Can’t Afford To Let Complacency Cruel the Recovery - Again

24 January 2022

First published in The Australian Financial Review

The worst consumer confidence since 1992 and the supply chain crisis amid the shortage of RATs shows that mismanaging the pandemic is mismanaging the economy.




The worst consumer confidence since 1992 and the supply chain crisis amid the shortage of RATs shows that mismanaging the pandemic is mismanaging the economy.

Australians were led to believe that 2022 would be better than 2021 but last week’s consumer confidence figures told a very different and very concerning story.

The worst January data since 1992 is the most recent and most obvious consequence of a government which took credit for a recovery without taking responsibility to actually secure it. 

It’s another reminder that we can’t have a healthy economy, or a healthy recovery, without healthy people to power it – and that mismanaging the pandemic response is mismanaging the economy.

That’s why providing free rapid antigen tests is not only good health and social policy, but good economic policy too. And why Medicare needs to be strengthened, not undermined.

The Finance Minister of all people should understand this, but instead he describes Labor’s policy of rapid tests provided through Medicare as “the worst thing you could do”.

No, the worst thing you could do is let the virus rip without taking the necessary steps to manage it.

The Morrison Government’s failure to do its job and supply enough rapid antigen tests is inseparable from the disaster we are observing in supermarkets around the country. 

A shortage of tests has meant a shortage of workers, and a shortage of workers means a shortage of fresh food and other essentials.

This is despite multiple warnings since September last year from across the community, from health professionals like the Australian Medical Association, from aged care providers, from truck drivers and others. 

The Productivity Commission warned the government in July 2021 to secure the most vulnerable and sensitive supply chains in our economy.

That advice was ignored and now we don’t have enough workers to keep the wheels of the economy turning.

Australians are prepared to do their jobs, but they need a Prime Minister and a Treasurer prepared to do theirs.

This is not the first time the economic recovery has been cruelled or compromised by the Morrison Government’s complacency. 

There are at least four other occasions.

In the October 2020 Budget, Treasurer Frydenberg claimed we had entered the “recovery phase”. But Victorians, still several months from the end of their first lockdown, were forced to battle with the Morrison government for every cent of economic support they needed.

Then, in December 2020, Frydenberg kept reassuring us all that the recovery was “underway”, but the diabolically inadequate COVID Safe app, which still cost Australians’ millions of dollars, could not trace and track the outbreaks that Christmas.    

Not even the outbreak in Sydney’s northern beaches confining people to their homes over Christmas made the Morrison government heed warnings for purpose-built quarantine and to accelerate Australia’s vaccine rollout.

By March 2021, the Government was withdrawing JobKeeper well before the end of the crisis and despite falling over 3 million doses short of their vaccine targets.  In the following month, according to Treasury, around 56,000 Australians lost jobs as a consequence.  

But this didn’t stop the Treasurer from promising Australians at Budget time, in May 2021, that the economy was “well on the road to recovery”, right before around 60 per cent of the nation was plunged back into lockdown for months, because the government had still failed to listen to warnings about vaccines and purpose-built quarantine. 

Almost 360,000 people lost their jobs at the height of the Delta wave and the economy bled billions of dollars a week in lost activity. 

These fiascos caused the third biggest economic downturn on record, in the September quarter, one of the worst results in the developed world. 

But there he was again as part of his Mid-Year Budget Update in December last year boasting that the economy was “primed for lift-off” and that Omicron was not going to “stop the momentum”. 

Instead, again, it has been held hostage to Morrison and Frydenberg’s failures, this time on rapid antigen tests.

Now we have the highest case numbers on record; empty supermarket shelves; confidence and spending plummeting; hundreds of thousands of Australians sick; even more isolating and at risk. 

How many times is Josh Frydenberg going to get it so wrong before he gets it right?

How many more false dawns and missteps and premature victory laps?  

We want and expect a strong economic recovery.  

But that recovery would be stronger had it not been held back by so many of the mistakes made managing this pandemic. And stronger with a government which takes responsibility for securing the recovery and not just credit for forecasting it.

This opinion piece was published in The Australian Financial Review on Monday, 24 January 2022