New priorities in an upended world

By Alexander Corne

The world has been turned upside down and had the last few coins shaken out of its pants, by the COVID-19 virus.

Aside from the human suffering, the economic shellacking, and the social dislocation, or possibly as a result of it, in most countries, we have actually wound the clock back almost a century to a time when value was placed on learning, knowledge, concern for others and a degree of humility.

In other words, the Me! Me! Me! Instant Gratification Generation has been plundered, punctured and punted into touch.

Who would you rather pay a weekly salary of $850,000 to now? A young man who is good at kicking a ball into a net or over sticks, who can run for 90 minutes without getting puffed out, or a specialist researcher identifying and formulating a vaccine to cure the virus? Just think about that for a minute.

In every western culture, the deity of sport has been deposed. Almost soundlessly. Practically effortlessly. Religious extremists of every stripe have joined the sports folk, kicked unceremoniously to the kerb. No-one on a ventilator has been saved by a Shaman of any colour.

And in the epicentre of world entertainment, Las Vegas is shut and Hollywood’s great names are unmasked as nothing more than a sideshow when the matters are life-and-death.

It seems we don’t need Hollywood’s uber-liberal mavens to entertain us when the SHTF.

Scale up a few notches to bear witness to globalism melting faster than the polar icecaps. The splintering of the UK from the EU has raced to become a chasm separating the EU’s rich and sophisticated northern kingdoms from their poverty-stricken southern neighbours.

Borders are back in fashion, and EU members were not even up to sharing masks or gloves. Reckon they’ll pony up their armed forces if one of their number gets eaten alive by the hungry bear to the east?

The irony of the entirety of Europe being dependent on PPE being flown in from China appears to have been lost on folks, from national government and EU ministers down.

Hopefully Australia will be a bit more savvy, in its post-cataclysmic reconstructionist phase, and finally realise that it must not be wholly dependent on China to make everything it needs in the pursuit of life, love and happiness. Just as we can’t rely on the US to warehouse our liquid fossil fuel energy security stockpile, offshore and across the Pacific.

For fun, why not extrapolate the events of the past 8 weeks and just imagine how vulnerable we would all be this time next year, if a black hatted player (pick one: there is no shortage of unprincipled states and terrorist organisations) decided to let loose a new and similarly murderous concoction at the Olympics or World Cup soccer finals.

The ‘dry run’ when Bergamo played Valencia certainly shows how effective a sports crowd is at spreading a virus across two nations, without even trying. Ramp it up a few notches and you have World War III declared, run and won without a shot being fired.

So the take-out is that we all, individuals and businesses, must lobby our elected representatives to ensure that we are better prepared next time. For example, the last pandemic drill run in Australia was in 2008. We must tell our ‘leaders’ not only to gameplay the scenarios, but actively prepare, stockpile and train. Because if they don’t, the wilderness beckons.

RMK+A is highly experienced in government relations and in assisting businesses and organisations in engagement with policy makers.

 

The post pandemic political picture

By Andrew Elsbury

The political landscape of Australia and the world will be shifted significantly by the COVID19 outbreak. Indeed, as State Governments close their borders, effectively reinstating the sovereignty of their jurisdictions, many Australian citizens are getting a taste of the pre-federation Australia.

While Western Australia closed its borders almost completely, and both South Australia and Queensland have police at their border crossings, the Federal Government continues to attempt a coordinated response to the pandemic.

Prime Minister Morrison has already stated he is fighting a war on two fronts, one against the virus and the second against the potential economic disaster that the shutdowns and unemployment present.

On the first front there are signs of hope and new cases, for the time being, seem to be plateauing. On the second there will be a much longer road to recovery. For while paying employers to keep employees on is a welcome measure it is certainly unsustainable for a long term.

On the Friday (3/4/2020) episode of A Current Affair, Economist Chris Richardson stated “Our Governments don’t owe much debt, whereas the rest of the world owes heaps”. This is as close as a tick of approval as you are going to get for Coalition Government post 2013 fiscal policy. It does not mean we are immune to the global financial catastrophe but we will weather it better than most nations.

The third front the Prime Minister diplomatically avoids talking about is the one he is fighting against the State Premiers. In particular Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews. Both have been problematic with their push for school shutdowns and a stated desire for complete population lockdowns.

You only need to listen to the Victorian and New South Wales government lines of ‘ensure you have 14 days of supplies in your homes’, while Canberra is saying don’t panic buy, to see an inconsistency in messaging.

For the time being, a détente has been reached between the states and federal government. However, with school holidays in Victoria ending next week, you can expect the debate around students returning to school campuses to become a flashpoint.

The comfort that Australian governments, of any persuasion, can have in a crisis is that voters are loathe to change the government of the day. Barring a complete failure, the population will generally seek the security of a continuation of government.

The Federal Parliament does not need to go to an election until 3 September 2022, however, I would suspect that an election will be held in 2021, allowing the Morrison Government to maintain the momentum of the COVID19 response. Victoria is not due to go to the polls until November 2022 and NSW is March 2023, and I would suspect both incumbents will retain power.

Even when concern around the virus is gone the lingering financial impact of the pandemic will be only the beginning of the disruption it will cause.

Many nations will take a Trump style approach to trade, seeking to maintain industrial capacity inside their country with a greater emphasis on self-reliance for critical supply chains.

Social media is already rife with anti-China rhetoric. This is not just an Australian phenomenon. We are already seeing various states blaming China, not just for the pandemic but accusing them of profiteering from the global impact.

This sort of talk can be dangerous. Those of a radical political agenda may seek to capitalise on high unemployment rates and increasing nationalism. Pride in one’s nation is not inherently a bad thing, but when that translates to hatred of another, that is where danger lurks.

There is no doubt that the world will emerge from this crisis significantly changed. The political impetus for greater globalisation will not only have been halted but, most likely, reversed. That, alone, will create new geo-political pressures.

National sovereignty, control of borders, greater self-reliance and residual government social and economic support will make traditional left and right ideological divides almost obsolete.

Governments that have managed to avoid total catastrophe (however one defines that) will likely accrue a significant incumbency benefit. How they continue to govern will also look quite different.

 

RMK+A has decades of experience working with clients to help them understand the political environment and its impact on their business. We provide analysis and briefings based on client’s market position, competitive setting, the political background and regulatory framework.

How much is too much? The question for our representatives.

By Alexander Corne

How much freedom is enough? How much time spent locked down is enough? How much money is enough? How much debt is enough?

Not lightweight issues. Yet Australians have barely spoken up as liberty, rights of free assembly and economic welfare have all been eroded, without any public debate.

The ‘national cabinet’ has seen fit to ban association of more than two people. Entire sectors of our economy have been outlawed, overnight.

While it is frightening to think that governments, as well meaning as they may appear, can take so much freedom away with so little debate, discussion or explanation, what is even more terrifying is the precedent that the public has set in its dumb, placid and feeble acceptance of these curbs on our way of life.

How is it possible that a mature democracy is allowing itself to be trampled with absolutely no critical commentary? Where are the protestations? Why are there no crowds in the streets (even spaced out at 2 m apart)? Where are the calls for a full explanation of the risks?

You would have to wonder what the government knows about this disease that it’s not letting on. You also have to hope that the community health advice they are heeding is balanced with an understanding of how a functioning economy is as equally essential.

After all, around 1200 Australians are killed each year on the roads, and yet there’s no radical spur-of-the-moment plan to seize our wheels.

Have Australians become so lobotomised by social media, tabloid media and reality TV that they have lost all sense of the values of life in a free country, in a democracy? The steps taken so swiftly by state and federal governments would make George Orwell spin in his grave.

And now we’re all safely locked down in our domestic bunkers, what happens when we run out of small odd jobs to do, walls to paint, grass to cut, pictures to hang, fights to have with our spouses and children?

How long can the government expect to keep us bottled up? How many women will die in as a result of domestic violence (already obliquely referred to by the PM) having been imprisoned in a marital pressure cooker that just explodes?

What will happen after Easter, when the kids should be back at school, and the money has run out? Will the government continue to own us. Shouldn’t we have a say?

Yes, we should take prudent steps to protect ourselves from this pandemic. And the evidence is beginning to show that such steps are working. But, we cannot afford to let this massive disruption go on until the risk is absolute zero.

Health infrastructure preparations have been made, some cautionary measures should remain and a sensible balance must be struck. It’s time to ask legitimate questions about how long all this should last?

These are questions that businesses, of all size and nature, should be directing to their political representatives, at both state and federal level.

We like to call ourselves the lucky country. If we blow our luck with a massive, timidity induced, self-inflicted wound we could quickly be reduced to a mere mendicant client of China Inc.

 

RMK+A is highly experienced in government relations and in assisting businesses and organisations in engagement with policy makers.

 

What could possibly go wrong? Privacy & government databases

In the last few weeks the Federal Government has faced community backlash to another of their ‘big-data’ plans. This time the brilliant idea to create My Health Record. A central repository for all the health data any health practitioner, and the government agency, may have collected on any individual.

On the surface, the idea of providing health professionals with a central point of information on patients sounds like a good idea, for the health professional, arguably even for the patient, should they find themselves dealing with a new doctor, in emergency situations, or not able to keep track of medical treatments. But, the flaw in the plan was almost immediately obvious to anyone who had even the slightest concern about the security of a central database of such personal information. A concern not made any better by the initial intention to allow access to that information by law enforcement agencies, without a Court Order.

The ensuing media hubbub and resulting public concern about the scheme was, to all but the Minister’s office and the Health Department, entirely predictable.

In the resulting back-down, by Minister Hunt on July 31, agreeing to amend the enacting legislation to require Court Order for any access by law enforcement or government agencies, and to extend the three month opt-out period. No matter how much spin attached, it was an embarrassing admission of a failed initial communication and a lack of understanding of the public mood.

It may appear odd that millions of people are willing to volunteer personal information on social media platforms but are concerned about a health record site. However, the fundamental difference is in, at least the appearance of, choice. Even then, Facebook has encountered enormous push-back when it became clear that they were commercialising user information without users’ knowledge.

Public trust of big-government is, increasingly and around the world, at an extremely low level. For the Federal Government to foist a centralised health database on all Australians, with limited public engagement and no understanding of the likely resistance, only feeds public perception of a cavalier attitude to individual privacy. The endless litany of database breaches, from airlines, to tax offices, to banks to … well you name it, only feeds a deep-seated scepticism.  As one online security expert put it – ‘there are only two types of database, those that have been hacked and those that don’t know they’ve been hacked’.

It is no surprise that more than 10% of eligible patients have opted out of My Health Record. A number that runs into the millions and that continues to grow.

The lesson is clear. In an increasingly interconnected world, the issue of data-privacy is coming to the fore, perhaps a bit too late, but the public concern is now live. Failure to recognise that fact and to communicate effectively will result in the sort of push-back the Health Department and its Minister have endured.