Why the “one size fits all approach” is hurting us all
“Ultimately, when our rural and regional economies do better, Queensland and the nation do better- something that is needed now more than ever before…”
Author: Carl Valentine, Managing Partner PVW Partners
PVW Partners recently joined over 200 North Queensland medical professionals and business leaders in calling for the urgent introduction of Regional Management Zones that would see centres like Townsville that have had low to no community transmission of COVID-19 able to have restrictions eased sooner that those centres which have had active community transmissions.
At the time of writing this article, Townsville is almost 50 days clear of any new COVID-19 cases.
Businesses in North Queensland continue to be the victims of a “one size fits all” model that persists in Queensland despite the vast differences in our regions. This is becoming increasingly difficult to understand, even more so as we see other States and Territories more rapidly relaxing their business and social restrictions than is the case in Queensland, let alone regions within Queensland.
There are towns across regional Queensland that have not had a single case of the virus, yet the economic and social fabrics of those communities have been decimated. The introduction of the “Outback region” does recognise regional differences to some degree, but more could sensibly be done.
The cost of the decision to continue unreasonably suppressing business and other economic activities, effectively closing down Australia’s most decentralised State, won’t be known for some time; what we do know is that it will be significant, and the pain felt for a long time to come.
PVW Partners advocates that regionally relevant policies- whether COVID-19 related or not- would better enable our communities to thrive under their own unique conditions.
If Townsville, for example, is almost 50 days clear of no new COVID-19 cases, why aren’t we 50 days ahead on the relaxation of restrictions relative to other parts of Queensland, let alone other parts of Australia?
Obviously, if there are flare ups in specific regions we need to be prepared to have restrictions re-imposed (hopefully on a much more micro-level with the support of enhanced tracking and tracing protocols, including the wider spread use of the COVIDSafe app) but the issue right now is the unreasonable suppression of activity and the shifting of the goal posts as to when different parts of Queensland might see differential relaxation of restrictions.
Townsville is well past the originally touted 28 day “no new case rule” (as indeed are all those parts of Queensland that have never had active cases of COVID-19). It was then suggested that relaxations couldn’t be accelerated while members of a community were subject to self-quarantine notices (it’s not unreasonable to expect a continuation of these notices as more people can access testing and are doing the right thing by getting tested an self-isolating). In addition to all this, its now been suggested that regions or industries need to supply their own relaxation plans to the State Government (isn’t that the job of Government and reasonable to expect that these plans should have been prepared some time ago?).
Business owners are reasonable people and understand there was no handbook available to anyone for dealing with the health or economic aspects of COVID-19. We are all in this together and are on a journey together that must be supported by trust and transparency. Business owners understand hard decisions need to be made, many are being made on a daily basis by thousands of businesses, but those decisions should be explained clearly and consistently. The absence of clarity around why decisions are being made shows disrespect and mistrust for the businesses and communities for whose benefit these decisions should be made.
This situation has brought to light, again, the need for a broader policy discussion around regionally relevant policy settings (not to be confused with lobbying for a separate State which this campaign is not). By giving our regions more importance at the decision-making table, the growth of sustainable communities will inevitably follow.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the nation that regional areas have an enormous amount going for them. I have no doubt that there are tens of thousands of people isolating in small apartments in our capital cities dreaming about the wide-open spaces of regional Queensland.
Once we are on the “other side” of COVID-19, I believe there will be opportunities to relieve the pressures on our capital cities and attract more people to live, work and raise families in regional Queensland.
We need to ensure government turns its mind to the way regional communities can be better utilised and supported through the development of meaningful and relevant policy. Ultimately, when our rural and regional economies do better, Queensland and the nation do better- something that is needed now more than ever before.