job Keeper package, but as winter starts in earnest we’ve learned that Job Keeper was based on a gargantuan miscalculation, while still being a misshapen blanket with many holes.

There has been no support for hundreds of thousands of casuals; no support for local government workers; and no support for many in the arts, media, and creative industries.

I am especially mindful that arts, events, and creative workers were among the first hit, and the horizon for them is still well and truly out of sight.

It is equally difficult for people in tourism and for universities. All those sectors are strongly represented in the Fremantle electorate. All those sectors have been left more vulnerable to this crisis because of under-investment before this crisis hit.

We need a focus on welding together the imperative of job-creation onto the outstanding areas of critical reform in this country in areas like affordable and social housing, renewable energy, aged care, land management and biodiversity protection, waste recycling and manufacturing.

That is the challenge that lies ahead. I am confident we will rise to meet it.

First published as Thinking Allowed in the Fremantle Herald on 30 May 2020

Share this article...

Subscribe for updates
Contact Josh