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Image: Picturesque Japan, shutterstock.com

Image: Picturesque Japan, shutterstock.com

We know about the bad but is there any good?

23 April 2020

4 minute read

COVID-19. We know a lot about the bad but is there any good or even better?

By Professor Giles Hirst

Asking are there any positives to come from this crisis isn’t to underplay the seriousness of the tragedy unfolding around the world, rather the opposite. In uncertain times, with so many impacted and lives lost, it is hope that provides strength.

That we can come out of this collectively wiser or more resilient offers some solace and light at the end of a tunnel. So what are the positives that we’re seeing even already?

Countries relying on the evidence have fared better, with examples such as New Zealand heralded as a triumph of science and leadership. This may also be something of a memo to our leaders that policy is far better when based on evidence. And that learning may also apply to other areas.

On the topic of the environment and cities long shrouded in thick smog, residents are starting to peer out of their windows at clear sky. Perhaps when we emerge people will ask why can’t we strive for this to be the norm rather than abnormal?

Whether you love or loathe current leadership it’s clear we have experienced a very different type from this summer. The PM and Premiers have given it their all. No one could criticise any of them for not trying to do their best. National Cabinet, even with room to improve, affords a vehicle for more consultation and cooperation between States and Federal.

Our Prime Minister has shown courage to adopt policies long akin to socialism yet necessary to help save jobs. These are not easy decisions going against party political doctrine with associated fiscal risk but seek to steer our country from queues of multiple millions unemployed.

Topics long needed on the agenda are back on: Job seeker allowance, the cost of childcare, a quality health care system to name some. When the most sophisticated and wealthy nation in the world can’t manage its citizens’ health you have to ask how did they get it so wrong? And how do we do a better job?

Watching the terrible health impacts has also exposed an unpalatable truth. We’ve elevated the world’s bankers, politicians, lawyers and academics, but in truth, the humble cleaner – those willing to sterilise and wipe down communal surfaces – who has proved far more important to keeping us healthy. Perhaps we should re-value health care workers, teachers and essential services who have given so much?

And while much has been made of some not maintaining their social distance hoarding and uncivil behaviour, the reality for most is another narrative. Many, and in fact most, have socially distanced to make policy work.

So while there may be a long way ahead, perhaps the earlier signs about cooperation and resilience signal a spirit we might want to build on when working towards an exit.

We certainly don’t want the economic costs, and loss of lives to be for nothing. This crisis, as terrible as it is, is also an opportunity to do better. Let’s not squander this unique opportunity. 


Professor Giles Hirst is the Chair of Leadership within the ANU Research School of Management.

The College supports its academics to share their expertise. Visit our new COVID-19 page to stay up-to-date with how our research is informing the policy and direction of Australia’s response to this crisis.

Updated:   23 April 2020 / Responsible Officer:  CBE Communications and Outreach / Page Contact:  College Web Team