Editorial. Peter Whiting. Critical choices face Australia & the world.

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Peter Whiting

Posted 7 April 2020

It has all happened so quickly that it’s difficult to take it all in. The changes to our lives wrought by COVID-19 are dramatic, personal, and wide-ranging. Personally, I am filled with a sense of being transplanted into some sort of parallel universe.

In just a few short weeks, I have gone from a retiree encouraged to be independent, active, and engaged in the community and marketplace to being told I am vulnerable, need to isolate socially, and disengage from all communal activities. I do not dispute that this advice is in my own interests, but it is a huge change to absorb.

As if that were not enough, I struggle to comprehend the change in the political response around me. A government which was focused on declaring a budget surplus has released its third economic passage in as many weeks, the latest including a $130 billion wage subsidy; a government which has operated with a strong free trade mantra has announced strict rules around foreign investment to protect local businesses experiencing financial hard times; a government traditionally determined to limit social support payments, particularly to the unemployed, is flooding recipients with additional support; an Opposition policy to lower the cost of childcare dismissed by the government as financially reckless has suddenly given way to free childcare; a political climate which has been marked with acrimonious exchange and difference is now seeing governments, oppositions, trade unions, and employers involved in positive and cooperative dialogue.

Taking stock

What has happened ? Has the commitment to competition which has underpinned the neoliberal philosophy suddenly given way to concern for the common good? The change has been so amazingly fast, it is impossible to argue that ideologies have changed. But, clearly, something has. Commentators are increasingly speculating that the world will be a different place on the other side of this COVID-19 crisis. The diverse contributions to this month’s newsletter explore just some of these potential changes.

Michael Keating, in his article The Third Economic Response to the Coronavirus, explains the differences between responses to past and present events, in that it is necessary to stimulate both demand and supply sides of the economy. While opining that there are unlikely to be any further major policy shifts at this juncture, he insists tellingly that any sustained movement back to good times will need the Government to “embrace(s) a much more radical reform agenda aimed principally at supporting a stronger and more egalitarian increase in incomes”.

Bruce Duncan, in Faith & the triple whammy of corona virus, economic shutdown, & climate change, asks whether the current emergency will draw people into increased church involvement? He observes, “perhaps the corona virus will help mobilise our churches and nation to decisive action to confront the wide challenges we face”.

Natasha Chassagne acknowledges the great impact on our lives of the corona virus, and sees the pertinence of lessons learned to the emergency of climate change. In her article, Here’s what the coronavirus pandemic can teach us about tackling climate change, she observes that the impacts of the coronavirus are already generating ‘degrowth’, a transition many academics have for some time seen as necessary in order to address climate change.

Readers with an economic bent will be interested to read Adam Triggs views in his Before anyone asks, no, Australia does not have a debt problem.  Unlike Chassagne, his concern is not with ‘degrowth’ as a tool to climate change mitigation, but with maintenance of economic living standards which he argues will require that governments, post-coronavirus, sustain high levels of spending and resist calls for cuts to spending and debt reduction.

The prevailing understanding implicit in those addressing the question of how our lives be on the other side of this COVID-19 crisis is that a new ‘normality’ will emerge. Not all commentators share this view, and focus on the disruption to the world, envisaging the prospect of turmoil, and even possibly wars, arising from the inequities underpinning responses to such issues as climate change, poverty and inequality, and a collapse of the global economy and its financial structures.

Paul Barratt offers some insight into the processes of involvement in war. He concludes in his article, War in Afghanistan: 18 years of lies & obfuscation, that “we should go to war only when Australia’s national security is at stake, when we know what victory would look like, and when we are prepared to do what is necessary to win ….”.

These articles draw on hope for the future, and insist that we must address the issues confronting us – COVID-19, as well as more pervasive issues like climate change – if our future after this pandemic is to be sustainable.

The final contributor this month makes clear that a corollary to change is courage of conviction. Brian Johnstone, in his review of the film A Hidden Life, provides an insight into the courage of Franz Jȁgerstȁtter in his insistence that to accept conscription into Austria’s military involvement in WWII was for him an immoral act which he could not condone. It cost him his life. Hopefully, the courage of our convictions in the post-coronavirus world will not have such consequences!

What is clear, however, is that we will need courage, fortitude, and hope, and, most importantly, one another, if we are not only to survive COVID-19, but also to navigate our way to an improved, equitable, and sustainable world.

Photo US Navy Hospital Ship Mercy. Loading supplies for COVID-19. US Navy/Mike Jones. flickr cc.
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