More than fiscal stimulus: an alternate plan to reboot the economy

28 September 2020
Unlikely coalition offers concrete solutions to complex problems
Assembled by the Sydney Policy Lab, businesses, community groups, unions and academics have united to propose an alternative economic strategy and future for Australia.

New Zealand has a Wellbeing Budget. Citizens in the US will decide in November if they want to Build Back Better. The European Union has a Green Deal. Come the October Budget, Australia can have a Real Deal.

In the lead up to the budget, a diverse group of organisations have come together to craft a plan for reshaping the economy, post-pandemic. Labelled ‘A Real Deal’, the plan suggests that while stimulus spending is important, it is insufficient to address the critical issues the country is facing. It also outlines how action on climate change can be coupled with action on jobs to the benefit of all Australians.

Brought together by academics at the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney, partners include Australian Conservation Foundation, Climate Justice Union, GetUp!, Jesuit Social Services, Queensland Community Alliance, Sydney Alliance, Tomorrow Movement, United Workers Union, and Victoria Trades Hall, working alongside a number of other business and community groups.

[We] are convinced that the traditional economic approach will only benefit those who have been least affected by the COVID-19 crisis
Dr Gareth Bryant

“The pandemic is an opportunity to do a different kind of budget. What we are calling for requires big change not just big spending. Each of our partner organisations are convinced that the traditional economic approach will only benefit those who have been least affected by the COVID-19 crisis,” project economist Dr Gareth Bryant said.

“Instead of asking ‘how much should we spend?’, we should ask, ‘will the changes go far enough?’," added project lead, Dr Amanda Tattersall. “We should also question who gets to make these crucial decisions at this decisive moment in our history. We want to see as many people as possible involved in shaping our country’s future.”

The coalition proposes five benchmarks that will determine whether October’s budget represents a ‘Real Deal’: 

  • alternative investment – targeted towards those who need it most, to secure long-term economic resilience
  • tackling long-term inequalities – to address the problems that COVID-19 exposed and exacerbated
  • a ‘business not as usual’ mindset – a long-term vision that embraces First Nations sovereignty; care; climate; work; justice; and citizenship
  • community involvement in decision-making – including input from those with lived experience of relevant issues
  • far-reaching collaboration – the pandemic has demonstrated the value of involving communities as genuine policy-making partners

Real-world solutions

Concrete proposals in the Real Deal include supporting a community-led plan to achieve 700 percent renewables – 700 gigawatts of wind and solar energy, compared to our current production of around 10 gigawatts. This solution would not only create clean energy but generate new jobs in renewables and in energy intensive Australian manufacturing, like aluminium.

Matt Rose, Economy and Democracy Program Manager at partner organisation the Australian Conservation Foundation said: “Creating a real deal for our climate can also create a new deal for jobs. Bold plans for renewables will help transform many existing industries and secure their future, and a clean energy export industry will create new jobs and opportunities across the country.”

Another proposal focuses on re-imagining the country’s aged care system. The pandemic revealed a health crisis in aged care, long evident to many of those within the system. “Most older Australians say that they want to be cared for at home. We need to restructure and reinvest in aged care,” said Mel Gatfield, National Director – New Organising at the United Workers Union, a partner organisation.

The Real Deal presents a long-term approach that transcends politics, and, if implemented, would make the country safer, fairer and healthier for everyone
Professor Marc Stears, Director, Sydney Policy Lab

The Real Deal also calls for more opportunities for people with lived experience of issues to be involved in solution-oriented decision-making. A case study in the report considers the Just Home Margaret River housing justice organisation, run by people with lived experience of housing stress, homelessness, family and domestic violence, and their allies. As the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated in March, Just Home recognised that the lockdown and associated economic shock would create housing vulnerability, so they coordinated an emergency response with the local council. This resulted in immediate housing for 18 local people, as well as wraparound mental health, food, and transport services.  

“COVID-19 has laid bare cracks in our society, with already vulnerable populations bearing the brunt of the suffering,” Sydney Policy Lab Director, Professor Marc Stears said.

“The Real Deal presents a long-term approach that transcends politics, and, if implemented, would make the country safer, fairer and healthier for everyone.”

A Real Deal: background

Rather than coming up with yet another set of hypothetical policy proposals originating in the seminar room, the Real Deal coalition’s solutions are drawn from the world of community organisations and businesses.

The plan has emerged from bringing together people who don’t usually work alongside one another, encouraging new ideas to be formed through a process of collaboration across difference.

The policy proposals the disparate partners have endorsed include expanding renewable energy; reimagining aged care; organising workers; building cooperative enterprise; making responsible investments; providing community housing; planning climate and energy justice; practising mutual aid; and collaborating across difference.

About the Sydney Policy Lab

The Sydney Policy Lab is a multidisciplinary research institute at the University of Sydney. It is a nonpartisan space where people from all walks of life can meet and develop plans collectively for the future.

Hero image credit: Pat Whelen on Unsplash.

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