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When normal returns, what do we want it to be?

  • 09 April 2020
Our daily lives have been thoroughly disrupted by COVID-19 and it has been easy to get caught up in anxiety-driven scrolling through the constantly updating coronavirus news feed: the daily climb of infections and death; the growing chain of collapsed businesses and surge in unemployment rates; and the ever evolving details of health directives and social distancing guidelines. It all gets pretty overwhelming.

But even during this period of disruption (and, indeed, even because of it) it is so important that we pay attention to the bigger picture. So much of what we do now will lay the groundwork for the kind of future we are able to build at end of this crisis. Moreover, this crisis is shining a bright light on the cracks in our current systems and it is tempting to settle for a quick fix, rather than doing the work of rebuilding our fragile systems from the ground up.

So, while we should welcome the socially progressive measures being adopted in response to this crisis — the doubling of Newstart, the introduction of the ‘Jobkeeper payment’, and the announcements of free childcare and a moratorium on evictions (details to come) — we should also remain critical.

Despite claims to the contrary, it should be abundantly clear that none these policies herald the beginning of a socialist utopia in Australia. Not only are they time bound (and unjustifiably discriminatory in their application), they have been introduced to protect capital, not equality. And if you needed any more evidence of this overarching agenda (and wanted to bring this column subtly back to the environment), just take a look at the environmentally destructive policies that are also being progressed under the cover of this crisis.

In NSW, for example, the state government recently approved an extension of longwall coalmining under the Woronora reservoir, which supplies drinking water to parts of southern Sydney and the northern Illawarra. The decision was made without debate due to the suspension of Parliament, despite widespread community concern and the documented risks such mining poses to water quality.

Similarly, the Victorian State Government quietly lifted its moratorium on drilling for onshore conventional gas reserves, in a time when moving away from greenhouse gas production should be an urgent priority. Meanwhile, the Great Barrier Reef is going through its third mass bleaching event in five years, and the Commonwealth and Queensland governments remain wedded to coal mining.


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