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Australia's Forward Defence Pandemic Strategy

Government's role is not to get out of the way of business but to look after the needs all the people they represent. Australia's response to the COVID-19 crisis has been hamstrung by the balancing act between business and community needs governments have had to deal with.

Increasing population growth, rapid urbanisation, climate change, industrial farming practices both on the land and in the ocean have dramatically increase the possibility of organisms crossing the animal-human barrier. COVID-19 isn't a one in a hundred-year pandemic, it is a harbinger of what is the come unless radical changes are made to the way we create wealth and redistribute it. In the interim it is critical Australia develops a forward defence pandemic strategy in order to deal with the possibility of a wave of pandemics that will have far more devastating consequences and SARS, MERS and COVID-19. Less than 700 years ago over 50% of the world's population perished as a result of the plague.

In an era when it can take years to produce effective vaccine or find an effective medical solution to the human costs borne by the community, it's imperative governments in Australia at the local, state and national levels have an effective forward defence strategy they can rapidly implement at the first sign of a pandemic. Currently the federal government spends tens of billions of dollars on a military forward defence strategy and federal and state governments have measures in place to deal with bushfires, cyclones, floods and civil disturbances but no plans to deal with future pandemics.

Australia, a resource rich country with a small educated population is in an excellent position to draw up plans to deal with both the human and economic costs of future pandemics. Quarantine measures and economic subsidies should form the backbone of pandemic control. The first and most important goal is the creation of a National Pandemic Response Centre to co-ordinate pandemic responses. Without such a centre, the ineffective nine country response (national, six state, two territory) governments we are currently utilising would be replicated. A National Pandemic Response Centre would be best placed to co-ordinate and implement a strategy that, like “fire drills”, needs to be practiced by the community in case of future pandemics. The National Pandemic Response Centre needs to have branches in all states and territories, political input as well as input by full-time health experts whose job it is to keep the public engaged with its work, co-ordinate research activities around the country as well as ensure stockpiles of personal protective equipment and other health equipment is readily available in case of a pandemic. It would also be responsible for overseeing the creation of a health workers pandemic reserve similar to the Army Reserve and volunteer firefighters’ organisations that currently exist across Australia.

One lesson we have been very slow to learn during this pandemic is the critical role isolation plays in containing a pandemic for which there is no vaccine or cure. It is no accident Australia, a country that relied on ships to transport immigrants here, had quarantine centres established outside every major port to isolate and treat sick passengers. Fire shelters and cyclone shelters are becoming an increasing feature of the Australian landscape. We need to add to this landscape pandemic isolation centres which can accommodate and look after everyone with the disease in a secure safe environment. Hotel isolation, leaving infected aged care residents in aged care facilities, home isolation, and treating COVID-19 patients in major hospitals, as we have seen, does not work.
We need to ask ourselves – how would we cope, if the mortality rate is 20% not 2%, if we did not have a nationally funded National Pandemic Response Centre and the necessary infrastructure to isolate and treat people when the next (not if) pandemic arrives on our doorstep?

The economic consequences of the current COVID-19 crisis have had the greatest impact on those occupations that require human interaction. The wholesale closure of sections of the economy will have economic ramifications for years. The human cost of government closures of vast sectors of the economy have been catastrophic for the small business centre and casual staff. The introduction of JobKeeper and the temporary increase in the JobSeeker allowance can be compared to the efforts of the boy who put his finger in the dike to stop Holland being flooded.

We need to make major economic changes to ensure that people affected by a disaster whether it's a pandemic, flood, bushfire, drought or cyclone can at least have access to the basic necessities of life. The payment of a Universal Basic Income to every Australian would go a long way towards providing the social security net required to keep body and soul together during a disaster. The key question we need to ask ourselves is, how can we fund both a Universal Basic Income and a National Pandemic Response Centre? In order to fund such an ambitious program, governments need to take on a new role. In the 21st century governments can no longer be an instrument that uses its monopoly on the use of force to lay down the red carpet for the corporate world as it walks out of this country with billions of dollars tucked away in its pockets. It's no accident for the first time since the 1970s more money is being invested outside of Australia than invested in Australia.

Of every nation state in the world, Australia is best placed to fund a radical pandemic package that deals with both the health and economic needs of Australians.

Legislation that needs to be considered by the government includes:
• The introduction of a 2% pandemic taxpayer levy
• The introduction of a 1% stock market turnover levy – considering the ASX turned over 1.5 trillion dollars last financial year, this would raise over 150 billion dollars per year.
• The introduction of a 1% turnover tax on businesses / corporations with a turnover of more than two million dollars per year – such a tax would capture all those businesses that currently use the loopholes in the tax laws to pay no tax or voluntary taxation.
• The introduction of a 50% resource profit tax – why should transnational companies that mine resources that are owned by this country’s first nations people and the rest of Australians pay peppercorn royalties, evade tax and invest their profits offshore.
• The introduction of legislation that forces companies to invest 50% of the profits in Australia.

Australia would be able to raise more than enough money to fund a Universal Basic Income and provide the best response to pandemics and other disasters by making the passage of this basket of legislation a national priority.
Difficult circumstances require radical solutions. The current business as usual approach that governments are prone to take is a recipe for repeating the mistakes of the past.

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