Reset: Restoring Australia after the Pandemic Recession by Ross Garnaut

 ‘As I write, in the last quarter of 2020, the pandemic is under control in Australia …’

And, as I read this book in the second half of 2021, the pandemic is wreaking havoc: New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT are in lockdown and case numbers of the highly infectious delta strain of Covid-19 continue to spread. A steady increase in vaccination rates enables some optimism for the future as we learn to live with this virus.

But back to Ross Garnaut’s book. Mr Garnaut argues that the COVID-19 crisis offers Australia an opportunity to reset the economy and to build a successful future. He argues that we should be looking to reset our economy, to explore new opportunities rather than seek a return to the past.  But how? Mr Garnaut suggests re-examining taxation, trade, both monetary and fiscal policy, education, and energy. Of these, energy is the largest. Following the election of Joe Biden as President of the USA, and with China also now pledging to net zero emissions by 2060, Australia needs to move beyond fossil fuel (both in domestic use, and as an export).

While I do not fully understand all the economics, what I do understand makes sense to me. The Department of Post-War Reconstruction which existed between December 1942 and March 1950, planning for the post-war future, would seem a useful model for the rebuilding required after both the recent natural catastrophes and the consequences of the current pandemic. But I would like to see evidence of more effective leadership and of long-term planning.

‘Humans dislike uncertainty. They want to think that their leaders know where the country is headed and the effects of their policies on the destination. Members of a society that are confident their leaders know where they are going and are satisfied this is a desirable destination will accept constraints in the public interest. Without such confidence, they will not cooperate, and it is not always possible for governments to force compliance.’

Mr Garnaut argues in support of a recovery based around full employment (of around or below 3.5%) and low inflation. We need to rebuild, and we have an opportunity.

I agree with this statement:

‘The emergence of the internet as the main provider of information about domestic and international events has had a negative effect on the quality of knowledge available to most people.’

I hope that the Australian government considers what Mr Garnaut has written. Much of it makes sense.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith