Morrison’s ‘new deal’ for a return to post-COVID normal is not the deal most Australians want


William Bowtell, UNSWAll-encompassing crises like a pandemic can expose systemic flaws and failures in government and society, clearing the decks for radical reform and renovation.

The question is in which direction and in whose interests.

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a four-phase plan to lead Australia out of the COVID-19 crisis. The plan was devoid of numbers, facts, targets or commitments. But Morrison nonetheless declared it to be a “New Deal”.

It would be tempting, but mistaken, to pass this off as just one more politician riffing off US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who coined the phrase in 1932.

Yet, the disruption caused by the fear of COVID has delivered the Morrison government an unexpected opportunity to reshape Australian politics and society along neo-liberal lines.

Roosevelt’s vision for a new America

In the early 1930s, Roosevelt was confronted by a social and economic catastrophe — the Great Depression.

His genius was to understand that a bold, radical reshaping of the economy and society was required to overcome the crisis and forestall the rise of alternatives to democracy from both the right and left.

The core of Roosevelt’s New Deal was redistribution of wealth from the few to the many. He ran large budget deficits, increased government spending and taxation, imposed regulations to rein in the worst excesses of the banks, and commissioned massive public and social works programs.

Roosevelt’s New Deal shifted the balance from profits to wages, created millions of new, better-paid jobs and stabilised society at a higher and better level for the American people.

The New Deal spent big to save on the grandest scale.

Unemployed men lining up outside a soup kitchen in Chicago in 1931.
Wikimedia Commons

Neo-liberalism’s impact on the COVID response

The resurgence of casino capitalism in the 1980s reinvigorated the free-market opponents of the New Deal era.

In the US, the neo-liberals laid waste to much of the New Deal public health system. In the UK, decades of “market reforms” to the National Health System steadily eroded the principles of public health provision.

These reforms were prosecuted in the name of providing choice and efficiency and went largely uncontested by public opinion.

But they had long-term and serious consequences that the COVID pandemic cruelly exposed. Neo-liberalism undermined the ability of public health structures and institutions to provide independent and open scientific advice.




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The US, UK and Brazil were all run by neo-liberal governments when the pandemic emerged, committed to free markets, small governments and budgets balanced by massive reductions in outlays on education, welfare and, ominously, public health.

Eighteen months into the pandemic, the three countries have recorded a combined 57 million cases and 1.25 million deaths (and counting) from COVID-19, with the actual death tolls considerably higher.

Roses in the sand on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in honour of the more than 500,000 coronavirus deaths in Brazil.
Silvia Izquierdo/AP

By contrast, in countries that moved rapidly to apply tried and tested public health principles through long-established and resilient structures, COVID deaths and illnesses were, with difficulty, contained.

These countries dealt with the realities of COVID as best they could and strengthened their responses as dictated by the accumulation of facts and evidence. Broadly, science dictated the response.

Morrison government’s initial hands-off approach

In Australia, the split between traditional public health principles and the neo-liberal response to COVID was apparent from early 2020.

The initial response of the Morrison government and its planning for COVID was deeply influenced by the UK and US.

The Morrison government did not accept the Commonwealth government had an over-arching national responsibility for public health outcomes. As cases occurred in the states and territories, the responsibility for the response rested with them.




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In the critical early months, the Morrison government kept most borders open, limited surveillance of incoming travellers, moved too slowly to ban the export of PPE packs and let aged care operators follow free-market, self-regulation principles in the hope of reducing risk to residents and staff.

This laissez-faire approach provoked dismay and incredulity within the robust public health system.

Propelled by public health professionals and the public, the country locked down at the end of March, and after a rocky few months, brought about COVID zero.

This brought time and options to build an effective quarantine system and organise vaccine supply. But the Morrison government squandered the gift.

A recovery prolonged by two big missteps

From mid-2020, the economic and social disruption caused by the COVID response should have begun to dissipate. But instead, the Morrison government made the critical decision that prolonged and intensified the misery of the pandemic.

Rather than sign contracts with a number of vaccine manufacturers to guarantee adequate supplies this year, the government put much of its faith in one candidate – AstraZeneca.

Australia had plans for 50 million AstraZeneca doses to be manufactured domestically under its deal struck last year.
Alessandra Tarantino/AP

And after the more infectious Delta variant emerged in December 2020, the Morrison government resisted all entreaties, pleas and scientific evidence to build Delta-proof quarantine facilities.

The effect of these two decisions has been to prolong Australia’s emergence from the botched COVID response until next year.

On the present trajectory, there is no way most Australians will travel abroad again until sometime after March 2022 — the second anniversary of the lockdown that saved Australia.

A ‘New Deal’ that leaves people behind

The Morrison government did not create COVID, but it has skilfully magnified the impacts of COVID in Australia to clear the decks for its own “New Deal”.

But the only thing Morrison’s New Deal has in common with FDR’s is massive deficit spending.

When faced with mass dismissals of employees early in the pandemic, the federal government’s huge stimulus packages fell short. The sharpest blows and cuts fell on the universities, the arts sector and casual and gig economy workers.

JobKeeper arrangements largely excluded the hundreds of thousands employed in these sectors.

Businesses applied for JobKeeper on the basis that earnings would fall. But as was reported earlier this year, more than 30 ASX-listed companies recorded higher profits last year after receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in JobKeeper subsidies than before the pandemic.

Shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh has said between $10-20 billion could have gone to firms with rising profits.

Unlike Roosevelt’s New Deal, which lifted millions of people from poverty to sustained prosperity with a commitment to open democracy, Morrison’s plan for the future doesn’t contain a strong enough safety net to support those in need.

The need for openness and transparency

It is also deeply wrong such a blueprint is being put together behind closed doors, with the input of like-minded politicians, sectional interests and lobbyists, but without the involvement of the Australian people.

All the goals, assumptions, modelling, advice and arguments should be published in a white paper.

Let the Morrison government make its best case for reopening Australia’s borders without full vaccination of the population and a variant-proof quarantine system.




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Put on the table the plans for vaccine passports and how the international travel system might be reconstructed to let people travel and not the virus.

Rather than concentrate on the gauzy benefits of “freedom”, the government needs to outline the costs in lives and jobs that will accrue to vulnerable and less-wealthy Australians.

Let’s have a full and frank discussion of the increase in surveillance and the erosion of rights and liberties that have taken place in the name of containing COVID.

And be told what, if anything, is being planned to ensure the next pandemic will be managed far better than the government has managed COVID.

Only a process based on the values of truth, transparency and debate can rebuild people’s confidence and trust in government. The New Deal Australia wants and needs is not the Old Deal being constructed in Scott Morrison’s Canberra office.The Conversation

William Bowtell, Adjunct professor, Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Smart cities can help us manage post-COVID life, but they’ll need trust as well as tech


Sameer Hasija, INSEAD

“This virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away.” WHO executive director Mike Ryan, May 13

Vaccine or not, we have to come to terms with the reality that COVID-19 requires us to rethink how we live. And that includes the idea of smart cities that use advanced technologies to serve citizens. This has become critical in a time of pandemic.




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Smart city solutions have already proved handy for curbing the contagion. Examples include:

The robot dog called SPOT is being trialled in Singapore to remind people to practise physical distancing.

But as we prepare to move beyond this crisis, cities need to design systems that are prepared to handle the next pandemic. Better still, they will reduce the chances of another one.

Issues of trust are central

In a world of egalitarian governments and ethical corporations, the solution to a coronavirus-like pandemic would be simple: a complete individual-level track and trace system. It would use geolocation data and CCTV image recognition, complemented by remote biometric sensors. While some such governments and corporations do exist, putting so much information in the hands of a few, without airtight privacy controls, could lay the foundations of an Orwellian world.




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Our research on smart city challenges suggests a robust solution should be a mix of protocols and norms covering technology, processes and people. To avoid the perils of individual-level monitoring systems, we need to focus on how to leverage technology to modify voluntary citizen behaviour.

This is not a trivial challenge. Desired behaviours that maximise societal benefit may not align with individual preferences in the short run. In part, this could be due to misplaced beliefs or misunderstanding of the long-term consequences.

As an example, despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 in the US, many states have had public protests against lockdowns. A serious proportion of polled Americans believe this pandemic is a hoax, or that its threat is being exaggerated for political reasons.

Design systems that build trust

The first step in modifying people’s behaviour to align with the greater good is to design a system that builds trust between the citizens and the city. Providing citizens with timely and credible information about important issues and busting falsehoods goes a long way in creating trust. It helps people to understand which behaviours are safe and acceptable, and why this is for the benefit of the society and their own long-term interest.

In Singapore, the government has very effectively used social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram to regularly share COVID-19 information with citizens.

Densely populated cities in countries like India face extra challenges due to vast disparities in education and the many languages used. Smart city initiatives have emerged there to seamlessly provide citizens with information in their local language via a smartphone app. These include an AI-based myth-busting chatbot.




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Guard against misuse of data

Effective smart city solutions require citizens to volunteer data. For example, keeping citizens updated with real-time information about crowding in a public space depends on collecting individual location data in that space.

Australians’ concerns about the COViDSafe contact-tracing app illustrate the need for transparent safeguards when citizens are asked to share their data.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Individual-level data is also useful to co-ordinate responses during emergencies. Contact tracing, for instance, has emerged as an essential tool in slowing the contagion.

Technology-based smart city initiatives can enable the collection, analysis and reporting of such data. But misuse of data erodes trust, which dissuades citizens from voluntarily sharing their data.

City planners need to think about how they can balance the effectiveness of tech-based solutions with citizens’ privacy concerns. Independent third-party auditing of solutions can help ease these concerns. The MIT Technology Review’s audit report on contact-tracing apps is one example during this pandemic.




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It is also important to create robust data governance policies. These can help foster trust and encourage voluntary sharing of data by citizens.

Using several case studies, the consulting firm PwC has proposed a seven-layer framework for data governance. It describes balancing privacy concerns of citizens and efficacy of smart city initiatives as the “key to realising smart city potential”.

As we emerge from this pandemic, we will need to think carefully about the data governance policies we should implement. It’s important for city officials to learn from early adopters.

While these important issues coming out of smart city design involve our behaviour as citizens, modifying behaviour isn’t enough in itself. Civic leaders also need to rethink the design of our city systems to support citizens in areas like public transport, emergency response, recreational facilities and so on. Active collaboration between city planners, tech firms and citizens will be crucial in orchestrating our future cities and hence our lives.


The author acknowledges suggestions from Aarti Gumaledar, Director of Emergentech Advisors Ltd.The Conversation

Sameer Hasija, Associate Professor of Technology and Operations Management, INSEAD

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.