Australia’s summer of discontent has morphed into an autumn of fear as we bunker down to protect ourselves from coronavirus. Nature is reminding us that she is not to be trifled with, that she cannot be ignored.
Bushfire recovery has been pushed off the front page as the nation braces itself to tackle yet another crisis. Whereas the bushfires impacted either directly or indirectly on 70% of Australians (https://csrm.cass.anu.edu.au/research/publications/exposure-and-impact-attitudes-2019-20-australian-bushfires-0 ) Coronavirus impacts on all of us. But that is cold comfort for the communities around Australia that have been devastated by the bushfires.
The news has been awash with accounts of how the Coronavirus has the capacity to plunge the country into recession. To stave of the recession the government is employing the tactic of the Rudd Government of spending our way out of recession. The problem for the government is that the challenge Australia faces is subtly different to that faced by the Rudd Government. Arguably the Global Financial Crisis threatened all businesses equally that is not the case this time around.
Businesses in the communities devastated by the 2019/20 bushfires are mainly small to medium enterprises. For most the bushfires hit at the worst possible time; for many the summer months are also the months when most income is generated. For primary producers it is a time when produce is made ready for the market – nature has a way of playing havoc with your income so most primary producers make sure that they can roll with the punches. But just as when they are getting off the canvas they are hit with yet another fiscal tsunami. Will they be able to get up or will they stay down – will the coronavirus finish them off?
Regional Australia is also home to many small to medium businesses. These are the businesses that thrive during the summer months. The bushfires meant that these small businesses had to dip into their cash reserves just to keep going. They tightened their belts and were gearing up for an autumn and winter of normal trading to keep going. But when the country is effectively in lock down they see their hopes of making a recovery dwindling.
To get regional Australia back on its feet we need our primary producers to be successful, we need a flow through of foot traffic from outside the regions to help our SMEs, we need to be able to export our surplus produce, we need a well oiled economy. Yet this is precisely where the Coronavirus makes life difficult. One of the key ideas in the Australian Disaster Resilience Policy is that we create resilient communities by enabling communities to share ideas, talk to one another and jointly explore ways in which their community can be made more resilient. Yet to protect ourselves from exacerbating the impact of the Coronavirus we need to apply the concept of social distancing as a key strategy to control the spread of this virus.
For many in Australia the Coronavirus is a temporary inconvenience. For those of us in the bushfire impacted areas it yet another obstacle to regenerating and re-invigorating our communities.
Dr John Töns JP
College of Business, Government and Law