The Covid lockdown has been a good time for reflection. The recent past is a good place to start.

In the last 9 months Australia has been rattled by fires, floods, droughts and pandemic. We’ve got through but at what cost? Business continuity across the board has been disrupted; revenue sources evaporated or at risk of evaporation; and security at both a personal and national level put to the test.

Without question there have been many heroic responses and individual and collective accomplishments amid misfortune.  We have all ‘stood up’ to play our part, citizens and government alike. But – and this is a big BUT, we will have achieved very little if we don’t look for opportunities to do things better – next time.

There will be many ‘lessons’ to emerge post fires, pandemic etc, but two key ones are hard to argue. First, the need for Australia to assure its self-reliance, and second, strengthening our preparedness to face and recover from such events. 

It would be naïve to think there is a simple ‘silver bullet’ answer.  It is equally naïve to naval gaze ad nauseum to ‘land’ the perfect response.  However, top of mind, three obvious areas for attention include:

      • Improving our capability to withstand extreme events
      • Reducing the economic, health and social impacts of such events
      • Improving our ability to recover more quickly.

Separately and collectively, all are core to retaining and more importantly, improving our global positioning and competitiveness.

Capability to withstand extreme events

Whether it’s community dependency on primary energy grids and the dependent mobile networks during the bushfires or specifics such as ventilators, masks, personal protective equipment etc or assurance of supply chains (oil, drugs, electronic equipment, phones, food, even toilet paper) serious disruption to our ability to access supplies, triggers alarm.  It also triggers a range of compensatory and reactive behaviours. The Covid lockdown has exposed behaviours and vulnerabilities we did not anticipate.  We were caught off guard and need to assess and improve both our preparedness and response. 

Reducing the economic, health and social impacts of extreme events

Again, taking Covid as the example, the initial focus was, and rightly so, on the health, wellbeing and safety of Australian citizens.  Having addressed that immediate crisis, we now need to pivot (urgently) and address the stark reality of a raft of consequential economic issues.  The economic impact of business shutdowns, increased unemployment, loss of revenues, industry near collapses and trade restrictions now become THE priority.

Anticipated social consequences will be next.  As well as the direct impact of social isolation and restriction, the aftermath as citizens suffer from job and economic losses, fractured relationships etc. will unfortunately, but inevitably, translate to increased mental health concerns, suicides, domestic violence, broken families and disrupted education and skill development – to name a few.

The lesson – how do we mature our response approaches to be more holistic from the outset to avert or at least mitigate the snowballing effect of the health, economic and social impacts of extreme events?

Improving our ability to recover more quickly

Finally, recovery – can we get back on our feet quick enough?  Have we got in place what is needed to enable and empower citizens and businesses to recover sustainably, at pace?  

Besides the obvious economic and social performance outcomes, recovery must be embodied in our sovereign competitiveness.  Self-reliance is not simply about looking after ourselves when there is no one to rely on.  For nations it is the means to the end – retaining and growing our global competitiveness. 

In all Australia’s performance in the face of recent extreme events has been pretty good. But, let’s face it, there is room for improvement.  ‘Getting through’ doesn’t cut it on the global stage – at least not if we value the prosperous lifestyle, we’ve become accustomed to.

In the aftermath of the last six months let’s avoid the rose-coloured glasses. Let’s get ahead of the game and act on the hard lessons to do this better next time – because there will be a next time. 

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