Five pandemic lessons (or why we don’t need any more baristas)

Ian Bushnell 7 September 2020 20
COVID-19

The virus is posing lots of questions. Photo: File.

It’s been a strange but instructive six or so months since COVID-19 disrupted our lives, some more so than others.

It’s either a black cosmic joke or there are a few lessons we can take out of the experience.

Here are just five that I hope will resonate:

1. Don’t mess with nature.

Hey, it wasn’t our fault. It’s the China virus after all, and didn’t it originate in a wildlife market with live bats?

Yeah, but scientists have been warning us for years about zoonotic diseases and Australia has had its fair share with the likes of Hendra virus, Australian bat lyssavirus, Brucellosis and Q fever.

We’re not immune from creating environments where these bugs can cross over to humans, or persisting with industrial farming practices that compromise animal health and leave us exposed to god knows what.

The United Nations Environment Programme and the International Livestock Research Institute say they are driven by assaults on the natural environment – for example through land degradation, wildlife exploitation, resource extraction and climate change – which alter the way animals and humans interact.

COVID-19 is just another warning, if we really need it, that we need to clean up our act.

2. It’s always good to have a Plan B.

When Scotty from marketing told us we’d be back in the black and even ordered some coffee mugs to mark the occasion there were more than a few Cassandras who warned us not to be so sure.

A bushfire or two later, and then COVID-19, and it’s going to be a while before we are anywhere near the black again. Not only that but sectors of the economy we had taken for granted are no longer functioning – that’s hospitality, entertainment and tourism – and supply chains for some basics and medical equipment are disrupted.

It’s alerted us to the ephemeral nature of those sectors, to what we no longer make in this country and how dependent we are on other places, particularly one that isn’t exactly too friendly at the moment. So let’s not assume that what is will always be.

3. We have enough baristas.

We thought the economy could get by on digging holes, building apartments and making coffee for visitors, fed by global travel and the easy sugar hit of migration.

The pandemic has reminded us that real skills that lead to actually making stuff for ourselves might be better than the caffeine economy. We’d been led to believe that manufacturing was so last century and something we could leave to others.

Maybe the geniuses doing risk analysis can come up with a retooled economy that creates real and smart jobs, and doesn’t leave us at the mercy of the world.

Canberra is the ideal place to refocus on education and the new-tech needed for the new clean economy.

4. Flexible for whom?

During a pandemic, having millions of workers in insecure and low-paid jobs without sick leave has not been a clever country thing to do.

It’s been great while it lasted for employers running dubious business models but this sort of structural weakness is bad long term for the economy as well as society, especially if things have to stop for a while when a strange virus decides to take a tour of the country.

5. Put care above profit.

We knew for-profit aged care was on the nose before the pandemic, but the ongoing roll call of folk being called up yonder has laid bare the awfulness of the system.

Poorly paid, casualised labour that works multiple shifts at multiple sites has spread the virus and exacerbated the death rates in aged care. Even before COVID-19, this has been going on with flu and gastro.

It’s time to rethink the model, reregulate (with teeth) and put our golden oldies first, instead of their golden nest eggs.

And just where did all those billions of dollars of federal funding for the aged-care industry go?

It’s time our caring professions were properly valued and remunerated.


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20 Responses to Five pandemic lessons (or why we don’t need any more baristas)
Jay Annabel Jay Annabel 8:49 pm 08 Sep 20

If 'baristas' are meant to be the symbolic fallguy for the entire services sector, just stop and think where we'd be right now if not for cleaners. Your point is FAR too simplistic.

Susan Nicholls Susan Nicholls 9:42 pm 07 Sep 20

Spot on.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:14 pm 07 Sep 20

The thread running through all of that is Australia’s “have your cake and eat it, too” approach to globalisation under which all the major political parties (including the Greens) and the interests which pull their strings, pretend that we can have the good bits of globalisation without any of the bad bits.

Pam Perkins Pam Perkins 9:24 am 07 Sep 20

I agree with everything you said

Neil Lade Neil Lade 9:13 am 07 Sep 20

Well said, Ian.

Liz Bruce Liz Bruce 7:44 am 07 Sep 20

Great article.

Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 7:27 am 07 Sep 20

1. Don’t mess with nature. Too true! My father served in Borneo in WW2, in their briefings they were told to watch out for signs of diseases such as the Bubonic Plague. Apparently those diseases were there but were contained. No longer.

Dianna Nixon Dianna Nixon 7:24 am 07 Sep 20

Abso-bloomin-lutely. We can never go back. Let's do things differently. And this region could lead the way in regen ag, in renewable energy, in content creation for TV, film , streaming........ let's do this.

Acton Acton 7:20 am 07 Sep 20

A greater lesson is how fragile our democracy and how vulnerable our civil rights are. A year ago nobody would have believed that in 2020 Australia the government would be closing borders, limiting family gatherings, fining people for travelling out of designated zones, cancelling sports, closing schools and causing a recession that puts hundreds of thousands out of work. We have become such a docile nation with a complicit media that we even fail to express any outrage when the police enter a home to arrest a pregnant woman trying to organise a peaceful protest against these draconian if not fascist measures.

    astro2 astro2 8:41 am 07 Sep 20

    Two problems with your argument. Firstly, fear not! democracy is not at risk as the majority of people support government initiatives to protect our health and, in some cases, our lives. Secondly, pregnant women do not get an exemption from breaking the law just because they are pregnant. The law applies to all of us.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:32 am 07 Sep 20

    Indeed a pregnant woman was arrested in Melbourne at her home before a demonstration she was planning on Facebook started yet earlier, hundreds of people participating in a BLM protest were not.

    Please explain this in light of your claim that the law applies to all of us.

    theroundone theroundone 9:48 am 07 Sep 20

    You know that the minion types that are bribed to do nothing in the city will always defend the status quo.

    They are completely and totally stratified from the rest of society.

    Those afflicted with moral narcissism will brook no logical argument levelled against them, and will continue to justify their so called “Noble Cause” Corruption.

    astro2 astro2 10:01 am 07 Sep 20

    Actually, that’s not correct. At the time of the BLM protest Melbourne was not at Stage 4 lockdowns – it wasn’t illegal. So, yes, the law app;lies to all of us.
    Also, it is still not clear why the fact that she is pregnant had anything to do with it. Why should it?

    chewy14 chewy14 11:03 am 07 Sep 20

    Astro,
    Whilst you’re correct that Victoria wasn’t in Stage 4 lockdown in June, those BLM protesters were very much breaking the law at the time.

    It was illegal, yet only 3 people were given fines for breaching the law at the time.

    However I’m also a bit annoyed at the apparent highlight of this woman’s pregnancy status as if it means anything. Being pregnant isn’t a licence to commit crimes with impunity, the police did their job.

    astro2 astro2 11:29 am 07 Sep 20

    Depends on how many people and how distant they were from each other as to the legality. So it wasn’t an absolute in terms of legality (which it was at the protest last Saturday). The 3 people fined were fined for beaching the law. Those that didn’t breach the law, didn’t get fined. Although I agree that having a demo in those circumstances wasn’t a good look.

    chewy14 chewy14 1:57 pm 07 Sep 20

    Astro,
    The BLM protests were illegal, there’s no ifs or buts about it. There was a 20 person limit on outdoor gatherings at the time with other social distancing requirements and about 10000 odd turned up.

    Acton Acton 1:34 pm 07 Sep 20

    chewy14 – pregnant (or non-pregnant) women attempting to organise a peaceful protest against the imposition of totalitarian state rules should not be treated as potential terrorists, as this woman was. Those, like yourself, who see no harm in this show they are unprepared to stand up for the civil liberties our ancestors over generations struggled, fought and died for. Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

    chewy14 chewy14 2:01 pm 07 Sep 20

    Acton,
    She wasn’t treated like a potential terrorist, She was treated like someone who was breaking the law. Which she was. What you seem to be saying is that she should have been given special treatment which I find ridiculous.

    Whether you agree with those laws or not is another matter entirely, you are free to argue against them, but the application of the law should be fairly and equally applied.

    In this case, it was.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:16 am 07 Sep 20

    You were the one that said “pregnant women do not get an exemption”. The media decided it was newsworthy.

    TimboinOz TimboinOz 8:58 am 11 Sep 20

    Nope, nope, nope and nope! The restrictions have saved us from far worse. The Virus and there being too many of us humans on the planet are the problems. Plus? People whose thinking is warped, like you, have made the problem worse. Social distancing is vital.

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