Coronavirus: COVID-19 commission chair Nev Power says life won't return to normal with 'snap of the fingers'

Chairman of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission Nev Power. Picture: Karleen Minney
Chairman of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission Nev Power. Picture: Karleen Minney

Life in Australia won't return to normal with a "snap of the fingers" and the nation must prepare to adapt as other countries rethink international trade flows amid the pandemic, the head of the advisory body guiding the economic recovery from COVID-19 has said.

National COVID-19 Coordination Commission chairman Nev Power said it had started focusing more on helping businesses understand how to adjust as the virus threat remained "in the background".

The commission is advising businesses how to make themselves safe from COVID-19 for employees and customers, and how to plan for the event of coronavirus infections in the workplace.

It was also helping business operators understand how to build a "COVID-19 business model" to sustain them through the long-term economic fall-out of the pandemic, Mr Power said.

"Life isn't just going to return to normal with a snap of the fingers," he said.

"No doubt there will be some restrictions that may be on for quite some considerable time, and of course other countries are going through this at a different rate to what we're doing, so things like international travel are likely to be affected for quite some considerable time.

"How do businesses that relied on international travel, or even domestic travel for that matter, reconfigure their businesses, restructure so that they have a business model that maximises the amount of business they can do, maximises the number of jobs they can put on, do all those things, given those restrictions and constraints that are there for COVID-19?

"And perhaps some of the examples of that is businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector that were used to having a large influx of international tourists will need to reconfigure their businesses to attract local, regional and eventually interstate tourists."

Brave new economy

Mr Power, chairman of Perth Airport and a former chief executive of Fortescue Metals, is Prime Minister Scott Morrison's handpicked head of the commission set up in March to solve supply chain problems during the pandemic.

The deputy chairman is former Telstra boss David Thodey, who also headed the government's review of the public service last year.

Other members are former senior public servant Jane Halton, former managing director of Toll Holdings Paul Little, managing director of Energy Australia and Reserve Bank board member Catherine Tanna, and former head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and former Labor minister Greg Combet.

A lot of the things that we've taken for granted about international trade flows will no doubt be re-examined by those countries and therefore we're going to need to look at how we respond to that.

Nev Power

Two senior public servants - the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens, and the head of the Home Affairs Department Mike Pezzullo - are also part of the commission.

In its early stages the body focused on helping the importation and local manufacture of medical personal protective equipment, and worked with supermarkets to keep supply chains flowing in regional and rural Australia.

Shortly after taking the job, Mr Power said the commission's task would also be to join businesses together to plan for the post-pandemic economy.

"We want to be well positioned to make sure that we restore people's jobs and livelihoods as quickly as we possibly can afterwards," he said.

The commission's terms of reference make it responsible for mobilising a "whole of economy effort" to mitigate the pandemic's economic shocks.

It consults with businesses and feeds advice back to ministers and Commonwealth departments responding to COVID-19. The commission also reports formally to the Prime Minister's Office.

Going local

Mr Power on Tuesday said Australian businesses had an opportunity to respond to disrupted supply chains, and the nation's lower currency value, by investing in Australia and expanding local production.

Every country was reassessing its sovereign capability following COVID-19, deciding on trade policies and national responses to the pandemic, he said.

"That means that a lot of the things that we've taken for granted about international trade flows will no doubt be re-examined by those countries and therefore we're going to need to look at how we respond to that."

Australia needed to encourage flows of international trade after COVID-19, Mr Power said.

"However a lot of the products that we import will be much more difficult to source and therefore there's an opportunity for us to look at how we can manufacture more in Australia or how we can value add our products further in Australia, and that will represent opportunities for us to accelerate parts of the economy."

Sovereign capability was another question for the federal government, Mr Power said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked Nev Power to head the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Prime Minister Scott Morrison asked Nev Power to head the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

"That could be increased levels of stockpiles of some materials and equipment for example, or it may be having the capacity and capability to build them here in Australia. It could be a combination of those things."

COVID-19 restrictions would be felt differently across the Australian economy, Mr Power said.

"We know that there are some parts of the economy that are going to be slow to respond to this, because of the restrictions nationally and internationally, and other parts of the economy that can get back to normal fairly quickly," he said.

"Some businesses will be able to grow more rapidly and we need to identify and accelerate those businesses or set the environment so those businesses can grow rapidly. And it might be the growth and scale up of existing businesses and it might be the development of some new businesses."

Among the industries with potential for growth in Australia's post-pandemic economy were value-adding for agriculture, minerals processing and energy-intensive manufacturing.

Mr Power said the Australian Public Service would have an "enormous role" in responding to the economic shock of COVID-19, and already had to date.

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"They're the critical implementers of the policies and strategies that are coming from government for the recovery from the virus," he said.

The commission's role was an advisory one.

"We're here to provide input and business advice into government to help them make the right decisions around policy and process to implement, and a key part of that has been our engagement with the departments and that's gone very, very well."

  • For information on COVID-19, please go to the federal Health Department's website.
  • You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
  • If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)

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This story No fast return to normal life after coronavirus: Nev Power first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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