Australia is now emerging from the COVID-19 crisis. But will it come out stronger, or weaker?
After a rough couple of months, it seems that Australia’s recovery is well underway. Westpac reported that consumer sentiment increased 16.4 per cent to the still-soft pre-crisis level of 88.1 per cent. NAB’s monthly business survey saw confidence rebound slightly, while Treasury has revised its unemployment estimates to 8 per cent from 10 per cent. Historic share market gains appear to have erased the worst of the losses through March.
Australia’s survival – and subsequent recovery – is a remarkable story in a world where headlines are still dominated by doom and gloom from relatively advanced countries like America, where mass protests continue unabated, and Sweden, which is counting the human cost of its controversial “herd immunity” approach.
But as hopes brighten for a recovery that might be closer to the fabled “V” rather than the forecast “U” or much-feared “W”, the Morrison government has taken the opportunity to fine-tune its crisis spending and stimulus packages in the hopes that they might still be able to go to the next election as the party of fiscal responsibility.
The childcare sector will be left more or less up the creek, while the government’s HomeBuilder package will probably be better for people with houses in Sydney’s most exclusive suburbs than the people who will work in them. That HomeBuilder is the only example of outright pork barrelling that has come from the government’s stimulus packages (bar one-off payments to pensioners that wound up being saved, not spent) should be seen as a minor miracle. And while Mathias Cormann has told the Senate that there are no plans to cut JobKeeper short for anybody else, the Morrison government has already demonstrated that its love for everyday Australians is conditional.
But even if that stimulus gambit pays off, the next stage of the recovery will still be the most critical. The JobMaker program could define Australia’s growth trajectory for decades to come, even as it deals with an increasingly belligerent China that has already demonstrated it’s willing to play hard ball with Australia’s exports over relatively innocuous political pointscoring.
The recovery is well underway, and Australia looks to be coming out of the crisis with a more focused and innovative economy than it went in with. Whether it will be able to make its mark on the brave new world we find ourselves in remains to be seen.