A different Oz

I was in my weekly zoom party last night, and the conversation turned to what happens when we come out of lockdown, months from now. That’s a common question, and the answer will be different depending on where you are.

I hesitate to claim that C-19 is now under control in Oz, but infections are in marked decline, and deaths slowed. By comparison to many parts of the world, we’ve got it good. I’d put that down to three reasons – closing our borders early to affected countries, though this was inconsistent. The size of the country and the relatively low population density. And, finally, the decision to isolate, which came later than it should, and only when pressured by the states, but which happened before the virus had the opportunity to reach critical mass.

In stark terms, we can consider ourselves lucky when we look at the diabolical situation in the States, and the only slightly less horrible situation in parts of Europe, particularly the UK now. They’re yet to reach their peak, and there are claims the already swelling death toll has been underreported drastically. One consequence of this, I would expect to see is social fracturing. When the glue that binds us together is weakened then, anarchy begins to prevail.

There is no threat of that here, but there’s no doubt there’s a mountain ahead of us even after we conquer the virus.

There’s been a lot of talk about the mounting deficit. I understand but think it’s beside the point. There was no other option to spend the money (and would do well to spend a little more to plug the gaps). When there’s no other choice, it’s not worth the argument. And though it’s a huge amount of money Australia, unlike most of the world (perhaps only Germany as well placed), was in a good position to absorb it. It’s not pretty, but we’ll manage it.

This is where talk comes to what happens afterwards, and here the conversation separates into the economic and social possibilities.

Morrison speaks of a snap-back to where we were before when all this ends as if we could just wind back the clock and adjust to the settings we had in place before. Not only is this practically impossible, but it’s also hardly desirable, and I think many people are now realising this.

One of the unfortunate ironies of the present situation relates to the federal election last year when a key Labor party policy was to end franking credits and put the savings into health and education. This got a rough ride in the parochial press and had the government, predictably, accusing them of being socialist. Fast forward not even 12 months, and we’d have been a lot better off with that money in the health system, and the government itself has reverted to socialist policies to insulate the economy.

I think it’s fairly obvious that come the end of this that hand-outs of this type must be closed off and the money returned to the public purse. At times like this, I think back to the perfectly reasonable mining-supertax Labor tried to get up only for it to be demonised by News Limited and attacked politically by Abbott and co. If only…and we’d be a much richer nation now.

In any case, I think there’s been a social re-balancing throughout this. We’ve learned to value things again. A refreshed spirit of egalitarianism means we’re now applauding the people forgotten before – nurses and doctors, checkout chicks and postal workers, and so on – the people keeping us going through this. I don’t know if hand-outs to the haves – which we’ve sleepily let go by – will be tolerated now.

This is the predicament the government faces. It has adopted policies antithetical to their innate beliefs. That must be a bitter pill to swallow, but kudos to them for accepting it. The bigger challenge will come when they seek to reverse these policies and revert to type. It won’t be easy, I don’t think it would be productive, and I don’t think the people will buy it now.

There are different takes on this. I’m a little more pessimistic than some. Cheeseboy expressed it last night when he said the experience has exposed consumerism and rampant consumption as ultimately hollow. What point a fridge that connects to wi-fi, but to possess it? As I postulated a few weeks back, as he said last night, we were swept up in the ritual of lifestyle and entitlement. Having much of that denied to us has forced us to confront the basics of our life. We’re learning patience because we must, and to be present in the moment, and gratitude for what we have. I’d like to think something authentic is emerging out of this – but at the very least I think we’ve come to reassess what real values are.

Cheeseboy believes that the government must acknowledge this and that things will be different. I half agree: things will be different. I’m sceptical of the government, though. I’m sure the RWNJ’s – quiet throughout this crisis (it’s not prudent to pipe up with their toxic views) – will emerge and seek to hijack the Liberal party, as they have for years. I doubt there is any evidence or undisputed facts that could sway them from hard-wired belief. They don’t engage in argument or debate. They’re fanatics who brook no other perspective. Come the end of this they’ll certainly want to return to the time before – back to denying climate change and sticking up for their pals in the mining industry; back to neo-liberal economic theories that dismiss human dignity and value; back to denying compassion and cutting services; back to a view of the world, and history, that elevates the haves and dismisses the rest.

I’ll be interested to see how Morrison responds to this. I don’t know that he has the spine to resist, even if he wanted to – but maybe he’s had his road to Damascus moment. I think there’ll be members of the party emboldened by the change in atmosphere who’ll seek reform – but can they prevail? In all of this, I expect the Australian public to have firm views on what they will and won’t accept.

What we don’t want is to revert to a parliament of narrow point scoring, where politics trumps truth. I think as before, as a people, we were sick of it, but to such a degree that we disengaged from it. I don’t think we’ll take it again, but now perhaps we’ve been roused to action.

Maybe I am an optimist, after all.

There are a lot of answers to be found, and when we get through this and in what state, no-one can say. This talk is likely premature and many more twists and turns to come. And what’s true today may not be tomorrow. All of that, but one day it will end, and no matter what we wish for, the world will be different. We can make it a good difference. This is a chance to reset, as individuals, and as a nation.

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