A question that has kept me awake on more than one night over the past year is, how do we emerge from COVID-19 as a stronger country – a country whose citizens remember that we live in a society, not just an economy?
I have felt one step closer to answering that question through my work on the University of Sydney’s Open Society, Common Purpose taskforce over the past six or so months.
Last week, the taskforce shared the fruits of this labour - a report setting out a roadmap for how Australia can return to its position as an outward-looking country with a robust market economy that generates inclusive prosperity.
The reports calls for a staged process of international re-engagement based on three public health pillars:
- widespread and rapid vaccination backed by measures to increase public confidence,
- rigorous border testing and immunity requirements for incoming travellers, and
- scaled up quarantine designed to meet the needs of specific industries.
In last week’s 2021-22 federal budget, we heard that the current limits on international arrivals to Australia will remain in place until 2022.
Contrary to rhetoric about Australia’s ‘hard border’, our state and federal governments have actually safely enabled some 500,000 people to travel into Australia since COVID-19 arrived in Australia last year.
In the three months between the COVID-19 public health emergency beginning in January 2020 and Australia’s border closing to non-residents in March, SSI itself welcomed many refugees to our shores.
Our settlement practices ensured the safety of the humanitarian arrivals and the community, and minimised risks to both groups, while also ensuring refugees had the support to get on with the important work of settling in their new homes.
The past 15-odd months have acted as a kind of testing period; these necessary border restrictions have bought our country time to establish robust quarantine, testing and tracing protocols that have prevented mass outbreaks. The question now should be how do we expand that process. How do we ensure we prioritise Australian citizens and the 6,500 refugees who currently hold Australian visas but are unable to travel here due to restrictions on non-resident arrivals?
In the meantime, I am heartened by the incredible outcomes this cross-sector taskforce has produced, supported by the University of Sydney's Policy Lab and participants who gave up their time for three roundtables earlier in the year.
With this kind of bipartisan collaboration, I am confident Australia will emerge from this pandemic as an outward-looking country with a generous, sustainable immigration program and a robust market economy that generates inclusive prosperity.