This article is a transcript of a Trans Tasman panel discussion on the topic of ‘Maintaining pandemic awareness over the coming years and preparing for an incremental resurgence of international travel’.
Dr. Pete Rive (host),
Senior Advisor, S23M
Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
Bill Bowtell AO,
Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales
Jorn Bettin (Q&A),
PR: I’d like to first begin by asking the panel about realistic scenarios for a resurgence of international travel the practical steps we need to make it safe.
AV: Aspirationally, everyone would be hoping that they might be getting on a plane, or getting on a train, or in their cars to go visit their family or their friends somewhere by Christmas this year. But I think that’s a very aspirational idea. I don’t think we’re going to achieve that. I think realistically, we’re probably going to have some progressive re-openings and lockdowns over the next 12 months, at the very least. So I don’t think international travel is on the agenda. I have packed my passport away in a filing cabinet. I’m saving my money and just buying good books instead.
VC: I am with Alison unfortunately, but I am definitely not an expert. Based on what I am hearing from experts around the world and from businesses and colleagues, we definitely will not be holidaying at Christmas. People are indicating to me that sometime towards end of next year is what they are planning for. And that’s really though for our businesses here who are global and who are relying on international markets, international partnerships, and investment.
It means that we do need to find new ways of conducting business. The brutal reality of people not being able to travel internationally for so long is quite intense in terms of the impact on our businesses, and on people in terms of mental health and wellness – traveling is a big part of what some people are doing.
PR: Bill, I was just wondering, if you can cast your mind back to the early days of HIV. You’ve had 30 years of experience of dealing with pandemic situations. HIV was politicized very early on, and I’m just wondering to what extent you think that this plays against an evidence based approach to dealing with something as dangerous as as COVID-19.
BB: Oh, you’re right Pete. The thing that transformed a very serious but manageable problem with HIV and AIDS into a global disaster that so far has taken the lives of 32 million people, was a very cynical set of political responses. And it has to be said that these responses came out of the United States of America at that time. It’s very similar to what has happened now with COVID-19.
I think people forget that only in 2003 out of China, SARS1, the first SARS virus came out of Foshan in China. And at that time, it was serious of course, but the international community, with the World Health Organization, and the common sense approach, i.e. the science and evidence based approach of the response through the WHO, but with America, Canada, Taiwan, Hong Kong, so on and so forth doing the right thing, SARS1 was knocked away.
It was a serious problem at the time, and I think people who traveled around Asia as I did at that time, will remember the vacant airports in Singapore etc., but the very strong public health response that was followed in Asia, succeeded in knocking SARS1 into a cocked hat. I doubt there are very many people in the world who remember that it happened, except the countries closest to China, who have that folk memory of what happened.
And you have to say that in 2019, SARS2, a similar virus, came out of China. There was a bit of confusion and worry in China, as there was with SARS1, and then it went around. And what has been the response? Highly political, highly chaotic, everybody for themselves. So no normative setting that really should have taken place. And here we are, with something that is just a virus in the end. We know how to deal with it, we know the behavioral things. Yet, here we are, not just with a public health problem and a viral problem, but with a cascading series of economic disasters, not least of which is in travel, which is 2% of world GDP. It’s really not been in the finest hour of international co-operation or common sense or science.
AV: Bill, I’d like to add to that and just say that it’s not only a lack of international trust and good behavior and good relationships amongst international partners. We’ve also seen that there has been a loss of trust in Australia nationally, amongst the states and territories. We don’t see much transparency in decision making. You know, really, the political leadership has not been, as Bill describes it, not our finest hour. We do look with a little bit of envy towards New Zealand, to perhaps see a little bit more integrity in leadership, but then in New Zealand you are in the fortunate position of not having to deal with multiple jurisdictions.
When you alienate your community and your population, you don’t have population support for the initiatives that governments are trying to drive. It’s very, very hard to, to have a co-ordinated and effective response.
PR: Absolutely. Communication and education of the public is critical in this, because as you point out, the trust is hard won and easily lost. Even in New Zealand, unfortunately, we’ve got an election cycle, and it’s becoming more and more politicized. And that’s very dangerous because people will die if we go further down that track . Vic, I don’t know what you think.
VC: Yeah, it’s pretty hard for anyone in those political leadership roles, in balancing all the advice from experts, and then of course all the non-experts that are commenting on everything as well, for example on the economic impacts and the mental health impacts. I think in New Zealand, comparatively, we’ve got leadership that is reasonably transparent, that fronts up constantly on it, communicates really, really well. This has built a lot of trust. As you say Pete, the environment is slightly changing now, because we’re getting closer to an election, and it’s going to be really testing in terms of how we navigate through that.
It’s chaos, everything you said Bill. Certainly in the business sector, the level of disruption is phenomenal. There’s a lot of chaos out there, a lot of concern and uncertainty, but also a huge level of opportunity. And that’s the nice thing about my role as working into the entrepreneurial market. They see opportunity, so they see how they can pivot and make the best out of this.
PR: Yeah, so this is probably a good time just to ask you Vic, to what extent can technology and development help to find Trans Tasman travel solutions or alternatives?
VC: I’m not an expert but my opinion would be that we need the pandemic under a little more control. But if we were to start thinking about how we could open travel up, there is the contact tracing technology. The challenge of course is how you integrate that and get these technologies talking to each other across the borders. We started to do that through the single economic market and other ways. As Alison said earlier, we’re looking at a longer timeframe for this pandemic, and it would be sensible to start looking at what could we do to integrate and connect all of the contact tracing data.
We’ve been working at Callaghan Innovation with some private sector businesses around cameras sensors at borders that can help with that. So I’m sure that there are some things that people are working on behind the scenes of which of course, technology can play into, to help collect, organize, and connect all of what’s happening.
PR: Allison, you’ll have a certain insight into the differences across the States in Australia and how the hospitals differ from place to place. I was wondering how COVID-19 has surfaced mental health concerns, especially amongst workers in health care and in other sectors or are these actually endemic issues? This is something that isn’t easily talked about. Some of these workplaces actually have a toxic culture. There’s a fair amount of bullying that goes on. For example it has happened with access to PPE. It’s been anecdotally reported here that nurses in particular have found the situation quite difficult and stressful because they feel they are unprotected.
AV: Access to PPE has been problematic, and Australia is not the only country that’s experienced that. Just this morning, my organization ran a webinar with colleagues in Boston, and they were talking about exactly the same issues that we hear here in Australia. Clearly that creates a workplace stressor that is very, very difficult to manage. There have been responses put in place, like isolation hotels for staff, to support their their ability to work and protect their families. These are measures which in a way are band-aids for the system.
We can’t resolve from the fact that this is a very stressful workplace environment for people to work in. And in Australia, in some parts, it backs up. The period that we’re experiencing now follows on from the very intense period of the bush fires during September through to January. So, we already had people who had been working really long hours without leave. We’ve got staff that haven’t had leave for very long periods of time. And then, when you complicate that with having to have staff isolated, and having to deal with staff shortages, that’s a very difficult space.
But I think the really big issue in Australia, frankly, and it’s one which we weren’t really brave enough to tackle until things got too hard for us, was a very casualized workforce, particularly in residential aged care. The need for people to work across multiple facilities, that’s a very stressful environment for staff, for patients, for communities. Work had to be prioritized because of a need to survive. But at the same time, it put both healthcare workers, their patients, and their families, and community at risk.
There is no doubt, this has been an incredibly stressful time. And the other thing I would add, in terms of mental health, and that’s something we’re not really grappling with here, is that when people lose their jobs, when they lose their housing, when they don’t have food security, it’s very difficult to have optimal mental health.
So we can invest all we like in apps that people can put on their phone and websites that people can link into to read stories about how other people are doing well, but frankly, if you don’t have a roof over your head, you don’t have money in your pocket, and you don’t have food on the table for your family, that’s not going to cut it. And if we don’t think about some of the economic incentives to keep people in work, to create jobs in a really meaningful way, their mental health problems will not just be here for the next year or two, they will become inter-generational problems.
BB: I agree entirely. I mean, today Australia went into recession for the first time in almost 30 years. We have a whole generation in Australia, thankfully, who have no idea what a recession means, much less what we’re entering into, a cataclysmic destruction of businesses and whole sectors. And I think there’s a lot of denialism in Australia at the moment. There’s some belief that vaccine will come along. And there’s a lot of conflating of the idea that the vaccine is a cure, that it turns up in the chemist’s on Monday, it’s all taken over the week, and by Friday the thing in the rear view mirror.
Now, that’s not what’s going to happen with a vaccine in the best of circumstances. So that’s a, it’s just a magical thinking really in terms of the economic crisis that we now deeply confront. There are a million people unemployed in Australia and probably another million or two being kept going in underemployment. And there are vast sectors of the Australian economy that were dependent on effective international travel, i.e. tourism and students, which are just not coming back. And it has to be said the response of the Australian government has been extremely poor. It’s clear that governments can borrow at zero interest rate to keep people going. And that’s what I think they ought to be doing. But they’re not. Eventually the problem with this is that the reality will bite, that things will not get better, that they will get worse. And to stop things from getting worse, you have to spend a great deal of money, immediately. And this does not to me, seem to have sunk in. It’s like getting international travel back together. It’s a combination of three things:
One is health. You’ve got to have a vaccine or treatment or something that reduces or eliminates the risk of getting on a plane and going somewhere.
Secondly, you’ve got the finance and economics. Nobody will go anywhere for tourism if they don’t have travel insurance at a reasonable rate. You won’t go to the United States if you’re going to be billed tens of thousands of dollars if you were to come down with COVID and your travel insurance won’t cover it. And of course, the seat has to be at something like the economy class seat on the first of January this year for people to do it.
Thirdly there is the psychological aspect, a bit like what Alison was saying with mental health. Going on holiday is a fantasy. We like to go on a carefree holiday. I love going to New York. But, the reasons I go to New York are: for the theater, the restaurants, the nightclubs, and the galleries. I don’t go to sit in a dismal post-apocalyptic wreckage, having a mask on my face, outside in Brooklyn in the middle of winter, and only picking it up to have a sip of wine. So, there’s a psychological question, a confidence question.
And I think in responding to the whole of the pandemic, we’ve just got to look at the way in which these three things come together. It’s not just a matter of numbers and spreadsheets, it’s a matter of getting that confidence, trust – feeling that we’ve got hope. And then entrepreneurs and people can take advantage of the new situation. Build new goods and services and new ways of doing things. I’d love to believe that was happening in Australia at any top level, but I’m afraid I don’t.
PR: I think pandemics in general are considered primarily a health health problem. Obviously, it is. But there is a thing called multisolving, which is about simultaneously solving multiple problems with a range of interventions from different perspectives. I guess you were touching on it Bill.
A friend of mine recently sold their PR company to an Australian company, and he was chatting to the guy who bought the company in Australia. He said the Australian politicians just seemed committed to not listening to what’s happening in New Zealand, and I thought about that. This is not a game of rugby, we’re actually talking about lives. I was appalled.
This is why we wanted to have a cross-section of people from different backgrounds on the panel. So, what are some of the practical suggestions to increase Trans Tasman multisolving and knowledge sharing for COVID-19 and beyond?
BB: Personally, I have been a longtime supporter of the closest possible integration between New Zealand and Australia long before this ever happened. I think Australians have been very remiss in not learning from a lot of what has happened in New Zealand in the last 10 or 20 years. But I think you’ll be pleased to know that there is no Australian response now. One way or another, the premiers of Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia Tasmania, Northern Territory, ACT – they got a glimmer of what was going right in New Zealand, bit by bit. And that really materially influenced how they responded in April and May when they shut the boarders, and they said, we will all deal with this in our own way.
And I accept entirely I know the it was adamant refusal to even contemplate what New Zealand was doing at the top level, and it has to be said in Victoria, and in New South Wales. But a lot of the people took it to heart, and one way or another, they did it.
Now, you never want to declare victory or defeat in these things. But New Zealand did the right thing. As far as I can see, they did a behavioral intervention. They prevented the virus in its worst form, and they stuck at it. And half of Australia and New Zealand now lives in COVID free or zero local transmission environments and strategies, and the other half in Victoria and New South Wales don’t. Well, one way worked, and the other one hasn’t worked as far as I can see.
So I think New Zealand’s lesson has been taken to heart by a lot of people. And we look forward to see how it’s managed in Auckland now, and to see what more has to be done with masks and even even better communication. New Zealand communication on this has been streets and galaxies ahead of the Australian response. So, we are learning slowly by the example set in New Zealand, and we should really, at every level, have so much more interaction and discussion with New Zealand, not just on this, but on what comes after, and how we rebuild.
PR: Vic, this is a huge issue. The world is never going to be the same really. The economists saying that we could be looking at 10 years before recovery. What do you what do you think in terms changing work patterns and things like telehealth. These are all opportunities.
VC: Look, I think they are opportunities. I’d like to connect it back to Allison’s point in terms of the pace of change that we’re asking from our people, which is severely stressful. We haven’t got all the data points yet, but in the United States online or e-commerce doubled in three months – it took 10 years to double before that. So, Satya Narayana Nadella at Microsoft is saying that in companies he is seeing two years of digital transformation in two months. Part of the challenge, for both New Zealand and Australia, is that we were behind on digital adoption anyway, and so we weren’t necessarily well prepared to go into a more digital world. So that adds immense amounts of stress into the workplace because our workers are having to put in place new technical solutions, new ways of engaging with customers, all that sort of stuff. That pace of change is not going to slow down. To your point, we’re going to permanently be changed.
The other point is around the design of our workplaces. In New Zealand I see that many organizations now have distributed workforces and are working flexibly, but they haven’t actually intentionally designed the systems and the technology and the processes to support a very distributed, flexible workforce. What tends to happen is that in your organisation everyone’s distributed, you might have updated your flexible working policy, but you’ve not actually worked out how do to really support your people in these new environments.
And so we’re kinda just letting people stumble across it, and work out how many Zoom meetings can you do a day and when do you need to take downtime? Even without bushfires like in Australia, it’s been an intense couple of years. We’ve had lots of things going on here in New Zealand, so I do think there’s lots of opportunity, but I also think that generally people are in a quite stressed chaotic state because it’s a massive, massive adaptation to a different way of doing things.
The pace of it is going to be intense. So how we support our workforce is through that? And how do our leadership styles need to evolve to deliver that more emotional support is really important as well.
PR: I was just looking at a risk report that the Global Economic Forum puts out every year, and in October 2019 they concluded that globally we’re not prepared for a pandemic. They made the comment that there was a regular pattern, where in a crisis, we start start with a panic, then focus attention on the crisis, and then unfortunately fall back into complacency before the next panic. So how do you all think can we move beyond political election cycles to stay prepared? I am thinking of health risks beyond just diseases and pandemics, including issues such as global warming, which we just kick down the road. It’s a problem for the never never. I’m just wondering how we might actually go about fixing that problem.
AV: I’m happy to comment that. Just this week, the Australian government released its draft National Prevention Health Strategy consultation papers, and any right minded person would expect after the 9 to 10 months of experience we’ve had relating to bushfires and COVID-19, that there’d be some mention of those issues in a national preventive health strategy. But no, there wasn’t. These issues were completely absent, neither climate change nor the pandemic got a guernsey in this draft document, which is out for consultation, and supposedly will inform a 10 year strategy for us going forward.
It mentions the same things that we’ve been talking about for the last 20 years and actually talks about them in much the same way, i.e. controlling tobacco use and addressing obesity with no real implementation plans. But absolute absence of climate change or of the way that we might respond to pandemics, or the way we might deal with health equity issues in the social determinants, which are driving not only poor health outcomes for many of our communities in both Australia and New Zealand, as has been clearly demonstrated in the time of COVID-19, particularly in the second wave in Victoria, and in the population groups most affected by COVID-19.
So, I don’t feel a whole lot of hope to be honest in that space. I don’t think we have actually realized that this isn’t going to just end when COVID ends. We actually have broader things to think about: How do we live in society? How do we, make sure our impact on the world is actually a little bit lighter, and our tread is a little bit softer than it has been for the last 30 or 40 years?
How do we recognize that with globalization came things like HIV, which spread very rapidly around the world, and now a pandemic, from a disease that started in a market somewhere in China in December, by January is in Iran, by February is in Italy, and by March is in Australia and New Zealand. If we don’t start thinking about the impacts of economic decisions of our industrial behaviours overall on the hills of our peoples, frankly, we’re not going to be a very healthy society anywhere.
PR: Bill, you must see the repetition of this kind of lack of insight into ecological and environmental issues. That’s effectively where COVID came from. We’re dealing with smugglers dealing with pangolin that have been infected by bats, however it spreads.
BB: Sure. The frustrating thing is that viruses are coming from nature is as old as history, since life on Earth began. And certainly in the last 30, 40 years, we saw what happened with HIV. The world was really caught napping by HIV, and back then I was the advisor to the Health Minister in Australia. I know it sounds funny now, but we didn’t know for months what was causing HIV. Nobody could say definitively what was going on. It was in Australia and around the world, and then eventually science said, well it survives, and therefore we could do something.
In Australia I know, we decided that, we weren’t just going to be dealing with the effects of it, i.e. the care and the treatment for a disease for which there was no cure or vaccine, but that it was theoretically, and then practically possible to prevent it. We invested massive resources in having people do the behavioral things necessary, to bring down the caseload. With prevention, like anything else, you get what you pay for. And there have been many countries in the world in relation to COVID who prepared, looked ahead, prepared, and invested in their public health structures.
The United States, under President Obama, put together a big pandemic response organization. When President Trump came to office that was deconstructed, so they stripped away the basic planning structures within the United States administration that could have dealt with this, maybe in the same calm and levelheaded way they dealt with the first outbreak of SARS.
I know that in Australia, Victoria, over 20 years, they cut the public health budget to derisory amounts, about 0.6 billion. Whereas the other states and territories, Queensland, New South Wales, put a lot more effort and time into funding it, and therefore were much better placed when the emergency came to activating the people and the resources that they had built up over 10 and 20 years.
I know New South Wales because of the response to HIV 20 and 30 years ago. From that time I also know Asia of course, with very co-ordinated public health structures, very well integrated, very collectivized. How a country like Vietnam has dealt with COVID is quite remarkable. It’s not just a function of the highly developed and rich countries of the world. Vietnam dealt with it extremely well. So, there are models for success, at least in dealing with COVID. You can speculate, but for very strange reasons there are countries in the world that we would not look at to learn what was being done to prepare, to mitigate the problem, and to keep it down to a manageable level.
The countries that stripped away the public health structures, that defunded public health, that marketised and privatized it, and and just dispensed with it – not surprisingly, I’m thinking of the UK, the US – they have done appallingly badly and they don’t really have a way, even now, out of it.
So, if we want it, we’ve got to pay for it and invest in the structures. We need to prevent little problems from becoming big ones: COVID, climate change, etc. you could do the list.
PR: We’ve got a question coming in with respect to communications with the public.
AV: One of the things I noticed very early on in the pandemic was that New Zealand’s bureaucratic communications were a lot more consumer friendly. I don’t know whether there was any consumer co-design of those communications, but even on the government’s Ministry of Health website, compared with the Australian government Department of Health website, the ability to find resources is very much greater than it was in Australia.
One of the other communication challenges we’ve had in Australia is inappropriate translations or inaccurate translations into community languages or lack of translation.
Another area which has been highlighted to me is problematic, is that there’s very little systematic way of thinking about interpreting in healthcare facilities in Australia. So in matters relating to PPE for example, interpreters weren’t included in the thinking around PPE. People just thought, it would be easy, and that they can just interpret via telephone or video. But a lot of interpreting actually requires watching body language and facial expression, and it requires the ability to listen to a group of 5 or 6 people talking about an issue, and then being able to translate that into a meaningful way to the healthcare provider. We just haven’t got that right in Australia. If anything we learn out of this is, we could do this better in the future for all aspects of our healthcare system, not just in responding to the pandemic.
PR: The question of equity and community, I think is hugely important. We’re looking at this question of co-design. Our Māori and Polynesian populations in the second wave have been impacted. We have to be far more mindful about these these cultural divides, especially when it comes to something that ignores cultural issues, and will just jump from human to human.
AV: I think in Australia one area where we have done reasonably well actually is in remote and and rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, because very early on in the piece, Aboriginal community controlled health organizations received funding and essentially were empowered to take very localized and regional leadership in the response. For example, in the Northern Territory and in Western Australia, there have been facilitated boarder controls, keeping COVID out of very high risk population groups.
Conversely, the challenge has been Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in a city like Melbourne, where there has been a substantial outbreak, were actually very much in that marginalized population group, and they’ve not fared so well there.
PR: If we looked at the crystal ball, what do you all think might international travel look like in five years, and what level of travel in terms of old style economic activity will be possible?
BB: I wish I could predict five years. Five months I think is the problem. Look, I don’t think in 2021. A vaccine is not going to resurrect international travel, particularly tourist travel. We might get what my friend, Brendan Crab, who’s the director of the Burnette Institute in Melbourne, has talked about recently. You might get better treatments of one sort or another, a bit prophylactic treatments, a bit like taking prep for HIV, or some days people take for malaria, so that you might get an elevated degree of protection if you don’t have the virus if you’re going to travel to somewhere where the virus is a problem.
But you can see that that’s only going to come very gradually and incrementally. People will not travel if they feel there is an unquantifiable risk, either health-wise or financially, particularly for what you call non-discretionary travel. It would be different for business travel, where the costs and so on will be absorbed by the company or the sponsoring agency for business travel.
But I think tourism is going to be very difficult. We talked about the travel bubble in March. People said it would be opened by July and so on, and it was looking like it might be, but then Victoria fell off a cliff. Unless Victoria comes back to New Zealand outcomes, it seems to me to be very hard to accept that there would be any real serious increase in travel between Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland. I don’t see that possible, really.
We’ve got to bring down the risk by going for zero community transmission in the Australian states and New Zealand and maintaining that for some while, and then move to see if we can increase slowly the travel between Australia and New Zealand, and then I suppose build out from that. But goodness knows how long that’s my take. We’re nowhere near science delivering something that might help us in the next six months or so.
JB: We’ve got a number of questions here related to communication and language that complement some of the things that we’ve discussed already. I think we’re all on the same page here that travel will not pick up to the old levels in the near future and that it’s very hard to conceive what travel will look like in the future. There are certain words that sometimes get used by politicians to be perceived as realistic, that may in the longer term be unhelpful. For example, when the war metaphor is used, along the lines of the war on COVID, it conjures up the wrong kind of image and the wrong kind of expectation that somehow we can get this over with and then it’s done. Beyond the war metaphor the talk about normality is concerning. We already mentioned that the climate crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, yet we see politicians talking about things like recovery and the new normal. I think those words are setting expectations that may be very, very hard to meet, even in the midterm. I’m curious what you think.
AV: Well, I think if you have a look at what’s happened in Europe in the last couple of months as Europeans like to travel during July and August, and we saw people from the UK jumping on planes to go to the Costa del Sol in Spain or to the Canary Islands. We’ve seen French holidaymakers, traveling to the south of France to enjoy August, and the summer there, but we’ve also seen significant outbreaks and resurgence of COVID as a result of that. I think just observing what has happened in Europe, around travel in particula, we would have to acknowledge in island states like Australia and New Zealand, that adopting a model where you could basically go wherever you want, is not actually a very sensible thing for us to do.
The real challenge, I think, for New Zealand vis-a-vis Australia is, it’s fine for people maybe to come from New Zealand to Tasmania where there’s not much incidence of COVID or even to the lovely city of Canberra where I live where there hasn’t been a COVID case for nearly two months. But the reality is when you come to Australia generally transiting through Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane, you’re not just coming to Tasmania or to Canberra or to the Gold Coast or somewhere where you think you might be relatively safe.
We don’t have to start thinking about that. That will potentially challenge the airline industry to start to think about the hub and spoke model for air travel that it has used in dispersed countries like Australia. And I think Pete also mentioned something about business travel. I actually think business travel potentially will reduce, possibly more significantly even than tourism, because we’ve all learned during this year that we can conduct a lot of our business without actually having to go and sit in the same room as people. Frankly, in my job, up until this year, I probably was on a plane somewhere at least 2 or 3 days every week. I haven’t done that at all since January and life has continued on, business continues on. In some ways, it’s actually even busier, because I can use my time more productively to meet with folks like you over the evening, rather than thinking about a week long trip to go to New Zealand and back. We are going to be thinking about these things differently. I think just trying to go back and back to what we used to have is not what we ought to be aiming for.
JB: This is where we have to start thinking very consciously in the communication about using a new language, avoiding words like recovery, where we know that we’re not going to go back to the place where we came from. If you ask me, this is going to become a major challenge, because of the other cultural inertia, because governments are so used to their sense of normality. It’s not only the politicians, it’s the entire bureaucracy that has such an inertia. Earlier we discussed the maximum speed at which people and societies can adapt. This is, I think, a challenge where language and communication, and also the ways in which we collaborate become really important.
BB: I agree entirely, I think the point about using these metaphors, like war is completely right. It’s a useless concept. The virus is not at war with anything. The virus is just an expression of physics, and chemistry and biology. It does its work, it transmits; and at the moment, if you’re going to use the metaphor or war, it’s winning.
We saw a terrible way that worked out in Victoria where after the first lockdown around Australia, there was a great deal of agitation there about so-called Freedom Day, that they had won a victory over the virus and that they were celebrating Freedom Day, like the end of a war. And they would come out of their homes, and would resume normal life as it used to be.
This was a cataclysmic mistake, because the people of Victoria somehow deluded themselves into believing that they had won. And at that moment when they dropped their guard, when the social distancing collapsed, when the government didn’t recommend the use of masks, when people were congratulating themselves on how wonderfully they handled it and had virtually no community transmission. Of course, that’s when the virus started its work and it was a misuse of words that deluded the population into believing that the worst was beyond them, in their desire to go back to the normal.
And I agree with you. The world we started the year with has gone. It’s gone, and the economics of that world have been smashed into a million pieces. So, we have to build up something better and we have to really understand the mistakes we have made to get into this mess, and we do have to come up with a new language of hope and opportunity that we can do this. I mean, we can recover from this. But we’re not going to go back to what it was before. It goes back to the point I made before, that in Australia and around the world, as you can see with President Trump, that there’s a great deal of the idea that they can lead us back to the old world if you only vote for them.
There is a great degree of denialism, and the longer we’re in denial, the more it gets in the way of the rebuild, I think.
JB: Another related question more along the lines of technology. Here in New Zealand and elsewhere, mobile apps have been developed to facilitate contract tracing and related activities. The question here is, does anyone believe whether these types of applications, which exist in different variations in different places, actually make a significant difference? I would add to that question, what is the real opportunity for technology here? Contract tracing is one particular use case, but given that the old world has gone, what are the real opportunities for technology here?
As we can see, our collaboration and communication is increasingly facilitated on mediated by technology, and in many ways the technology dictates to us the ways in which we can interact and engage with one another. The question is, to what extent do we want that to remain in the hands of the corporations that provide us with the tools, and to what extent we actually need to be empowered to create ways of collaboration and communication that reflect our personnel or team based styles that work for our particular context?
VC: I think maybe I’ll have a crack at that one. Just speaking from New Zealand example and what’s happening over here, I think I agree with the points that have been made in terms of the significant impact, and really taking us right back to the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and what we value in our lives.
I do think that there are some opportunities that are rays of hope here. There’s a lot more valuing of your whānau or your family, and people are really appreciating spending more time at home, organizations have learned that we can be highly productive over this technology.
In our organization we were way more productive when we were fully locked down and distributed. Then we work together, and that’s because we didn’t yabber as much, there was a lot more purpose to what we were doing. And you can see some of the technology companies, like Zoom, and even Google are starting to consider that in their roadmaps and bring in new ways for us to communicate. So, I think that will continue.
The challenge that I see there is that with male dominated technology companies there will be limitations on how far they can go, because there isn’t enough diversity in there to design for a much broader range of society. Hopefully it can accelerate through some of that diversity coming in.
Or we could see completely new companies setting up that really do understand the dynamics of how you create, maintain, and grow relationships over these mechanisms. I think that we are taking small steps here. As we go back to the basics and appreciate things, we just take small steps forwards, and I think that’s what we have to do, is keep taking those small steps.
And I so agree with you Bill, we’re never going back to what we had. And so talking about that is the wrong thing. We don’t know where we’re going, and that is part of the challenge. And so we’re just taking steps until we can get more clarity on it, and we can come together as a public and private sector.
I understand all of the comments around government. I empathize with some of them. And I don’t think solely government’s responsibility to get us out of this. The relationships need to be strengthened between the public and the private sector, which means government needs to bring new models of how it works with the private sector. That is really, really critical. And then the private sector need to give government a break, so when they do try new things, don’t slam them. Because otherwise, you’ll halt them forever, and lock them into this risk averse position of never wanting to try anything, because no matter what they try, if they get it a little bit wrong, someone’s going to slam them. We need to develop some new ways of working in some new tolerances between us.
And then I do think, there is technology here, ready, that’s being deployed. It could easily pivot into this space and be accelerated in terms of virtual reality, so yes, we’re not going to travel. In the next 2 to 3 years, we’re going to be really constrained. The ability for virtual reality to come in and fill that space rather than nothing is still another step forward. So it’s just about how do we keep taking those steps forward. I do have empathy, we are lucky in New Zealand with one system of government, when you’re trying to co-ordinate state and federal, it’s a **** of a lot harder.
PR: Indeed. We’re just about out of time. What I was going to say to the three of you is that we have two more panels coming up. We would love it if you at least drop into to listen.
What we’re hoping to do at the end of the series is to actually bring all the panelists together for a round table for learnings and thoughts about where we might actually progress, not just not just some sort of talk fest, but with real action behind that.
As you say, we’re not going to be jumping on a plane. soon I reflect on what you’re saying Vic, because in 2000, when the planes hit the trade center, I was just at the point of pitching to Saatchi’s on an international virtual reality means of trying to cut down carbon footprints and not fly around the world. And of course, the opposite happened, and nobody flew for 4 for 10 months. So we’re at one of those seminal moments again, where we just a bit slow on it. We’ve been woken up, and I think now’s the time to actually think about values and community, and see where we take this new world. So, I’d like to invite you all to, to participate in the upcoming sessions.
VC: I think that’s just such a good point. You know, we talked about the the major, major agitations around climate change, how we’ve grown our, our wealth economically, etcetera. and we’re collecting so much rich data right now around this question: If we don’t live our lives and the way that we did, how does it help the planet? Even in the city, in Auckland, people are saying, oh my God, the level of life around unbelievable. There is so much and the materialism consumerism is dissipating. Now that’s not necessarily great for our retailers, however people are really starting to think about, actually, do I really want to live that? And that trend has been happening for 3 or 4 years. I hope, somewhere, someone is really starting to look at all this data and say, OK, well, we wanted a world where we weren’t destroying the climate so fast, where we weren’t being so consumer focused and materialistic. We really need to learn from some of those data points that are emerging as we speak.
JB: I think the opportunity there is to learn really fast if we want to avoid wasting precious, time, wasting precious resources.
So for example, if we now know that many office workers are not going to return to the head offices in the CBDs, then that has immediate implications for urban planning and for the question of what our cities are actually for. What’s the purpose of cities in the future?
BB: The very least the CBD offices can get start to get transformed into low-income housing. That’s what we should start looking at.
PR: So thank you, Bill. Thank you, Alison. Thank you Vic. It’s been very enlightening.
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