Strengthening resilience is key to post-pandemic recovery

Will Australians learn the key lessons from the pandemic that we have to assume more responsibility for ourselves as individuals, communities and as a nation?

“She’ll be right” and “the government can fix it” as a national attitude simply won’t cut in the world ahead of us.

The pandemic and our response so far while having its fair share of positives also has highlighted a number of fragilities about Australia that we should and can address because we have the means to do so.

My “View from the Paddock” piece in this week’s Queensland Country Life argues for a more collaborative ‘all hands on deck don’t leave it to someone else’ approach to the post pandemic recovery – starting with strengthening key elements of our resilience as a country, economy and society.

See the article by clicking on the hyperlink above or read it as it was drafted below.

The Australian experience of COVID demonstrates the benefits of 90 per cent of eligible people being vaccinated.

As a nation we’ve been at our best when we’ve pulled together.

But when political and sectional interests have taken the crisis hostage, the pandemic has also shown us at our worst, raising questions about our national resilience.

It was a panic about toilet paper that first pointed to an underlying fragility in our community cohesion – later compounded by divisive and isolating state border blockades.

Overnight we were made ‘dual-citizens’, not of a nation, but of a federation of competing sometimes hostile states.

Then there were the lockdowns that, while saving lives, also masked substantial vulnerabilities in essential public services.

Delays and shortages in imports of medical supplies and other advanced manufactures graphically shot home the limited self-sufficiency of our island economy.

Noisy fringe opposition to immunisation and social-distancing flouted at science and expertise but populist politicians elevated it into broader grass-roots disaffection with the major parties.

And through it all an understandable anxiety and fear of life being turned on its head showed quietly in the mental health of so many.

Two years later with supply chains in disarray, the workforce decimated by Omicron, and shortages everywhere, it seems our governments are not learning quickly enough how to be more agile, adaptive, and anticipating of consequential impacts.

That is concerning because as the World Economic Forum just reported, infectious disease stands alongside cybersecurity, climate change, geopolitical conflict, artificial intelligence, and space competition as likely sources of further near term disruption.

So short of constitutional reform what more should we be doing? Let’s start by not trying to solve complex problems in isolation but look for triple bottom line outcomes.

Trust in our public institutions is essential for national resilience.

For trust to be restored we need less partisanship and paternalism and greater transparency from governments about what can and cannot be done.

The National Cabinet is a good start, but it will fail if politics alone shapes its vision and work.

Closer to the ground much greater emphasis has to be given to policies that encourage collaboration and private sector investment and capacity building in vital enabling infrastructure and technology.

And lastly, as communities we should also focus more on what we ourselves can do for ourselves without first looking to government.

These are the essential values of resilience and they need stronger expression in our politics, economy, and community.

Author: Professor John Cole OAM

Emeritus Professor and founder of the Institute for Resilient Regions at the University of Southern Queensland and Honorary Professor, UQ Business School, The University of Queensland.

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