Should we be allowed to visit sick parents both here and overseas? Should a more lenient line be taken on this and other issues raised by the pandemic. No one wants a “third wave” but would exemptions put us all at risk?
For health reasons, the move to stage four restrictions was imposed in Victoria on Greater Melbourne and, shortly thereafter, stage three restrictions on the rest of the state. The international border restrictions imposed by the Commonwealth government were particularly strict.
The airline industry is on its knees. Most Australians cannot afford to return to their own country. Tourists totally rule out coming to Australia. Immigration has almost entirely dried up. The economic cost has been immense.
The system is particularly notable with the state borders. Why are Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia allowed to close their borders to each other? Is this more political than anything? How wrong-headed has the Federation become when people travelling from Victoria through NSW to the ACT cannot move for days beyond Victoria because of bureaucratic malaise in NSW? Something is very wrong. Borders as we know them are a real problem.
We should be looking at ourselves. Do we need state boundaries when they are used as tools against us? Should we not be weighing the real cost of the closures? Should we be taking back some responsibility for what has happened? Where has the balance gone?
There is a case for adopting a national view, for recognising that we have a national crisis and need a perspective that looks at the situation dispassionately. We should calmly weigh up all the costs.
As a country, we need this now more than ever. The jobless numbers will grow exponentially when assistance comes to an end. Many businesses will need to be re-established. Many will cease to exist.
What has become glaringly apparent is that this is the time to reform aged care. Surely we must change a system that allows the regulator to be federal, the administration to be a state responsibility, while the great bulk of the day-to-day carriage is with the private sector. Surely this is not what the founders of Federation intended? A clear line of responsibility, particularly funding responsibility, and full accountability should rest with one body. In the absence of any alternative, it should be centralised. Once and for all this mess should be sorted out.
What then is needed? To start with, we should be explicit that we are going for suppression, not extinction of the virus. Only in this way will we restore some services in a reasonable period of time. Some deaths are inescapable.
Second, we need to recognise the true cost of the route we have chosen. Once JobKeeper goes, and JobSeeker returns to the pittance it once was, the reality of unemployment will hit a vast number of people. Currently they are shielded from this, thanks to federal and state government handouts, bank loan deferments, superannuation cash flowing, rental holidays etc. But the reality will ultimately hit home.
Third, the country wants problems of the Federation sorted out. The aged care crisis must be fixed properly; the Ruby Princess imbroglio sorted out definitively; ignored groups (universities, casuals, child care, the arts) should be brought back into focus.
This is the chance to attempt more fundamental reform. Radical change is now a possibility. Maybe we should be looking at the way we are governed.
Why do we have so many layers of government? Why not go for a far simpler model? As a country of only 25 million people, have we not made everything very difficult for ourselves? This is the occasion to deal once and for all with this matter. That it is difficult is no longer an excuse.
Complexity is the real issue that Federation has bequeathed us. This needs to be fixed. Very rarely will an opportunity like the present arise.
In short, the pandemic has thrown up many issues. Maybe we should see it as a chance to be seized, not a problem that puts everything off into an indefinite future. Why must we wait?
David Buckingham is a former chief executive of the Business Council of Australia.