30 March 2020
Senator Rex Patrick has called on the Federal Government to commence work on a recovery and nation-building program to roll out after the coronavirus pandemic ends.
"The Morrison Government has done a lot on the economic side to “build a bridge” for our businesses and workers. The Prime Minister says his bridge will get people to what he calls “the other side”. But what if “the other side” is a cratered ruin?" Senator Patrick wrote for InDaily.
"We already have hundreds of thousands of people out of work and we will have hundreds of thousands of more jobs gone in the weeks and months to come. Many businesses will simply not re-open – that’s the reality of what we are facing."
"We need to have a nation-wide recovery and building program ready to roll out."
Senator Patrick said the Government should look to previous war-time recovery efforts.
"While World War II ended in August 1945, the Australian Government’s post-war planning began more than three years earlier. Prime Minister John Curtin, Treasurer Ben Chifley and Attorney-General Bert Evatt recognised that they had to start planning post-war reconstruction long before the war came to an end."
The Federal Department of Post War Reconstruction was established in December 1942 – at a time when US and Australian forces were still in the early stages of pushing back Japanese forces in the Pacific. That Department helped create jobs for tens of thousands of returned servicemen after the war and was instrumental in advancing great national projects such as the Snowy Hydro scheme.
"We are still in the early stages of a great health battle – nothing less than the medical equivalent of a major war. However, we have to be planning for the other side of the coronavirus crisis now," Senator Patrick said.
"That plan will need to lay out how we return people into useful employment until many small to medium businesses get back on their feet, and new businesses emerge. That plan will need to be mindful of the lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis: the risks of deep global interconnectedness, and the consequent need to drop our free market obsessions in place of policies that ensure greater national self-reliance moving forward."
"The Government's announcement of the COVID-19 Coordination Commission to advise on actions to anticipate and mitigate the economic and social effects of the coronavirus pandemic is a modest step forward but much more ambition and commitment is required to meet the challenges of reconstruction."
Similar to 1942, when Australia established a Department of Post-War Reconstruction, in 2020 we need to start working to establish something like a Department of Post-Pandemic Planning and Reconstruction.
"We have a huge nation-building task ahead of us, and we can’t start work on that too soon if we are to manage the transition from this health crisis to a prosperous future."
Senator Patrick's op-ed piece for the InDaily is available here.