‘Recovery’ reveals path out of pandemic

Posted on 23 Aug 2021

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Our Community

Policymaker, public servant, and author Andrew Wear is sick of problems and is hell-bent on finding solutions to Australia’s trickiest issues. In a stirring talk at the Communities in Control conference in May 2021, he said the country was well placed to adopt some of the globe’s best innovations when it comes to inequality, climate change and education.

Now in his new book, Recovery: How we can create a better, brighter future after a crisis, he challenges us all to learn from past shocks such as the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression and World War II and draws on interviews with experts, policymakers and community leaders to highlight proven solutions we can and should use to “build back better” in response to the health and economic crisis triggered by covid-19.

What follows is an extract from his book, from the chapter ‘A Roadmap to Recovery’.

A role for all of us

The success of our recovery will depend on the choices we make. Many of these decisions will need to be made by governments. If you’re a decision­maker with a state or national government, I hope you find the suggestions in this book useful, and that you’re able to shape the direction of recovery using the principles underlying them. If you’re in a country where trust in government has increased during the pandemic, I wish you all the best maintaining it through the recovery period. If trust in government has taken a hit in your country, competent and inclusive government leadership during the recovery is just the response needed.

If you work for a local government, you have an important leadership role in your community. By listening to the voices of stakeholders and citizens, you are well placed to assemble the services and resources the recovery needs. The challenge is to partner well with others, including with other levels of government.

But recovery is too important to be left to government alone. We all have a role to play and something to contribute. The best recoveries will be those that we collectively shape, own and drive. Remember what we have learnt during the pandemic – we’re all connected, with what each of us does impacting on the lives of others. We’ve been through a traumatic experience together and are still a bit shaky. Many of us have lost loved ones or jobs, or are still recovering from the virus. Keep an eye on each other’s mental health, and be kind – a significant number of us are struggling. If you’re an artist, we need you more than ever, to give joy, to help us process what we’ve just experienced and to bring us together.

We all have a role in influencing government decision-making too. It might not seem like it, but governments do respond to shifting public sentiment. So if government invites participation through community consultation, participate – complete the survey, write a submission, join the workshop. Write to your member of parliament and tell them that withdrawing stimulus too early would be a mistake. Join an environment group and work together to make the case that stimulus should support decarbonisation. Hop on your child’s school council or parent–teacher association and advocate for additional investment in education. Working with others who share similar views is a remarkably effective way to have your voice heard. Above all, vote. Every vote has the potential to change the government, and the direction of the country.

Many businesses are still struggling, while others are adapting to new business models. Some small-businessowners have lost everything, some are hanging in there. Still other businesses are booming and new ones forming, possibly in areas not even contemplated before the pandemic. If you’re running a business, I wish you all the best. A strong economy and our prosperity depends on your success in growing and employing more people. If your business is doing well, explore how you can contribute, shaping the recovery. Share what you’ve learnt. Play a role in industrywide initiatives. Participate in discussions about the future of your city.

All of us have something to contribute to recovery. The best recoveries draw on a large range of voices. If you work for a non­government organisation, you play an important role delivering services or connecting with the community. If you’re an academic, your research can help inform the debate about future directions. If you work, you can help your organisation to figure out how it will adjust to the new, post-COVID world. If you’re a human being, you matter. What you do influences those around you; the perspectives you bring sway others you interact with. So – very soon – it will be time to try something new, throw off the shackles of the pandemic, celebrate. As it was after the Spanish flu, recovery will be as much a social movement as a government policy. We will make it through and it will be time to dance.

The stories in this book demonstrate that crises do not have to leave a long-term legacy. We can recover. Countries and cities rebuilding from devastation have gone on to create prosperous, exciting futures. The people living in New York or Aceh or South Korea now enjoy a quality of life that far exceeds that pre­crisis. In many cases, countries which experienced a shattering crisis have not merely recovered, but have gone on to lead the world. This should provide us with the confidence that we too can recover and thrive.

History is also strewn with examples of places that failed to recover. They withdrew economic stimulus too early, or held too tightly to their pre-crisis worldview. Embarking on what – for most of us – will be the biggest recovery process of our lifetimes, it’s important that we approach it in a considered fashion, learning the lessons of the past.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest crisis in a generation, our recovery also represents an enormous opportunity. It has the potential to spark us to renewed prosperity, advance us on a path to net-zero carbon emissions, reduce inequality and strengthen our democracies. Examples from history show that with the right choices, we will go on to create a better, brighter future.

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