Since the beginning of 2020, Australian Federal and State governments have responded to a pandemic health emergency. There is much varying opinion as to how well the governments have done, but in Australia COVID 19 has been lower levels to most other comparative countries.

Australia must change its response to COVID 19 dramatically. Governments responded to a health emergency that manifested into an economic disaster. In the emergency management world, professionals rely on the emergency cycle to address emergencies. The emergency management cycle is as follows:

  • Prepare – training, gain resources, practice
  • Respond – when an emergency event occurs, despatch and preserve life and make safe
  • Recover – allow communities to return to normal ASAP
  • Prevention – take critical lessons and improve systems, prevent risks or recurrence of emergency situations

The issue with the current various COVID government responses is the premise that any response is focussed on returning communities to normal post-pandemic. Normal is regarded in terms of infrastructure, schooling, social services, public transport, health and necessary economic activity. The problem is that COVID 19 has caused a recession, Australia’s first recession since 1990 – 91, and many jobs that existed previously have disappeared. The health crisis is also an economic crisis.

As such, governments need to maintain their health response and run an economic response and recovery concurrently. Many of our leaders will not have lived through or could remember our last recession. Many may argue that sound fiscal policy has prevented recessions in Australia. It is time to deploy an economic response and create jobs.

Jobkeeper is a large-scale welfare response, but it is not a recovery strategy. An economic recovery wholly reliant on welfare is unsustainable. Jobkeeper is like applying a band-aid to a haemorrhage. Government money would be best spent on creating jobs and assets that assist the community in recovering.

State governments are compounding the situation by closing borders. Closing their state lines might be a popular policy in the short term. However, the economic effect is likely to be felt for years. These governments are worsening their situation, particularly those states reliant on tourism, fly in fly out workers and interstate trade. With Victoria in lockdown, the border closures to Victoria make some sense, other state line closures are more aligned with government popularity than smart policy.

Australia needs investment in jobs, government-funded asset builds and stimuli now, this is the recovery strategy that governments must deploy. Create employment and create legacy items. Borrowing money for welfare is an economic response but will not lead to recovery. Unless we change our tact soon, the money will eventually run out, and we will have little to show for it.