Post-Easter from the Southern Hemisphere

By Brian Tyson

How things have shifted in the three-odd months since the last update from Newgate’s Melbourne office to our UK cousins. And yet they remain ever so similar.

Back in January, as the UK was in the midst of COVID lockdowns and a tough winter, we wrote of Australia’s relative benign position assisted by our Island status and a, mostly, joined up government approach to managing the issue which has meant we have all but zero community transmission cases across the country.

This remains the case today, despite minor hiccups, such as a recent three-day lockdown in Perth last week following a single case spread by a returnee from India.  Australia’s cities and towns are all effectively open as we go about daily life. Workers and employers are steadily reaching an accord on the balance between office work and continued remote flexibility, foot traffic has increased in on our ‘high streets’, and only very few density limitations remain on our nightlife culture. Mask requirements have also been removed for all but select circumstances, such as air travel or public transport in Victoria.

Life is very much back to normal. Australians are enjoying domestic holidays — to the point hotels are booked months in advance, and attending sport and arts events. Eighty thousand (80,000) attended last weekend’s traditional Anzac Day match between century old rivals Essendon and Collingwood in the AFL and the Australian production of Hamilton launched to a packed house a week earlier.

Ohhh, and the weather over Easter was spectacular. 28-30 degrees, bright sunshine, and long weekends full of beach visits, good wine, and cherished times with family and friends.

However, with the virus seemingly at bay, there is a growing sense that complacency is creeping in which has manifested itself in a lack of urgency and even antipathy to the need for everyone in country to get vaccinated – at least in a hurry.

We have looked at the situation in the UK and the US and the success of vaccine roll-outs there and hoped we could replicate that outcome for our own citizens but we are miles behind. Despite the promise of a seamless vaccination program, our timelines are constantly being pushed back, priority groups remain unvaccinated, and guaranteed supply has failed to arrive.  Add to that the concern around blood clots for our virus of choice – AstraZeneca – and we still have a long way to go.

The Government is hoping, that with no covid in the community this remains an issue but not a crisis. However, pressure is certainly starting to build on our leaders and the ‘what could be’, was brought into stark reality by the unfolding catastrophe in India. We clearly still have much more to do at both at home and abroad.

So while Covid and reporting of it remains a daily issue, Australians and, in particular the Government have been more focused on other issues.

For the past three months, the country has faced a reckoning over the treatment of women, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the standards on acceptable behaviour in the workplace. This moment was set off by an alleged rape of a parliamentary staffer in Canberra.  This issue alone dominated the political issues cycle for weeks, spurred on by a drip-feed of revelations and allegations, including some historic rape claims made against the Attorney General who was eventually moved to a new portfolio.

There have been marches and protests, and thousands have listened to a large number of women across Australian public life detailing their own experiences in the political and corporate culture.

The Government response was flat-footed and the issue dragged on and on until he was forced to change his ministerial line-up and commit to sweeping changes. The issue has now abated but in the absence of follow-through could readily emerge again.

Another major issue dominating headlines remains the ongoing diplomatic tensions with China which has doubled down on trade tariffs with big repercussions for our trade-exposed industries in the ag and resources sectors. 

In happier news, Australia and the UK are reportedly on the cusp of agreeing a free trade agreement. Our newly minted Trade Minister Dan Tehan was over in London last week — one of the lucky Australians able to travel — to sit down with Liz Truss. The two agreed to pick up the negotiating pace and ‘sprint’ towards a deal, which they hope will be announced by our PMs at the G7+ summit in June. That’s a hugely ambitious timeline, but here’s cheers to a new trade deal — even though we appreciate you’ve probably had enough of certain politicians and their [oven-ready] deals…

Until next time.