PERSONAL REFLECTIONS POST-COVID LOCKDOWN

With Victoria at zero cases for over 30 days now, Australia with zero cases excluding international travel and an odd outbreak, being out of lockdown and free to travel outside Melbourne, we drove to NSW to experience a change of scenery…and to put money into the bushfire-hit towns.  Before we left, I reflected on what I had gained from the (8 month) covid period, what I had missed and how I wanted to live my life as a result of this traumatic period.

Covid Positives

8 months sounds long…but WW2 lasted 6 years…and that followed the Depression, which didn’t really end till the war arrived some 10 years later.  We’ve had it easy.  And, with a large house, our own garden, beautiful suburbs, family close by, good technology, good health, lots of friends and interests, we had it much easier than most.  Also, attacking life, being positive, helps to see that there were many positives from this period, for me at least.  They include:

  1. Improving My Tech Use and Using It.

Spotify, Netflix, Stan, iView, Facetime, Zoom, apps, Google and YouTube have made so many possibilities available.  I now use Spotify for my morning exercise routine and  Netflix, Stan and iView for streaming series.  Not radical, but a big change for my life.  Facetime, Zoom, Whatsapp and Google Meet have enabled friend and organisation conversations more than before, with Facetime by far the best for me and Zoom great for multi-member conversations.

I’m not a big app user, but Trickster for bridge with friends and croquis café for life drawing have offered new opportunities for enjoying these activities.

Overall, these elements of technology, plus my willingness to engage in new options, have made significant positive changes to the patterns of my life, and I want them to continue.

2. A Slower Pace of Life

Our lives were ‘busy’.  We liked it that way.  But covid slowed us down, showed us what we valued and what we didn’t. 

Observing nature in our home, in our area, has provided much greater joy than previously (we loved it, but didn’t have the time to appreciate it).  Seeing each day, week, month, season unfold, observing and enjoying the changes, has given us as much joy as if we were travelling to new and different landscapes.

Taking time to cook and prepare food instead of just rushing a meal to get to another event or activity has meant we’ve enjoyed food even more than if we were eating out.  We haven’t had the people to converse with over meals, but we’ve enjoyed reflecting ourselves on the flows of the days and weeks.

Walking – critical for daily exercise – enabled us to enjoy others’ local gardens and parks.  Cycling – which I took up again last year for the Great Vic Bike Ride – has become a regular weekly activity.  It provides a different experience from walking, but you still appreciate the small details.  Who’d have thought I’d be a bike rider at 70…

FOMO’s departure is also positive.  In fact, so few people are doing anything interesting or different, that the reverse is true – FONH.  Fear of Nothing Happening.  Mostly conversations have been around covid, covid and covid.  Enough.  The climate emergency is more important.

3. Buying Less

Never a great shopper, I haven’t missed the lack of retail.  In fact, I’ve enjoyed it!  I don’t even miss the coffees that seem so critical to everyone else’s life.  I don’t want much retail to return…except Bunnings, Gazman and a few others.

Covid Negatives

  1. No Travel to Different Landscapes

Nice though it has been to stay at home, I have missed travel.  The travel I like is to walks and views in landscapes, not to cities or man-made building.  We jumped in June when we opened up prematurely and had 2 lovely weeks in the country.  We have returned from a similar week at NSW beaches.  I can handle being limited to travel within Australia.  I don’t ‘need’ to travel internationally any more (I’ve been lucky already).  But I do feel a ‘need’ to travel somewhere to see and experience different landscapes.

2, No Experience of Live Sport

I’ve enjoyed watching lots of live sport on TV, especially on our new large TV.  But I do miss going to games – basketball, football, tennis, athletics, golf and more.  There’s something different about being there.

3. No Brainwork

Strictly, this is an age issue, not a covid issue.  But the lack of organisation operations, the lack of focus on virtually any social or political issue unrelated to covid has been a real downer for me.  I can’t just sit and enjoy life, friends and family.  To me, there’s much more to life than acceptance and bread and circuses.  I need brainwork.

4. No Arts Experiences

Pre-covid, we had a full life of arts experiences – movies, theatres, music, writing, festivals, galleries and more.  Most arts organisations seemed either reactive or lacking the skills to provide online offerings.  Exceptions were the UK’s National Theatre Live, an Australian comedy stream and odd other events, notably (for me) Sydney Dance Company.  I’ve had mixed feelings about this.  I haven’t missed many ‘average’ events, but I’ve really missed those events which led to challenging and thoughtful discussions about the event – the performance, the acting, the playing, the writing, the idea, the innovation.  In a slower life, I still crave some art, but I don’t want as much as before.  I plan to choose more carefully…but that’s difficult when you have to buy before review or for a one-off event.  I know what I missed.  I know who reached out to me.  I’ll choose with more care.

Now…

I plan a slower life, carrying forward the new positive activities and skills.  This requires dropping other events.  I’ve found myself carefully thinking now, ‘Do I want to do this and why?’  The crunch will come when I have to say ‘No’ to ‘normal’ pre-covid activities or events.  We’ll see!

WHAT IF WE STOPPED TRADING WITH CHINA…?

It’s clear that China has chosen to bully Australia in 2020.  Australia has been outspoken in criticising China over many issues (Uyghurs, Hong Kong, Huawei, espionage, Confucius Institutes, mistreating Australian journalists, claiming international islands in the South China Sea, Belt and Road Initiative) and has also appeared to be a henchman for US foreign policy.  Using the Chinese proverb, ‘Kill one, scare 100’, now China has responded by bans and tariffs on all sorts of exports, using Australia’s treatment also to scare other countries. 

Clearly China is a much stronger economic power than Australia.  But, rather than give in on important ethical and moral issues (though we have so many problems ourselves, we can hardly take the high ground), what might happen if – instead – we tried to live without Chinese exports or imports.  What if we stopped trading with China?

Main Export Casualties:  Iron Ore, Gas, Coal, Agriculture, Education, Tourism, Wine

Minerals exports worth $80bn dominate our exports to China.  Agriculture ($14bn), Education ($12bn), tourism ($11bn) are other major exports, with wine at $3bn.  Exports to China represent 30% of all students at our universities, 25% of agriculture exports, and is also our main tourism and wine export market.

Main Import Losses:  IT and Telecom Goods, Furniture, Homewares, Clothing

By comparison, we import less from China, but the product range is very large, covering mostly elaborately transformed manufactured goods.  IT and telecom products ($21bn) are the main imports, followed by home and office furniture and homewares including electrical goods.  Surprisingly, clothing is not listed as a major item, though clearly much of our clothing does come from China.

What If We Stopped Importing from China?

As a retaliation, at first, this would seem to be catastrophic.  But, as covid has shown us, crises lead to great innovation. There is now a real desire for more local sourcing, as we have become aware of our vulnerability from global suppliers and as unemployment has soared. 

We used to be a major manufacturer.  Covid showed we could quickly manufacture again (plastics, PPE, vaccines).  Yes, it would be more expensive, but we would be employing Australians, re-skilling and becoming less dependent. 

Alternatively, we could find new sources.  Other Asian countries are low cost providers and Europe have always provided quality.  As prices increased, we would buy less, reducing our consumption, improving our environmental performance (less resource use, less waste, less carbon emissions, less transport kms) and our balance of trade simultaneously.

Though it would be painful and take time, there are other suppliers of all the goods we need and we are capable of supplying most products locally, if we are prepared to pay.

What if We Stopped Exporting to China?

Our few major mining companies (BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue) would take a big cut in short-term revenue, but they actually employ relatively few people, so few jobs would be lost.  These products can also be stockpiled, so sales might only be deferred, if new markets could be found.

Agriculture would be more problematic, as products have shorter lives, but even these could be stockpiled for a year or more, while seeking new markets.  (Remember the great wool and wheat stockpiles of late last century?)  New markets could emerge quickly, as China’s favoured suppliers could be replace in their old markets, albeit perhaps at lower margins. 

Much of the wine going to China has been lower quality lower margin wine (the pictures of Grange Hermitage are nice, but this is not the main market).  Wine can also be stored, so short term lost sales may return in later periods, especially if new markets (India?  Asia? New wealth segments?) can be developed.

Our education industry would have huge revenue losses too, but more local students could be enrolled and diversified marketing might attract a more diversified student mix than currently exists, with Chinese students dominating.  Reduced international student numbers might also lead to improved quality, as many short cuts have been taken to enrol marginal high fee paying students.  Teaching jobs would be lost, but many of these would be part-time or casual tutors.  The 2020 covid experience showed the system could survive a huge operational upheaval.  Online teaching might also increase new international opportunities.

Tourism from China has grown rapidly, but much has been run by Chinese-based operators on Chinese-only group tours arriving on Chinese airlines, providing little economic value to Australia.  In the short term, covid restrictions on international travel mean Australians will replace internationals travelling Australia so our ‘import’ costs (Australians travelling overseas) are reduced and replaced by similar spending within Australia, boosting local tourism, counteracting the fall of international travel.  The loss of Chinese travellers (or any other specific nationality) is not catastrophic overall.

The Outcomes?  Bad for China!

Clearly a complete ‘sanction’ on trading with China would be extremely disruptive.  Equally clearly, we have the means to replace imported products and diversification of exports is also possible, albeit with some time lags. 

A more likely long-term outcome is that China is creating the seeds of its own power demise.  Bullying one country leads others to be more wary.  Future Chinese exports will be jeopardised through perceived increased political risks.  China will be viewed as an untrustworthy trading partner, reducing its future economic and political power. 

China seems too smart to continue down this track for long.  Standing up to China will be perceived well and, after robust negotiations, China will back down on most demands.  Worse for China, never will we trust it again, as we have over recent years.  And our economy and society will be the better for it in the long run (this applies to being dependent on any other country, not just China).

THANK YOU, NICOLA GOBBO. YOU HELPED JUSTICE IN VICTORIA.

Disgraced by the community, recently disbarred by the legal profession and now excoriated by a Royal Commission into her adventures in the Victorian justice system, we should – instead – be thanking Nicola Gobbo for her great community service in helping to jail many major Victorian criminals.

What Nicola Did

Let’s be clear.  I don’t like Nicola’s basic line of work, her friends or her style.  She defended some of Victoria’s worst criminals, even when she knew they were guilty.  She befriended many known criminals, partied hard with them and also – it seems –  with the police!   

But, without Nicola providing police with information from her clients or their acquaintances, major criminals like Tony Mokbel, Carl Williams and many others (up to 1,000 cases are said to be impacted) would not have been convicted.  We all cheered when the Victoria Police Purana task force successfully prosecuted criminals and put an end to the gangland wars in Victoria.  Now the Royal Commission findings threaten to release known criminals and tarnish the careers of those brave police who took them on, and found a way to convict them.  The cases were not trumped up.  But the manner in which the evidence was gathered was outside the ethical norms of the legal system, by both Gobbo and Purana.

Do We Want Law Enforcement or Justice?

I believe that, if a person is guilty of a crime, they should plead guilty, not be defended and waste valuable taxpayer’s money on unnecessary court cases.  That would be true ‘justice’…but of course the ‘law’ doesn’t work for justice, only for a debated result between lawyers and judges.

By contrast, even priests are now required to report confidential revealed confidentially about sexual harassment to the police.  Teachers are required to notify social workers of children who they think may be being abused.  In each case, this is for the perceived greater good of the society – that possible criminal behaviour is picked up early and stopped.  We expect the truth to come out.  So why should police not be able to receive information from defence lawyers that a criminal act has occurred??  Is it ‘justice’ we want or merely ‘law enforcement’?

The Legal System is the Real Problem

Perhaps the real problem is the legal system, not informants (called whistleblowers in other industries…).  Society wants and expects justice, not legal or political shenanigans.  If the legal system was really interested in delivering ‘justice’ (the Victorian department is called the ‘Department of Justice’), getting correct, truthful information – by any reasonable means – would be supported.  Instead, under the guise of ‘legal ethics’, the system is tearing apart an unlikely Victorian hero, who has done more than most to improve our society.  Once again the whistleblower is shafted, while the society and the system reaps the benefit.

What Am I Missing?

Why is no one – no one – prepared to speak up for Nicola?  Why are they not speaking up for the Victorian Police, who stopped the gangland war?  Surely the greater good justifies the actions they took.  A travesty is being committed by the legal system in our name.