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Letter from... Sydney

15 July 2020

By Declan Drake, Engage Consultant, Newgate Sydney

Well, would you like to hear the good news first or the bad? The midst of winter has hit and has been accompanied by what seems to be a deep recession, a resurgence of the virus in some areas and fracturing regional geopolitical relationships. It is not all doom and gloom, however, in the Great Southern Land! Several states and territories have recorded zero community transmission in months, the footy is back, some normality is creeping back into our lives and we will be hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023!

While our great moat has helped us stem the spread of the virus, there is very little that could have helped us escape the economic downturn the world faces. Australia, like much of the world, has entered a recession for the first time in a generation. The extent of the recession is yet to be realised with the city of Melbourne having gone into shutdown again as the virus re-emerged following a bungle around security for returned passengers in quarantine. The shutdown will disrupt the economic recovery we were beginning to see and so desperately need. But we are not a bunch that will be down for long. We will explore a number of ways to climb out of the economic hole we have entered, perhaps a free trade agreement with the mother country!

While aspects of pre-COVID life start to resume, and the cogs of the economy begin to grind again, the 6-week shut down in Victoria, continued border closures and localised outbreaks in Sydney give doubt to a fast-tracked economic recovery.

The generous stimulus package supporting businesses that have faced downturns, individuals out of work and the unemployed is fast approaching its’ September use-by date. There is some nervousness as it grows near with continued border closures, restrictions on businesses and a reimposed hard shut down on Victoria impacting the rebound we sought. We are anticipating an announcement regarding the future of the stimulus with many businesses hanging their futures on an extension. 

Just as we receive news that the border with our compatriots to the north is set to open, we have made the one in a hundred-year decision to close ours to our Victorian friends in the south. Melbourne, the world’s second most liveable city has returned to a six-week hard lockdown following a short taste of freedom and some semblance of normality. Our most popular Prime Minister in 10 years, declared now is a time for unity. Ich bin ein Victorians. 

The usually calm waters surrounding Australia have become a bit choppier with some tension in geopolitical relationships. Australia has been quick to recognise that the post-COVID world we enter (if there is such a thing) will be more difficult to navigate politically. Supply chains have broken, economies are struggling and geopolitical relationships are strained to put it politely. In recognition, we have adopted a 10-year, $270 billion plan to bolster our sovereign capability and work to solidify our position as a key player in the region. 

While COVID-19 has put much on hold, democracy in Australia does not wait. We have come off the back of a by-election touted as a litmus test for our Prime Minister’s performance during the pandemic and the first election for the leader of the Labor party. The expectations were high as an incumbent government has not won a seat from an opposition in more than 100 years. The result? The status quo prevails. 

In searching for light at the end of the tunnel, we were handed an enormous spotlight in the form of the FIFA Women’s World Cup to be shared with our Kiwi friends. We look forward to welcoming the world down south. Although I’m not sure your very own Greg Clarke, Chairman of the English FA will make our invite list after voting for Colombia ahead of us.

Speaking of our Kiwi friends, it is worth mentioning they have achieved a feat few others have managed. Their elimination strategy backed by a total shutdown to the economy seems to have done the trick in virus terms with no record of community transmission in the shaky isles for more than 40 days. This is a great outcome although it remains to be seen just what cost the total shutdown has wrought to their economy.

Back in Sydney, while most of our colleagues across the country have returned or are planning their return to the office (in a COVID-19 safe fashion) most of us are aware that restrictions could make a comeback. The coming weeks will be crucial to see how successful the Melbournian lockdown will be and whether our spot fire infections develop into an all-out inferno. Here is to hoping not!