Opinion Editorial – Jennifer Cromarty, Committee for Geelong CEO

Last week, I flew to Canberra for the first time since late 2019. Since the pandemic has hit, I have experienced several cancellations of flights to various Australian destinations due to travel restrictions.

My experience is not isolated, but part of the world we now must navigate. A world where we may have ‘vaccination’ passports, periods of testing and quarantine, travel plans changing at short notice, and a sense of general unease as we face the prospect of an uncertain future.

The latest Victorian lockdown seems to have brought many people to their emotional and financial knees.

While in 2020, there was a general acceptance to the threat to our health and livelihoods, we seemed more stoic and optimistic as we were supported by all levels of government including the successful JobKeeper initiative.

Businesses involved in hospitality, accommodation, conferences, travel & transport have been well documented as being hard hit during the pandemic. However, with 18 straight months of uncertainty in trading conditions, there are strong indications of general business fatigue, ongoing mental health challenges, trade supply issues, and a fall in general business and consumer confidence across a broad range of sectors. Central Geelong-based SMEs are further impacted as the lack of office workers challenges previous business models.

Melbourne being carved out recently for the Federal Government Disaster payment to employees working in a ‘hotspot’ has exacerbated the issues for Geelong. Many businesses chose to not open due to the lack of trade coming from Melbourne, placing significant numbers of people with no income as businesses could not afford to re-open. 

However, what is clear is that the world has changed. How we see our work, relationships and hopes for the future need to be seen through the lens of potential biosecurity threats.

Where to from here? Speaking to government and stakeholders locally, there is significant support and need for a quarantine hub. This hub could not only provide a fit for purpose quarantine facility for the state, but also provide far greater certainty for future business investment and employment planning.

Several ideas have been discussed regarding the potential uses and purpose of the quarantine hub. This includes the provision of safe quarantine for returning residents, skilled migrants and international students. While the government is prioritising returning Australian residents, ensuring we have a plan to provide passage to Victoria for skilled migrants and international students is vital to support our economy on multiple levels.

The quarantine hub facility could also provide temporary housing to support people in crisis whether due to natural disasters, family violence or facing homelessness.  What is important, is that we build this facility as soon as possible as part of longer-term planning to provide business and community confidence.

We believe this pandemic is only the start of a longer-term challenge and we need to collectively plan for a new way of working and trading globally. In the coming decades, we will be faced with ongoing biosecurity threats as well as climate related crises which include drought and bushfires. All levels of government need to work with the private sector and community to plan for this new world where significant threats to our previous way of life need to be accepted as a new norm.