COVID-19 vaccination is the only way out of crisis mode for business

22 July 2021

None of us want to be in this position. Our leaders don't want to be here either. But here we are. We've been living in crisis mode for 17 months and it's taking its toll on all of us.

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Tempers are fraying, mental health concerns are growing, and our way of life is changing in a way that we don't like. 

Since our way of life changed in March last year, we have endured lockdowns and lockouts all too often. I'm sure this fifth lockdown will not be the last. 

Every day, business owners wake up wondering whether they will be able to trade tomorrow. The only certainty they have is uncertainty. 

It is an environment that is not conducive to business and has devastated many. After five lockdowns, they have largely exhausted all financial and emotional reserves. 

Every lockdown sees governments provide some cash relief for business and workers. It's always appreciated, but it never covers the cost of what is lost. 

Feedback from our members has been devastating. I am in constant contact with many of them. 

Comments last week included: "The cost of a lockdown is not just in the reduction in revenue, it is also at the expense of managing the implications of the lockdown." And: "In and out of lockdown plays havoc with budgeting, planning, forecasting, marketing staff levels etc. It is extremely difficult to effectively build a business in this environment." And some straight-out desperation around not qualifying for grants because of the classification of their business. 

There are tourism boat operators, who are coded as transport, so don't qualify, or agricultural producers, who service restaurants, and don't qualify because they are coded as agriculture, but their supply chain is gone. They should have equal access to support and we are advocating to the government to sort these anomalies out. 

It's not businesses' fault, but they pay the price of outbreaks much more disproportionately than most others. Governments have understandably prioritised our health, and there now needs to be a greater focus on the vaccine rollout. 

It's abundantly clear the only way out of this is vaccination. Look at the US and Europe for evidence. 

The days of lockdown have become a distant memory there as vaccination rates have increased. 

Masks remain in some places, but it's a small price to pay for the freedom we now desperately crave. 

Last week, I spoke to my former boss in the US, Andy Slavitt, who has just finished running the vaccination program for the US, working directly for President Biden. Under his leadership, the vaccine program was highly organised and effective, and they are now living with the benefits that come from a highly vaccinated population. He remarked how Australia was the envy of the world last year, but seems to be struggling with COVID-19 now. 

When he designed the program for the US, he focused on three areas:  

  1. having vaccine supply; 
  2. helping educate on the need for vaccination and creating motivation to be vaccinated;  
  3. having the ability to vaccinate quickly and widely, with military-like logistics of supply chain. 

The success of the US vaccination program is clear for everyone to see. This is where we need to be now and the first step is to see the plan, complete with supply and a motivational advertising campaign. 

After that, we need to be aspirational and bullish about getting vaccination rates to 70 per cent or above before Christmas so we can go and enjoy a bloody great summer. We love being the underdogs. Right now, that is exactly what we are, and it is when we are in this position that we respond best. 

What the last week has shown me is that there's a renewed and genuine collegiality between federal and state governments. It needs to be parlayed into a genuine plan for the vaccine rollout, endorsed at national cabinet and backed strongly by our leaders. 

Not surprisingly, it took Victorians to lead the way. Premier Daniel Andrews delivered a very clear four-point plan, which has largely been adopted, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revised the federal support package delivering more support for workers and business. 

We can all follow the lead. 

Business stands ready to help as does the union movement and I'm sure you do too. 

With this united front, we can get Australia vaccinated and our lives returned to normal. 

The ultimate motivation should be simple: If you want to help save a business, get the vaccine; if you want to help save a job, get the vaccine; if you want to enjoy our way of life again, get the vaccine; if you want to put an end to lockdowns, take the vaccine. 

We miss the freedoms of the Victoria and Australia that we love. 

The enemy is COVID-19 and the way forward is vaccination. You know it, and I know it, we now need to come together and just get it done. 

This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun on 22 July 2021. 

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