Comment: Action and Inaction

When this crisis is over, do we really want to be in the same position we were before? asks Ella Robinson-Clarke, Public Policy student and Port Phillip local.

According to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (2011), the Global Financial Crisis came down to two things – action and inaction. Specifically, the actions of market forces and the inaction of the American government. Now, twelve years later, Australia is facing the “biggest economic plunge on record”[1], and we are, once again, questioning the very ideology of market economies.

A headspace worker once told me that time under tension with resistance equals progress. Now that we are officially in our first recession for almost three decades, I wonder if this equation – initially relating to an individual’s mental health recovery – can also be applied to economics. Many young people have labelled the current pandemic as the most difficult thing we have faced in our lifetime. However, it is also an unmistakable opportunity for progress.

The pandemic has brought a number of things out of our periphery and into public view. Australia’s income and wealth inequality is worsening – widening the gaps between low, middle and high income families. The women’s movement is said to be losing years of progress[2], with working mothers becoming primary carers and home schoolers. The difficulties our country is now facing make me question how ‘strong and stable’ our economy actually was.

It feels as though coronavirus (COVID-19) has truly demonstrated the delicacy of Australia’s market systems. The casualisation of the workforce has created a hostile – and unreliable – job market for young Australians. Casual workers are more likely to be sacked in times of hardship and are therefore more susceptible to employment and economic insecurity. One in four Australian workers are employed on a casual basis[3]. The current employment crisis is therefore as unsurprising as it is devastating.

However, when it comes to economic recovery, I can’t help but wonder if we’re going about this the wrong way. When this crisis is over, do we really want to be in the same position we were before? After the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, New Zealand invested in earthquake-proof building research. While it remains unlikely that there will ever be a completely earthquake-proof building, many New Zealanders now live and work in structures that give them a much greater chance at making it through a crisis. Can we not do the same with our economy?

Our market economy clearly has not worked for us, and time under tension with resistance does equal progress. So why not progress?

Josh Frydenberg has stated that providing economic support, keeping people in jobs and businesses in business is the key to emerging from the current economic climate. I would like to propose that we go one step further – because we can, and we should. We need to implement progressive economic policy, and establish an economy that is fair, reliable and sustainable.

That’s what we need to see in local government. A commitment to not merely rebuilding but reimagining and restructuring our local economy and jobs market.

Joe Biden believes that a country’s budget shows us what it values. The way I see it, COVID-19 has created in Australia a kind of economic juncture. We can rebuild and recover an economy that values small government, fiscal inequality and the status quo – where wealth flourishes at the top and leaves many Aussies unsupported. Or, we can establish an economy that will create a more equitable society and a more sustainable market system.

TL; DR: Government intervention in the economy and job market is needed to not merely carry Australia out of the current economic and job crisis but to build a more equitable and futureproof market for future generations.


For an effective, progressive and efficient economy, a good starting point are the following policy recommendations made by the OECD in the 2019 Employment Outlook:

Since the mid-1980s, taxes have become less redistributive.

Employment is the most promising way of tackling inequality.

Reforming tax and benefit policies is the most direct instrument for increasing redistributive effects. Large and persistent losses in low-income groups following recessions underline the importance of government transfers and well-conceived income-support policies.

Employment protection systems are a key institution for worker security.

The provision of freely accessible and high-quality public services, such as education, health, and family care, is important.

Further Reading

Covid-19: the impacts of the pandemic on inequality

Income and wealth inequality in Australia was rising before COVID-19

The Coronavirus Is a Disaster for Feminism

The coronavirus backlash: how the pandemic is destroying women's rights


Ella is a soon-to-be Public Policy graduate, a Port Phillip local and a strong advocate for progressive and compassionate politics. She identifies as a liberal - with a lowercase L.


[1] (Janda and Lasker 2020)

[2] (Lewis 2020)

[3] (Khadem 2019)