Friday, July 19, 2024
HomeOpinionEditorialThe time is ripe for change

The time is ripe for change

It’s World Environment Day as we head to press – and it feels significant to note this. People and businesses across Australia are also lifting their shutters in the hope that we have lived through the worst in our brush with Covid-19. The phrase on people’s lips and in the media is #BuildBackBetter. But do we have the will and the imagination to embrace what this might mean?

Can #BuildBackBetter be more than a snappy catchphrase used to cajole us to swap insurers, accept pay freezes (even as our politicians refuse to countenance this), or treat ourselves with extravagances “because now, more than ever, we’re worth it”?

Greenpeace says the people it’s surveyed say YES, it’s time to create an economy that’s resilient and equitable – one that helps us thrive while protecting our natural environment.

The United Nations is also urging us to turn Covid recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future. “With this restart, a window of hope and opportunity opens,” said UN Climate Chief, Patricia Espinosa, on April 22, “[a chance] for nations to green their recovery packages and shape the 21st-century economy in ways that are clean, green, healthy, safe and more resilient.”

The Greens, too, in their Invest to Recover report, say it’s time to build a better normal: “What this pandemic and the response to the economic crisis has shown is that the government is able to respond to any big problems we face, so long as they choose to put people before the private profit of their donors, so long as they listen to scientists and experts and we mobilise the resources of society for the common good.”

It is patently unwise to rush legislation and mining activity that hurt our nation in ways the coronavirus never could.

The Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic shock is exacerbating the challenges faced by Australians in our most disadvantaged families and communities. They’ll also be the ones who’ll find it the hardest to bounce back.

That’s why a key recommendation of the Australian Council of Social Service’s plan for Australia to “build back better” is for the nation to undertake an ambitious $7 billion program to build 30,000 social housing dwellings to create jobs and reduce homelessness. This initiative would make support for disadvantaged people and communities tangible – a critical part of how we get the country back on track.

With respect to the Waterloo redevelopment, a commitment to 50 per cent social housing would better reflect community needs.

To help ensure a just recovery, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT and its service arm, Uniting, have called on the federal government to use some of the $60 billion incorrectly forecast for JobKeeper to support temporary visa holders, including refugees and people seeking asylum.

Around 1.1 million temporary visa holders across the country are in precarious situations as Covid-19 unfolds with no access to JobKeeper or JobSeeker, limited access to Medicare, and visa insecurity.

“JobSeeker and JobKeeper were designed to help our community survive the significant economic and social impacts of Covid-19, said the Synod’s Moderator, the Rev. Simon Hansford. “Excluding temporary visa holders is false economy, which puts more pressure on charitable and other community services. It is unsustainable.

“I ask the government to give serious consideration to extending JobKeeper and JobSeeker to temporary visa holders so we can all live and work together, uniting our communities to face this challenge, and making everyone stronger as a result.”

Belated government support for the arts has been selective. During the lockdown art groups came into their own, offering many well-patronised programs online to alleviate isolation and promote mental wellbeing. A vibrant arts sector is crucial to building a better normal.

Can we rebuild, as Labor leader Anthony Albanese has said, in a way that recognises “we are not just an economy, we are a society”? Can we preserve the good the lockdown has taught us: that the wheels of industry can slow up, that time for being with people is important, that we can live with less stuff and less stress in our lives, and that this can be good?

Shaping a new normal as we recover won’t be easy – of course we know this. Especially if we want to redistribute wealth, rewire our economy, and fast track our transition to renewable energy. And if we decide it’s time to move away from a market economy and greedy profit margins, towards maintaining our own assets and industries.

“The new world order is rearranging itself on the planet and settling in,” writes poet Sabrina Orah Mark. “Our touchstone is changing colour. Our criteria for earning a life, a living, are mutating like a virus that wants badly to stay alive.”

The time is ripe for change – but will we grasp it?

Are we ready to build a better world where we really want to live and no one is left behind?

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