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Deakin’s vision can galvanise our nation

Opinion Piece

Date : 05 July 2020

In 1898, in championing the cause of Federation a great Victorian and soon to be three-time Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, said “it will be a union that will endure” providing “perpetual security for the peace, freedom and progress of the people of Australia.”

He knew then, as we know now, that regardless of what state we are from, we are first and foremost Australians.

What unites us as is far greater than what divides us.

We may be passionate about our state but we care far more for country.

As Victoria battles a recent spike in COVID-19 cases, this is a sentiment worth remembering.

With the Victorian-New South Wales border closed for the first time in one hundred years and Victorians locked out of other states and territories, we are seeing for the first time in living memory the isolation of one state from the nation as a whole.

While one understands the health reasons for the precautions being taken, we must maintain a sense of perspective and acknowledge that we are all in this together.

In the last week, the United States had 340,000 new COVID-19 cases, the United Kingdom 2,700, while in Australia, we have around 800, over 90 per cent of which have been in Victoria.

America’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at more than 130,000, the United Kingdom more than 40,000 while Australia has tragically lost 106 people.

There has clearly been mistakes made in Victoria, including in hotel quarantine, now subject to a judicial inquiry, but from here on the focus must be on learning from these mistakes, not repeating them, and directing more resources at the challenge.

Already the Commonwealth and other states are providing further support. This is how it should be.

The Morrison Government has already deployed more than 220 ADF personnel in Victoria, assisting with medical tasks, planning and logistics and we have more than 800 Commonwealth staff on the ground in Victoria assisting with community engagement and testing, at fixed sites, and other tasks.

The Commonwealth has funded 28 GP respiratory clinics that have assessed over 65,000 people and provided more than 57,000 tests in Victoria, we have expanded Medicare subsidised telehealth services supporting more than two million patients in Victoria and we have provided additional support to the Victorian public and private health system for Covid-19 related services.

This is on top of the Morrison Government’s economic support initiatives including the JobKeeper program and the cash flow boost for small businesses which together have provided more than $10 billion to Victorian workers and businesses in the last three months.

In the words of Premier Andrews, “whenever I needed anything from the Prime Minister the answer is yes.”

New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania are also providing assistance.

This level of cooperation is in the spirit of what we saw earlier this year during the bushfires where firefighters, emergency service and defence force personnel crisscrossed the country to lend a helping hand.

The Victorian response which involves upping the rate of testing and tracing and restricting movement where outbreaks have occurred is, according to the Acting Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, “precisely the approach we have been taking at the national level” and “we all know, it works.”

While Australia has had success in flattening the curve this latest outbreak is not unexpected.

Again, Kelly said, “Covid-19 needs only the slightest encouragement to take off and can rapidly get out of control.”

This reinforces the need to get on top of it quickly. 

The coming days and weeks will be critical and if, as we hope, Victoria can contain the outbreak, it will be not just Victoria’s success, but Australia’s success.

The speed and trajectory of our national economic recovery depends on it.

Prior to the outbreak in Victoria, we were starting to see positive signs across the economy.

Consumer confidence recovered 90 per cent from its fall and business confidence recovered 70 per cent; retail trade in the month of May increased 16.9 per cent; manufacturing activity rose by 9.9 per cent to be back around pre-COVID levels; job ads increased in June by 42 per cent; and ABS weekly payroll data between mid-April and mid-June showed jobs and wages were up.

At the same time, the IMF and the OECD upgraded Australia’s economic forecasts and the leading credit rating agencies reaffirmed our AAA rating.

But these bouts of good news have now been interrupted by developments in Victoria.

Consumer confidence has fallen in the last two weekly surveys, and we know the recovery is very much a confidence game.

With Victoria comprising around a quarter of the national economy, what happens in Victoria matters and this is why getting the outbreak under control is crucial.

Recently I made a statement to the Parliament outlining the risks and costs to the economy of a further lockdown.

I told the House in May that should restrictions return, then it could, according to Treasury, cost the national economy $4 billion a week, and Victoria around $1 billion a week.

This is what is at stake.

Australia’s progress on both the health and economic fronts during COVID-19 has been recognised and praised around the world, but we are now at a critical point facing a real test.

By working together, we as a nation will rise to this challenge and live up to the vision of Alfred Deakin more than 120 years ago that our union will not only endure but prosper.

Josh Frydenberg is the Federal Treasurer

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