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Tuesday 21 April 2020

Hon. Bernie Ripoll
Director, SAS Group

Expectations and trust are both concepts we have hard wired into our brains and spend little time thinking about on the how or why.

We expect and trust the chair we are about to sit on will hold our weight and do so until we decide to stand up. It’s a simple example but makes the point about our expectations of daily life – the things that just happen with little or no input from us directly. You could call it the buzz of the city that hums on with or without us.

The big question is our expectation of that buzz and what happens when it changes, or the hum goes quiet? What happens next? Do we trust this new quiet hum or quickly revert back to our past experience and habits? These are tough questions, the answers to which only time will tell. But something is different now, and could be here to stay.

There are examples all around us that point to the future and help us face what might be our global new future.

When this COVID crisis is over, hopefully sooner rather than later, and if the virus disappears as if it were never here, then back to normal is no longer a valid expectation. The buzz has already changed. Back to work and life will be different. As humans we are incredibly adaptive. Perhaps the new normal is already evolving and pointing to a different future.

Whether that’s reintroducing local manufacturing, less cheap consumerism, back to making things and cooking from home, or revaluing the work-life balance. Here are a few examples of where that change is taking place now.

The global travel disruption is with us for some time with global tourism on a long return path to pre-crisis normality where saving or borrowing to holiday in Europe or Bali or travel agencies offering massive discounts on flights, hotels, and adventures in markets that now have restrictions on foreign people movements, less services and increased costs.

Its possible to envisage a post crisis era of new domestic tourism where your passport is used to cross the border by car between Queensland and New South Wales seeking new adventures and experiences in turn helping rebuild regional towns and jobs for bakers, butchers and candle stick makers. This could be the rebirth of regional centres long forgotten and ready to serve the domestic traveller bringing back the trip around Australia rather than the round the world ocean cruise. There are always winners and losers from any crisis with some of the losers are already well identified.

The Australian Government certainly thinks so: the Minister for Tourism has advised Australian residents to “dream about their next Australian destination and to help an Australian tourism business if they are able to”.

Perhaps not surprisingly or expected, public transport has copped a whack from social distancing measures. Fewer people travelling to work but also fewer people willing to risk a virus transmission from such heavily trafficked public services. In comparison there is nothing quite like the clean sanctity of the private car to get from A to B. And cheaper than ever with the double bonus of the oil price collapse and everyone staying home: “public transport use in New South Wales has plummeted by almost 50 per cent in the past fortnight”.

The chagrin of every state government and certainly every opposition is the waiting lists and overcrowding in our hospital system. It seems no matter how big and ever growing the budget for health expenditure, the waiting lists grow in proportion and hospital bed shortages pile up every year. Unexpectantly during our worst health crisis in living memory it seems our hospitals and doctors have less to do and waiting lists have come down. I know there are some special reasons but maybe those special reasons can be extended to keep thigs more in balance. Perhaps tele-health and other methods now employed to care for the sick might continue post- crisis with a better health outcome.

Professor Moloney, who has expertise in disaster response and emergency medicine said “presentations at The Alfred were down by more than 50 per cent: a trend reflected in all hospitals across Australia as frontline workers gear up for a potential influx of critically ill coronavirus patients”.

But finally, the award must go to the hospitality sector as the great adaptors in a crisis. Not ones to lay down easily with the toughest conditions requiring complete closures for some, we have seen former high-end restaurants become take-away shops, restaurants and cafes become grocery stores and McDonalds selling drive through essentials like bread, milk, and eggs

“Anyone who comes to a Macca’s for our contactless drive-through or takeaway service will now be able to pick-up milk, English muffins, bread rolls and eggs. We’re also now able to provide more milk options to customers with the addition of almond, soy and lactose free milk cartons to the menu. Attica, Australia’s most internationally renowned restaurant, our highest-flier on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants List and a beacon of fine dining in an increasingly informal global food scene, had been reborn as a bakery and home delivery meals service.”

And if this fear of a global emergency continues, with essential products over done such as toilet paper, tinned tomatoes and flour then maybe we should expect that people will continue to cook more at home and visit fewer public toilets, buffet style food halls off the menu and pubs reopening with curious rules around rubbing shoulders at the bar.

Even the media will have to find a new crisis, however insignificant in comparison, to fill the 24/7 news cycle of coronavirus reporting. But maybe the expectation should be to become a healthier community with more people walking, enjoying local parks and time to think about improving our mental health. Whatever your expectation of the post-COVID crisis is, it certainly isn’t going to be like before.

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