Comment | The Gauge
After widespread rain across most of Australia only a few weeks ago, one could be forgiven for being a bit optimistic about 2020 being a year of recovery.
In a very short space of time Australia, like the rest of the world, has had its society and economy completely shut down.
Small businesses, especially those regionally based, that have been struggling through drought, flood and fires for the past few years are now faced with a new and far more uncertain challenge.
No one knows how long this pandemic will last - some say weeks, others months and years.
However, what is certain is that the economic and social devastation we are seeing will be felt for decades to come.
But in the end, there is no point complaining as we are all doing it tough.
Like generations before us we will survive and have the opportunity to grow stronger into the future.
While it's difficult to make any sort of long term plans given the great uncertainty that clouds us, it is a chance to think about what we can do to speed up the recovery and learn from our mistakes.
The great irony of the situation is that the industry that was on its knees only a few short months ago could be our savior.
An industry that was lambasted for being unviable and being propped up by Government hands out could now be the industry to prop up an entire economy being supported by Government handouts.
Agriculture can light the path to not only economic recovery but long-term economic sustainability. Clean, green and reliable food is one of the three main staples we all need to survive.
With trillions of dollars wiped off the global economy and billions from our own economy, we have to refocus on where we can get the best bang for our buck in driving economic recovery.
And that money is best spent on agriculture to support regional communities, drive economic growth and provide sustainable jobs. The flow on effects support the entire economy and those benefits are spent locally.
Is that new $14 billion tunnel in Brisbane that saves five minutes on an inner-city commute more of a priority than fixing a dam for $300 million that produces 25 per cent of Australia's fresh food?
Projects like Rookwood, Nathan Dam, Emu Swamp and Burdekin Falls can no longer be left on the shelf to gather dust. We must push the go button and quickly.
We must also support critical regional infrastructure projects including road, rail and port development to allow us to get produce to markets and export efficiently and effectively.
We must also ensure environmental regulation is scientifically based that supports sustainable production and environmental protection not just to appease inner city preferences.
We need to focus on large scale, job producing and economic supporting projects that not only help us now but provide real value and real growth into the future.
The other important lesson we must learn is that we need to focus on ourselves and our own economy. For decades, we have been fed the mantra of globalisation and international efficiency.
It's only when the globe shuts down, we realise the things we have sold ourselves short on. We need to refocus on domestic manufacturing - supporting local industry and jobs.
We need to be self-sufficient first and globally competitive second.
One of the largest industries that will be hit by this disaster is our tourism industry.
With the shutters being pulled down on the free movement of people between countries, it's time that Australians get out and about in our own country and supported their own.
Instead of that "cheap trip" to Bali - why not try Cairns, Port Douglas or Hamilton Island?
Skip the French Rivera and head to the Barossa or Yarra Valley.
Go and see the whales at Hervey Bay, the turtles at Bargara, the penguins at Phillip Island, Uluru or the big prawn at Ballina!
But the biggest lesson we must learn is to support small business. It's currently on its knees and many will never recover unless we support them and spend locally.
Support your local cafes, pubs and restaurants before they disappear for ever.
Buy local produce before it's no longer there.
Buy online but only from an Australian domain and don't be cheap and short sighted - buy high quality and Australian made products.
And when the virus has passed - which it will - get out and splash some cash to support our local economies that support us all.
We won't know what we are missing until it's no longer there.
- Tom Marland is an agribusiness lawyer based in Bundaberg, Queensland. He is also the author of the blog, Food for Thought, Thought for Food.