Kate Thwaites and Andrew Giles
Thursday, 4 June 2020

The Day After

This crisis has radically changed our lives. How we work, whether we work, how we get around, how we socialise – all of the foundations of our day-to-day existence have been knocked over in the wake of the pandemic.

So, what comes next? 

Is it enough, as the Prime Minister would have us believe, to aim to ‘SnapBack’ to the day before lockdown restrictions started to confine us?

Do we return to politics as usual?

We don’t think so. Australians can do better than that.

We have an opportunity to reflect on what we have learned from this experience – as individuals, family members, neighbours, colleagues and Australians, and to have a national conversation that ensures this is not forgotten.

There’s nothing magical about how things were. In fact, for more than a decade now, Australia has struggled to address some of the biggest issues we face.  

Crises expose cracks in systems, but they also show that systems can change.

Inequality, already at unacceptable levels, has been amplified by this crisis. Those at the top of the income scale are the ones who can most easily work from home, and of course they do so from comfortable, well appointed houses.

Lower paid workers are still out every day, stacking supermarket shelves, cleaning, providing support to people with disability, or in aged care homes.

Yet during this crisis, our country finally recognised that the income support for those unable to find work was woefully inadequate. Of course, this shouldn’t have taken a crisis to be changed, but that the Morrison government was persuaded to do so, and to put in place a wage subsidy scheme is significant, and shouldn’t be given up easily.

Climate change continues to be the existential threat that we have left in the too hard basket. But in this crisis, we have shown that we can listen to the experts, and act on their advice, leaving room for us to do likewise when it comes to transforming to a clean energy economy.

For years now, politics in Australia has struggled because of a lack of trust. Survey after survey has shown Australians don’t trust their elected representatives, nor their democratic institutions. They think we’re mostly in it for ourselves and don’t relate to decisions that are allegedly made on their behalf. They greet each new announcement with weary skepticism, certain it will deliver more of the same.

As politicians, we, like others, have probably been scared of changing the way we do things, even as we know they haven’t been working.

If this crisis teaches us anything it’s how much change we can achieve if we all work together. Recent opinion polling, from Essential Research, shows a change in attitudes to government, and politics. People are more hopeful now than they have been in years.

As we’ve emerged from the fear of the initial days of this pandemic, we’ve heard from the usual suspects (including in the Government) about their priorities for Australia post-crisis. To SnapBack through austerity, deregulation and lower corporate taxation – for some, there’s no problem these tired ideas can’t solve.

But the truth is no one group has the ‘right’ answer. And the right to be part of the conversation is one everyone should hold.

Our uncertain circumstances provide the chance to make this a national conversation about what’s next. 

In France, a group of politicians have launched ‘Le Jour Apres,’ or ‘The Day After’, a call for the community to contribute to the vision of what comes after the pandemic.

They canvas some really big ideas, including a future health system, the world of work, constructing a society that works for young people, a more open democracy and a less wasteful society.

People can engage via an online platform providing consultations and workshops, before the ideas are turned into proposals and eventually the most supported to be turned into action. 

It’s not the only way to have a conversation about what comes next. But it does demonstrate a willingness to try new approaches and to be open to a genuine conversation that up until now, has sadly been absent in Australian politics.

This is our time to reach out beyond the familiar. To recognise and respect the hunger for information, and for genuine involvement in shaping what comes next that we’ve seen from people in our communities throughout the pandemic.

Australians should be encouraged to keep up this engagement, and to see their experiences – and their hopes – reflected directly in how we approach rebuilding our economy, and our society.

We can’t afford to SnapBack to politics as usual.

Every Australian deserves their say in our tomorrow, and for their experiences of the crisis, and their hopes for the future, to be heard.

We’re up for this challenge and for a different conversation.