For many voters, bounce-back feels enough like recovery to brush aside the worries of business. Consumer confidence is high as Australians enjoy the savings they amassed during the height of the pandemic in 2020. House prices are high, interest rates are low and rents are manageable because immigration has ground to a halt.
So there seems little incentive for politics, in following voters, to open up again and prioritise the reforms that business is clamouring for. The Prime Minister released a “pathway” to reopening on Friday, but no dates. The first step on the pathway is a reduction in the number of people allowed to travel in or out of the country. Meanwhile, we are frittering away the advantages we have now.
I spoke to the CEDA panelists this week. CEDA boss Melinda Cilento believes our closed borders are costing Australia its relevance to the world: “The economics of geography still matter. Australians are considered early adopters of technology, but that is in part because we have been used as a test market for innovations to be marketed around the world.” While travel is near impossible, our value as a stepping stone to Asia is reduced to nil.
Pradeep Philip also points out that, without the ability to import specialist skills, we will no longer be moving up the value chain. “We have the ability now to manufacture the Astra Zeneca vaccine, but we don’t have the know-how needed to make the innovative mRNA Pfizer jab.”
Moreover, company director Diane Smith-Gander points out that we are not operating in a vacuum. “Even if citizens can’t cross the borders, goods still do.” That is, if businesses in other countries benefit from
more conducive conditions, Australian businesses will be out-competed and their employees will bear the consequences..
Ultimately, my cab driver will pay for the disconnect between business and politics, even though he doesn’t get a seat at the table. Let’s hope bitcoin turns out to be a lucrative investment.