Principles for reopening Australia

9 September 2021
Conclusions from the Open Society, Common Purpose taskforce summit
A taskforce comprised of high-profile leaders convened by the University of Sydney offers six principles to guide the way to an open, democratic and unified society as part of Australia's pandemic response.

The Open Society, Common Purpose taskforce, convened by the University of Sydney Policy Lab, has released its principles for how Australia can move decisively and safely to reopen our society, as we move towards the next phase of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The principles emerged from an online summit convened by the taskforce on 23 August, which was attended by about 50 leaders from business, government and civil society. They follow the taskforce’s A Roadmap to Reopening report published in May, which has been widely cited in coverage of how Australia can reopen its international borders.

The taskforce’s Principles for Reopening Australia are aimed to guide leaders and organisations across Australia in supporting our return to an open, democratic society, animated by national unity and a common purpose. They relate to the appropriate threshold of vaccinations for the ending of lockdowns and restrictions, the wellbeing of children and schooling, the design of public responses to the pandemic, and a more proportionate public conversation about COVID-19.  

Principles for reopening Australia

  1. It is not sustainable for Australia to maintain a zero Covid stance and we should begin removing lockdown restrictions when 70-80 per cent of the adult population is fully vaccinated.
  2. Australia needs a more proportionate public conversation about the risks and burdens of COVID-19, in order to build the psychological runway required for reopening the country.
  3. The design of public responses to the pandemic must be informed by diverse perspectives, in particular those communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
  4. Australia should consider mandatory vaccination for key workers and professions, including those in health, education, logistics and transportation.
  5. Australia should have a national plan for schools to enable as much face-to-face learning for the fourth term of school in 2021 as is safely possible, and to stay open into 2022, preventing further deterioration in children’s education and mental health.
  6. Australia should increase investment in public health and mental health in the next stage of the pandemic and beyond.

The principles were developed through a dialogue between leaders and experts in epidemiology, infectious diseases, biomedical sciences, and human rights at last month’s summit. Opened by the University’s Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott and closed by Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson, the summit’s speakers included Professor Francois Balloux (University College London), Dr Nick Coatsworth (former Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer), Professor Fiona Russell (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne), Professor Sharon Goldfeld (Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne), Professor Greg Dore (Kirby Institute, University of NSW) and Professor Sarah Joseph (Griffith University).

There remains a need to build a public consensus about how Australia moves away from a ‘zero Covid’ approach to an approach of ‘responsibly living with COVID-19’
Taskforce chair, Mark Rigotti

“There remains a need to build a public consensus about how Australia moves away from a ‘zero Covid’ approach to an approach of ‘responsibly living with COVID-19’. These principles provide a starting point for such a consensus”, taskforce chair Mark Rigotti said.

The taskforce, which has brought together senior leaders from business, the law, the arts, civil society and education, has been a high-impact collaboration that has mobilised the University of Sydney’s expertise in a number of disciplinary fields.

The taskforce’s co-sponsors at the University, Professor Marc Stears (Director, Sydney Policy Lab) and Professor Tim Soutphommasane (Director, Culture Strategy), will continue to convene conversations and generate knowledge to support the principles of an open democratic Australian society engaged with the world. They welcome partners in future collaborations from business, government, civil society and academia.

Hero image: Grace Sui and Tim Fennis: “Portraits of Sydney”.

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