An Australian lesson in how to respond to a crisis

By Jamie Williams

Australia has confirmed that it was come out of its first recession in three decades. The latest figures released today show that the economy grew by 3.3 percent in the third quarter – far higher than expected. Staggeringly, data also shows that the recovery represents Australia’s largest quarterly increase in GDP since 1976. The news comes as no one in Australia is on a ventilator or in intensive care because of the virus.

It is no surprise that polling data indicates positivity amongst the population. Newgate Research’s Issues Tracker found that over one in four now say things will get better in a month (up from 22 percent the week before). In addition, 49 percent say it will get better in three months – up significantly from 42 percent.

The economic recovery reflects the success of the Australian Government in its efforts to suppress COIVD-19. The country’s achievement early on has meant that restrictions have been largely relaxed – except for two regions. The result? An explosion in household spending across the country as bars and shops open their doors with limited restrictions. Overall, there has been a 7.9 percent jump in spending on goods and services in the third quarter.

Unlike many European countries who, in the second phases of the pandemic, have seen heightened tensions between the public and Government, Australians have remained largely supportive of any regional restrictive measures. No surprise given that the success of previous restrictions to “nip the virus in the bud” quickly and effectively. Newgate’s Issues Tracker found that the vast majority (73%) agree that the restrictions are fair and reasonable. Common agreement certainly has not been a feature of British politics – with eruptions of anger to local lockdowns.

As in any national crisis, Government communication is central. There has been widespread condemnation of the UK Government, particularly in its lack of clarity and consistency with its virus messaging. The backlash to the new message back in the summer with ‘stay alert’ and ‘control the virus’ was one to remember. Such phases were laughed upon for being confusing and vague.  Confusion was also apparent over the rules and instructions over which groups should shield and how, or the size of groups or support bubbles, curfews and allowed or forbidden activities, and of course mask-wearing. We witness UK ministers unable to explain the rules accurately in media interviews. 

However, in Australia it appears that the communications approach has had the opposite effect with 72 percent of people believing that the Government has clearly communicated the actions people must take. Remarkably, the Australian Government have managed to maintain an appearance of communicating effectively since March – consistency polling above 70 percent of people believing the Government has “clearly communicated the things people need to do.” That is consistency alright.

On the home front all seems well, whilst internationally issues are arising. Perhaps the growing diplomatic tensions with the Chinese will see economic fortunes turn for the worst. With the risk of a trade war with their number one trading partner, nothing can be certain.