Just as gin distilleries pumped out hand sanitiser at the height of the pandemic, Australia must pivot towards more innovative policy thinking on international borders, argues Property Council chief Ken Morrison.
Three key takeaways:
Gin distilleries aren’t the only impressive examples of economic pivots during the COVID-19 pandemic, Morrison says.
“We’ve also seen lightning-fast public policy innovation in the face of the wicked problems thrown up by the pandemic. While not every move has been a winner, major programs like JobKeeper and HomeBuilder have been gamechangers,” Morrison argues.
“But when it comes to our international borders, Australia seems to be in dire need of a similar dose innovative policy thinking.”
Health Department Secretary Dr Brendan Murphy has stated that Australia is likely to wait until 2022 to see any significant increase to the number of international arrivals, beyond the current very low levels permitted through airport arrival caps and state-run quarantine systems.
“Now, with Australia’s vaccine rethink, there is every chance this timeline could now be further delayed,” Morrison says.
Closed borders will have a lasting impact, with around one million fewer Australians in 2022 than previously predicted. For the first time in more than a century, Australia’s population has declined. More people left the country between July and September last year than arrived, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Population growth has been one of Australia’s big economic engines. According to Treasury, population growth adds aggregate demand to the economy and enhances productivity, thanks to a migration program is skewed towards younger, skilled entrants. International education and tourism also deliver vital export dollars.
“We need the international students, skilled workers, working holiday makers and new migrants to enter the country in much greater numbers to fill skills gaps, create jobs and restart important export industries, Morrison says.
Australia can stay safe and avoid “the economic pitfalls of being a hermit nation”.
“This is not a binary choice between community health and economic growth.” Quarantining arrangements can be upscaled in a COVID-safe way, he says.
“There is no reason we could not come up with the physical quarantining solutions, right funding methods – including some cost recovery – and staffing plan to make this happen.”
Without action, Australia’s economy faces a significant opportunity cost, Morrison warns. Analysis from The Guardian has ranked Australia 100th in the world for the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered for every hundred residents and 44th in total doses administered. “While other nations have been devastated by the coronavirus, they are completing their vaccine rollouts with remarkable speed.”
National Cabinet has tasked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee – the nation’s key decision-making committee for health emergencies – with advice on the implications of vaccines to international borders. “This is a very sensible step. But action will be needed too,” Morrison says.
“If health experts recommend borders should stay closed until the vaccine rollout is complete – or maybe beyond this point for travellers from many parts of the world – then we should set a course for growth and prosperity, not just wait and risk our recovery.
“In the case of an upscaled quarantine framework, if we build it, they will come – and they will bring their wallets too.”