We’re going to benefit from the shutdown imposed by the virus, in infinite ways. It may not feel like it at the moment, and I don’t disregard the pain many are going through, but Australia will look back at this crisis as a time that changed the nation for the better.
The discussion now is about how and when we return to normal. But the new normal will be different to the old. It has to be.
One of the big lessons is that we cannot continue to have so many important things made in one country – or anywhere offshore. There are things we need to make in Australia. Manufacturing is poised for a revival, with benefits in employment. This will be part of a strong economic recovery.
The corporate decision-makers who thought it made sense to locate customer call centres offshore because it saved a few bucks are now reconsidering their strategies. They need to bring customer service back home and in the process they will have fewer angry and frustrated customers. And create jobs in Australia.
The situation has forced us to innovate and to work harder at helping our customers. Real estate has found ways to function without live auctions and open houses. We’re seeing examples of online auctions achieving sales well over the reserve price. One-on-one inspections of properties have taken us back to old service standards and getting to know buyers one-on-one. Everyone benefits.
Many of us have realised how much we value the simple things we took for granted, like meeting friends for a cuppa or taking the family to the beach. When the restrictions are lifted, Australians will party like they never have since the end of World War Two – not extravagantly but by going to cafes, pubs, theatres, parks and beaches. A recent survey indicates people plan to take holidays in Australia. Many of the lost jobs will come back (not all, unfortunately).
Some people have learned, by accident, how to save. The restrictions have stopped us going out and spending. The improvement to the bank balance has been an eye-opener. Now some of us know how to get on top of the mortgage and young adults have been shown a way to save a deposit for a first home. First-home buyers with secure jobs will be busy in the second half of the year.
The resources sector has remained steady in the shutdown period. Queensland locations with links to the mining industry have experienced an uplift in rental demand amid the virus crisis, with rents actually rising. China, our biggest trading partner, is projected by the IMF to experience moderate economic growth this year and a boom next year. I’m expecting a resources boom in Australia as China and other nations get ambitious about economic recovery. Real estate markets influenced by resources links may surge.
We can expect an increase in people moving from the big cities and buying in lifestyle areas within an hour or two of the city centre. This movement has been enhanced by technology which allows people to work remotely – and will be exacerbated by the shutdown, which has forced people to work from home.
Some will make it a permanent arrangement. Expect uplift in outer-ring areas of our major cities and in regional markets like the Central Coast and the Southern Highlands in NSW; Ballarat, Bendigo, the Latrobe Valley and elsewhere in Victoria; and the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
As an aside, the virus has done all of us a favour by delivering a major come-uppance to those who run global oil businesses and regularly hold the world to ransom with their cynical manipulation of supply and prices. We’ve all saved money by needing to fill up our cars less often and paying less when we do. Will it change our habits post-shutdown? Hopefully, but probably not.
The virus has generally done the environment a big favour. The before-and-after shots of some of world’s big cities are a revelation, including some in Australia. There’s been a big reduction in emissions. The greatest benefit of the shutdown would be achieved if we learnt something from that.
But, amid everything, we’ve learnt who the real heroes are and how much we underpay them. We’ve discovered that we can do without over-rated footie players and self-absorbed corporate executives, but not without under-resourced and under-appreciated nurses. Boris Johnson has learnt that more than most.
And we’ve seen a cultural shift in politics and business. There’s been a refreshing absence of adversarial politics. The country apparently can function without people shouting at one another in Parliament. Let’s make that a permanent change.
Business in many ways has sought to be part of the solution, even including the major banks. The only sectors which haven’t entered into the spirit of pulling together have been insurance and some sections of news media.
Who knows – maybe going out of your way to help people is actually good for business.