Good things that could come out of the coronavirus crisis

Some experts believe the pandemic offers the opportunity for necessary reform.

COVID-19: A force for good?

In a crisis there is opportunity, the saying goes. Ironically, given current geopolitical tensions, that saying is a misreading by US President John F. Kennedy of the Chinese word for crisis. But the idea itself holds appeal – when faced with a challenging situation, make necessary changes.

The coronavirus has enabled radical policies and spending that would have been unthinkable without a lockdown. And being confined to quarters has forced dramatic changes in our work and living habits, not all of them negative.

This ordeal has had a heavy impact and we could all do with reminders of positive thinking. Here are a few of the good things that might come out of COVID-19.

Social housing
The Victorian government has committed $58 million to build 168 new units and upgrade 23,000 existing apartments to tackle the state’s 80,000-strong social housing waiting list. The building blitz is aimed at providing jobs and economic stimulus, but social welfare experts are lauding the effect it will have on homelessness.

“It is a really smart thing to do to get tradespeople to work, assist the construction industry, as well as the amazing social good of being able to house people who are homeless much more quickly,” Council to Homeless Persons chief executive Jenny Smith told The Age.

A further $125 million will aim to improve housing options for Aboriginal people and women and children fleeing family violence.

Transport
With public transport out of favour due to social distancing concerns, there are fears of gridlock on the roads. A recent survey from Sydney University's Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies found the number of people who thought travelling by car was the safest form of transport had grown by 84 per cent.

But cycling has experienced an “unprecedented surge in popularity” during lockdown, with a 270 per cent increase on Melbourne’s key bike paths and a 50 per cent rise in Sydney’s west.

Cycling advocate Stephen Hodge says there’s now a “perfect storm of opportunity” to reshape Australian cities by making our roads more bike friendly, thereby easing road congestion and bringing massive benefits to public health and the environment.

Already Melbourne's city council has said it will create 12km of temporary bike lanes, and in New South Wales Transport Minister Rob Stokes has announced councils can apply for grants of up to $100,000 for the same purpose.

Childcare
KPMG Economics & Tax Centre partner Grant Wardell-Johnson supports a rethink of childcare subsidies.

“Now is the time to look at this with a (blank) sheet of paper,” he said, also raising concerns women’s participation in the workforce could decline without an overhaul of childcare costs.

“We have an opportunity for a long-term productivity boost now. It’s incredibly important that we deal with this structurally.”

Grattan Institute budget policy and institutional reform program director Danielle Wood agrees.

“There's a real opportunity here to introduce some bigger reforms. Pre-COVID, the out of pocket costs for childcare were really high by international standards,” she told The Age.

“This was a disincentive for secondary income earners, mainly women, to take on more hours. There’s an opportunity to fix up some of these issues and it could be a really good story for the economic recovery.”

Government
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the national cabinet forum of state premiers and Prime Minister Scott Morrison operating during the COVID-19 crisis has shown how to fix the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

“Our federation is ripe for economic reform - our federation hasn't changed in decades, assumes all the states have the same population, economic diversity, which we don't. This process has really highlighted that,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“The national cabinet has demonstrated what can be achieved.

“To be frank, COAG can sometimes be very clumsy, can be very bureaucratic and full of red tape, and I think the national cabinet has really empowered us as leaders to take things forward in a considered but timely way, without being bogged down.”

Planning
A new report from consultancy SGS Economics and Planning for the Committee for Melbourne lobby group suggests a co-ordinated economic corridor, stretching from Geelong in Victoria to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, would deliver a $268 billion lift to gross domestic product by 2050.

It says integrating planning of land use, transportation and infrastructure development would deliver “extensive economic and social benefits”.

Measuring success
Jun-E Tan from the Association for Progressive Communications says using gross domestic product (GDP) to measure if a country is doing well is simplistic and misleading. “That number does not differentiate between ‘good’ economic activities (money spent on education, health, etc.) and ‘bad’ (criminal activity, deforestation, etc.); its derivative, the GDP per capita, also does not take into account income inequality between the haves and the have-nots.

“For the longest time, advocates of sustainable development have asked policy makers to focus on indicators that look at the quality of life, and not quantity. Now would be a good time to double up the efforts on that.”

Work/life/family
If some of the workers who have been forced to stay home during the crisis choose to do so after social restrictions are lifted, there could be a significant impact on transport congestion and pollution.

Individually, it saves time and money to work from home. We can become more productive and relaxed with a stressful commute subtracted from our life. Fewer meetings and more time with family are also by-products of an escalation of working from home.

“Changes in working habits may also encourage employers to switch from outdated business models that are over-reliant on face-to-face meetings and fixed working hours,” says Jun-E Tan.

National parks and tourism
Nick Sawyer, president of Tasmania's National Parks Association, believes the pandemic offers a “heaven-sent opportunity to rethink the whole approach” to Australia's parks.

Mr Sawyer says popular attractions need smarter crowd management rather than bigger car parks. And he suggests stimulus funding target lesser-known attractions.

“There's a huge maintenance backlog of existing facilities,” he said.

“In a lot of our parks, the facilities in the remote areas are getting terribly run down.”

Tourism Australia is also set to highlight hidden local gems as Australians unable or unwilling to go overseas turn to their backyard.

“We really are looking to our domestic market to get our industry back on their feet again,” managing director Phillipa Harrison told the ABC.

“We probably will see for a little while people wanting to control their own environment a little more, so we do expect to see people staying a little closer to home and taking their own transport.”

She expects interest in “new ways of travelling”.

“There has been a rising interest in sustainability and making sure you leave a light footprint when you travel,” she said.

“We think this is going to accelerate people's desire to travel more sustainably.”

The industry group will encourage Australians to visit friends and family first, then broaden their horizons.

“We are going to be promoting some really great road trips you can do either intrastate or interstate, and also some great epic national road trips.”

Our animal friends
“The lessons learnt from the coronavirus epidemic will pay dividends in the future. We will be more realistic about the dangers of viruses crossing the barriers between species,” says Charles Foster, Fellow of Green Templeton College, University of Oxford.

And that may not be the only benefit for other species.

“China has announced a permanent ban on trade in and consumption of wildlife. That in itself is hugely significant from a conservation, an animal welfare, and a human health perspective. Hopefully other nations will follow suit.”

What positives do you see coming out of the coronavirus crisis?

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    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    miker
    22nd May 2020
    10:20am
    Happiness these days is to find and buy something not made in China.
    Rosret
    22nd May 2020
    10:44am
    Well, Will Brodie you spent a lot of time being Pollyanna writing this article. I will add one more. At long last the ABC got off its Climate change vitriol even if it has been for just a short while. The angry tone in reporters rhetoric finally subsided. Like all the things you list above - its all just a moment in time until everything goes back to the way it was.
    Horace Cope
    22nd May 2020
    11:03am
    Rosret, obviously you, like me, don't spend a lot of time listening to or watching our ABC. A presenter on radio just this week mentioned that we shouldn't let COVID-19 overtake the most serious problem of our age; climate change.
    Jennie
    22nd May 2020
    5:52pm
    I confess to reading the News on BBC World News as our TV news can be sensational or biased or both...
    The most serious problem of our age is overpopulation. That is the elephant in the room.
    Lookfar
    22nd May 2020
    6:21pm
    Perhaps Rosret it is worth while then to try to make sure it doesn't go back to that sad way it was?
    Horace Cope
    22nd May 2020
    11:06am
    This pandemic has brought out a lot of different ways to approach things and I would be very surprised if some of the ideas will not be carried forward. A problem that humans have is the idea that something new is not always embraced and old ways are clung to. How many times have we heard: "But we've always done it this way!" whenever a new idea is raised.
    Lookfar
    22nd May 2020
    6:48pm
    Very true, Horace, and one of those old ways is "you have to pay it back'' - an illegal act of parliament in 1959, creating an organisation that the Govt had to pay back to, - apparently an independant organisation, as at that time divesting from Govt was all the rage, although who that would benefit seems to have been rather murky at that time.

    A stroke of the pen will eliminate that idiocy.

    Fortunately, we now know, - with the Wisdom of Hindsight, that it was the Multi-Billionaires as they moved to introduce neo Liberalism, - now the dominant paradigm.

    However, they, only, and will forever, only serve their bloody greedy minded selves.

    Now we can use this new tool to rebuild Australia, to educate our children to be able to work for their future, to rebuild our gutted manufacturing sector, to create a new electricity system based on the free fuel, - Renewable energy systems now available, to look after our poor, so that they can contribute in whatever humble way they choose, to re-invigorate the arts and build a multicultural future full of the riches we all have to offer and so much more.

    Let's not allow the 'old way thinking' drag us back to the old way slavery.

    Cheers,
    Lookfar
    CountryCatkin
    22nd May 2020
    11:50am
    This is obviously the best area to complain about the present, oh, and the past!, and of course the future, by decrying anything that is backed by science, governments, public broadcasters and anyone else who appears to know a tad more than the person commenting. Get on with living each day as well and carefully as possible. The sun will rise tomorrow, whatever the weather at lower levels. So much negativity and laying of blame. Sure plenty of justification, but there are times when brains disengage and reason leaves home.
    Maggie
    22nd May 2020
    12:04pm
    Bravo! A light shining in this dark well of ignorance.
    Retiring Well
    22nd May 2020
    11:53am
    It has made me realise what a great life I lead. Nothing has changed at all for me other than I now have a good excuse not to do the things I don't wish to do.
    GoldenOldie
    22nd May 2020
    12:00pm
    Now would be a good time for nurses and teachers to push for better pay and conditions!
    BillW41
    22nd May 2020
    12:46pm
    Cycling is ok for the young and fit, not so much for others. Flat tracks are ok, too, but not hilly terrain. Nor is it suitable in hot or inclement weather. Walking long distances to and from public transport is a pain. Give me a car any time, but perhaps it is time to forget commuting in huge 4-door utes or even SUVs. Smaller hydrogen powered vehicles need to be developed and encouraged. Daily car parking needs to be cheaper or, at best, free.
    mike
    22nd May 2020
    4:27pm
    Our local IGA Oberon is selling Just Hooked Crispy Fish Fillets. Very small letters, product of China. Also Coles and woolies selling frozen veggies, product of New Zealand, however NZ imports vegetables from China, freezes them and resells as Product of NZ, Since China has stopped buying Australian products, WHY ARE IMPORTING FOOD FROM CHINA>, at the expense of our farmers. Stop all imports from China immediately and start manufacturing our own.
    Lookfar
    22nd May 2020
    7:26pm
    Mike, this is a huge undertaking, - do you know that the Govt has the will to even countenance such a thing, let alone the will to do it?

    So, the Chinese won't buy our Barley, now they are closing off our thermal coal, = last year already cancelled it for 6 months, talk is of our iron ore, restrictions on our beef, etc, - forget Tourism, etc, we are a junior partner of the most vigorous economy in our world, and how did it become so huge?

    Well, by printing money, as did Hitler, as did the Japanese, the Taiwonese the South Koreans, the USA. (quantitative easing QE), as any country with Sovereign Currency can do, as we have.

    Thing is, we have to throw off the parasites, the super rich, Australian money must only be spent in Australia, the super rich are a black hole in the world economic conversation, they own the USA, and their actions there are totally deplorable, - they have no wisdom to run the world, only to indulge themselves.

    I am in my daily life trying to revive and strengthen the Australian Economic system, I am a Designer, with unusual understanding, I only include Australian products except when i absolutely can't find one in Australia, - recently designing a new Fire truck for the bush fires I found NO company in Australia that makes electric water pumps, - faahrrghk such a simple item, how close to being totally conquered are we?

    We need to start to work together, - neither of the two main political parties have a ghost of an idea as to how to use QE, we have to prod them and push them so as it will happen, and study the past, and be prepared to step up and insist on new ideas and concepts.

    Now is the time to be positive, not to give up.
    Hasbeen
    23rd May 2020
    12:40am
    It didn't take long for a change in management to change the site to a socialist activist site, of not much further interest.


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