May 11, 2020
As of this week, some restrictions are starting to get peeled back, and we can see a path out of the lockdown. The next phase is not liberation, however, but a complicated transitional period when the economy is partly opened, partly closed. Large gatherings like sports, music, weddings – so much of the good stuff of life – are a long way off. Visiting another country, maybe longer.
This virus is still circulating, and it can come back at any time. In 1919, it was the second wave of the Spanish Flu that killed the most people, after authorities believed they had it controlled.
Still, we all want to get back to work and back to life as much as we can. We are embarking on a grand experiment to retrofit our ways of working, our social lives, our buildings, our public spaces, and our commute patterns to respond to the pandemic.
One of the most essential things we need now is a code of practice for how to operate safely in this phase for each industry. This was done successfully for the construction industry and aged care sector. In some cases, industry will be able to come up with the operating guidelines working through peak bodies; in other cases, government will need to help.
We cannot stress this enough: There are significant opportunities in this phase if we know where to look. Global tourism, which normally brings in 5% of export dollars, is shut down for the time being. But it turns out that in a typical year there is more outbound tourism (Australians visiting other places) than inbound. One possibility presents itself: we need to make a new offering to Sydneysiders and Australians to explore their own city and country, investing the time and money we might have spent abroad deepening our connections to home.
Australia finds itself in the elite position as one of the countries that has been most successful in managing COVID-19. Government is being rightly careful with this status, aware that other countries which started out as global leaders have seen infections escalate again.
But if it continues, success with COVID-19 creates an extraordinary opportunity for Australia: to position itself on the world stage as one of the preferred destinations for global investment, study and talent. Immigration numbers are projected to fall up to 85% in the coming years but this projection is not destiny. The recruitment proposition is simple and powerful: would you like to make your future in a place where we listen to science, where everyone has health care, and where the risks of political collapse are low?
For the past few years, Toronto and Vancouver have successfully recruited tech companies from Silicon Valley but also from around the world by emphasising their contrast with the polarisation and anti-immigration policies in America. Acknowledging the barrier that must be overcome from the tyranny of distance, Australia has its own opportunity to bring some of the world’s leading minds and leading companies in, by offering the virtues of a stable, functional country. Sydney’s long-standing attractions as one of the greatest cities in the world to live in make this pitch even more natural.
Australia cannot escape a recession, if only because of the collapse in global demand. But we can take proactive actions to lay the foundations for a strong recovery.
The Committee is:
This thinking has been developed into a slide deck I have been using to lead conversations with business leaders and public officials, which we invite you to read here.