OPINION PIECE in The Age
By Louise Staley
The most recent economic data shows what we all feared: Victoria’s fragile economy has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 127,100 Victorians lost their jobs last month, most of them women, and it is expected the situation will worsen.
The governments of NSW, South Australia and Queensland have got a head start on Victoria by working on a plan to recover as many jobs as possible, as quickly as possible.
Victoria needs a jobs-first, business-led recovery, not years-away public infrastructure financed by China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Yet that’s what Premier Daniel Andrews seems to be betting on to get Victoria out of the economic catastrophe caused by the lockdowns from the coronavirus pandemic.
A crisis can bring out the best in human ingenuity and creativity. We are already seeing many of our small and medium-sized businesses showing great ingenuity with new products and services to adapt to the lockdown restrictions. And many Victorians that still have jobs are supporting those businesses.
So far, the Premier has spoken of more big public infrastructure. But what Victoria needs is kick-starting projects right now, not planning money for projects that won’t start for years and won't finish for decades.
We know that other states are working on opportunities for on-shoring and sovereignty manufacturing.
But the state government is more focused on doubling down on the deal Andrews signed with China for Victoria to join the Belt and Road Initiative. As Eryk Bagshaw reported, “Victoria will tap into the Chinese Communist Party’s $1.5 trillion Belt and Road Initiative to boost the local economy, declaring the infrastructure network crucial to rebuilding after the coronavirus crisis.”
Not only do we have the Andrews Government thinking more public-sector infrastructure is what Victoria needs. It thinks it should be done in partnership with Communist China.
Surely, what Victoria needs is a plan to put Victorian businesses and their employees first.
On top of that, Victorians need to know how the additional up to $4 billion needed to pay for cost overruns on Metro and the Westgate Tunnel will be borrowed. Will it be an open offering of Victorian bonds at the lowest interest rate, or will it be a private placement special deal to China or one of China’s government-controlled banks?
If Australia has learnt anything from this pandemic, it surely is that we have become too dependent on too few countries for our imports of crucial goods. There are too many choke points in our supply lines where only one country can supply a component or an ingredient in something we need or something we manufacture.
China’s role in the global PPE supply had exposed our vulnerability when it needed PPE for its crisis. Similarly, in early March, India placed limits on the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and the medicines and vitamins made from them. Those bans stayed in place for more than a month and were the prime cause of shortages in Australia.
On every level, the Andrews government is making the wrong choices to get Victoria out of the coronavirus lockdown slump. It is moving too slowly. It is relying on China’s Belt and Road financing and state-owned firms. It is prioritising massive infrastructure projects not yet planned and certainly not shovel-ready. It is not bringing sovereign manufacturing home. It is not putting Victorians back to work in the jobs they want to do.