2020: The Year That Changed Us book cover
Recording date:

Join Michelle Grattan in conversation with Dr Caroline Fisher as they discuss The Conversation's new book, 2020: The Year That Changed Us.

The Conversation: 2020 The Year that Changed Us

*Speakers: Marcus (M), Caroline Fisher (C), Michelle Grattan (G)

*Location: National Library of Australia

*Date: 17th November, 2020

M:        Yaama and welcome to the National Library of Australia. In doing so I acknowledge Australia’s first nations people as the traditional owners and custodians of this land and give respect to the elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In January 2020 Australia went from battling one of its worst ever bushfire seasons to rpeaprign for COVID-19 to hit its shores. What ensued was a crisis, a pandemic, political upheaval, an international human rights movement, global recession and localised emergencies dwarfed by a world spinning on an access of turmoil.

Joining us today to discuss the year that changed us is Michelle Grattan, Chief Political Correspondent at The Conversation and Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra and Dr Caroline Fisher, Associate Professor of Journalism from the University of Canberra.

C:        Hi there and thanks, Marcus, very much for the introduction and thank you all for joining us via Facebook Live. Thank you also for your patience, we did have some technical difficulties launching today so thank you for hanging in there and we look forward to your questions later in the event.

So we are today discussing the year that changed us and one of the questions that Michelle and I will be exploring is but did it really? How much of that change will remain? Hi Michelle.

G:        Hi Caroline.

C:        So look let’s get started with Scott Morrison, he’s had an unprecedented year. How did he travel in that year and have these events changed him as a leader?

G:        Well of course he started this year really, really badly. There was that holiday in Hawaii that ended up the holiday from hell in December because it was during the bushfires and he thought he could take the family away for a secret holiday, it started out and anyway it became a very bad look. So in January he tried to retrieve this somewhat by touring around bushfire areas and didn’t receive a very good reception.

C:        No, it had some bad optics in some of communities he went to, didn’t they, when he went to shake their hands.

G:        Absolutely but then behind the scenes of course COVID was coming and the government faced a mounting crisis. At the beginning it didn’t seem as though it was going to be absolutely huge. Probably the health experts thought it would be but mostly it was thought well we’d have a few cases, this was a virus that was spreading elsewhere rather than going to hit us too much but that quickly changed and the government had to find a response, had to deal with the health situation and had to prepare itself for what was going to be a massive economic hit which of course turned into the biggest recession we’ve had really since the depression and the first recession since the early ‘90s.

I think the government has handled the crisis well. Scott Morrison realised during the bushfires that he didn’t have a lot of federal power, that power to deal with the bushfires resided basically with the states and that’s the same with COVID, power is with the states and we’ve seen during this crisis just how powerful the states are with the whole border issue, of course. The borders have gone up and partially down and now up again this week. So what Scott Morrison did was create the National Cabinet which brought together all the state and territory leaders as well as the federal government and that did help getting a common response or a coordinated response to the crisis.

Now it didn’t mean all these governments were on the same page.

C:        No.

G:        There’s been differences over the borders but also at the beginning there was a difference about how hard to go in terms of shutting things down. Scott Morrison was not keen on shutting too much down but the New South Wales and Victorian Premiers right at the start said we’ve got to hit this hard. So that National Cabinet muted differences to an extent although they have broken out at times but then it comes together again but also coordinated responses and in the pushing and shoving in fact I think came through with basically quite good policies.

Now you can always point to the differences, the arguments, the sniping but overall that structure worked during the crisis.

C:        Okay so do you think that’s one of the changes that will endure post-COVID?

G:        I think that it will endure in the sense that this has replaced COAG, the Council of Australian Governments which it got a bit bureaucratic and it didn’t seem to be achieving as much as it should but my feeling is that in a federation you will get fights over issues and they will emerge quite strongly as time goes on.

C:        Some of the states, particularly some of the Labor states, were I guess highlighted for not toeing the line in the way the federal government would have liked. Do you think that there’d be pushback from some of those state governments for this National Cabinet situation to carry on?

G:        I think that it wasn’t only the Labor states that pushed back, I mean South Australia and Tasmania are Liberal governments, were tough on borders but the federal government targeted Queensland because the Queensland state election was coming up. That targeting in fact backfired on the feds and Annastacia Palaszczuk came out of course triumphant in that particular contest but I think that what you’ll see with the National Cabinet in the longer term on non-COVID issues is that the normal differences in the federation will arise on specifics.

C:        Can we just go back to one of the things you were mentioning before when we were talking about the bushfires and how Scott Morrison got off to a pretty bad start in relation to that? So he started off the year with being not very responsive and certainly slow to respond and of course there are some bushfire victims who are still yet to receive assistance but then seemed to develop into a more responsive Prime Minister. Do you think that he’s learned something along the way? Do you think he’ll continue to be a more responsive Prime Minister?

G:        I think he’s a very pragmatic Prime Minster and he’s a Prime Minster who does what it takes. Now when you think of what he has done in terms of economic stimulus he’s taken Treasury advice, he’s got a huge deficit, he’s run up huge debt. He has accepted that in these extraordinary circumstances you’ve got to stimulate the economy -

C:        He’s become a very good Labor Prime Minister.

G:        Well this is really a million miles from what the Liberal Party was saying a few years ago and what its general political stance is but except on a few social things he’s not particularly ideological. He therefore can move according to need and of course he just won that unwinnable election so he had a lot of authority to deploy and that was quite important. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder at anyone, there was no-one standing behind thinking I want his job.

So he had strong authority, he had a desperation to somehow get through this crisis successfully and he was willing to listen to the advice, the health experts, the economic experts although it’s interesting I think that throughout the crisis his emphasis has somewhat skewed to the economic. He’s understood and accepted that the health crisis has to be dealt with and that that is quite primary but his philosophy has been you suppress the virus, or his policy, you don’t try to go for elimination. But of course in some states the result has been elimination except when you think you’ve eliminated like South Australia up it pops.

C:        Up it pops, indeed. So one of those changes and changes in relationship and an economic relationship has been with the unions and they were very cooperative during COVID and the economic response and embracing flexibility for the workforce etc. Now do you think that’s going to endure? Do you think that’s reform by stealth that won’t return to former standards? Do you think that that relationship will endure and that cooperation will endure?

G:        I think that we haven’t actually seen the outcome of this because the government hasn’t produced its industrial relations changes and clearly Sally McManus, the ACTU Secretary, said this far, no further so I think that the cooperation of the union movement is a situation up to a point and that there will be fights on those industrial issues.

C:        So one of the things that we’ve seen is that political trust has risen during COVID, not just here, in other countries as well -

G:        Where there’ve been successful responses.

C:        Indeed and of course we’ve seen the successful re-election of Annastacia Palaszczuk in Queensland. Do you expect this to flow on to Morrison come the next federal election?

G:        Well I think that there are a couple of separate points here. On political trust I think what we see is following a decline over decades in trust I think people in a crisis look to authority, look to established institutions. Remember that the hyperpartisanship was dialled down and that helps trust go up, I think and therefore it was a good time for trust because people think well these institutions are the tried and tested ones and we’ve got to rely on them and as it turned out you could rely on them.

Now whether that continues in the future I would think that when this crisis passes, and it might take a while obviously, even though we have low cases the whole world’s in turmoil but I would think that we still will probably be left with a problem of distrust arising again because distrust comes partly from very fractious politics, from divided communities, from discontent, inequalities, all those things.

C:        Okay which brings me to Labor and there has been quite a degree of bipartisanship which arguably has reduced Labor’s ability to cut through so Labor started off quite strongly with the Eden-Monaro by-election win under their belt, a boost to Anthony Albanese. He gave a couple of vision statements this year as well with policy about jobs -

G:        Quite a few, actually.

C:        Well indeed.

G:        A lot of vision.

C:        A lot of vision, that’s right. The economy, renewables etc, focus on childcare and the budget reply but has he been able to cut through despite that?

G:        No, I don’t think he has been able to cut through and I think that any opposition in this situation would be in a very difficult position. On the one hand people do not want a lot of scrapping around small issues or the big COVID issues, they want to see parties working together. Now for an opposition that’s a very difficult situation and Labor did recognise that and basically it supported the big moves of the government. Then it started chipping away at the detail of some of those moves but even then I think the public was just looking at the big picture, it didn’t want to be delving down into the weeds particularly and I think Labor has become increasingly frustrated that it can’t get a grip on things. It’s as though it’s trying to go up a very slippery hill and just finds itself always sliding or pushed to the side or whatever and there’s no strategy really here which is the right strategy.

If it just goes along with the government then no-one’s listening to it, if it’s really fractious and takes up every issue then people say well they’re just being obstructionist and they’re marked down. Now it has tried to take up other issues, integrity issues, things of this sort but again people think yes, I’d agree with the point but I don’t really have the time or energy to focus on those issues when I’m worried about my job or my business or whatever.

So I think Labor is really in a difficult position and then on top of that it’s got this internal argument about where to go on climate policy and of course last week we saw Joel Fitzgibbon who was going to leave the front bench at the end of the year under some complicated deal but leave it in rather more dramatic circumstances just when Labor was thinking it would score points off the back of the Biden win against the government on climate change. Now it’s in the middle of this argument and there’s no easy way for it to solve its climate policy which is quite a central policy for it.

C:        Indeed so do you think now that Joel Fitzgibbon has gone to the back bench will he be quiet? I mean what’s that move going to actually do other than physically move from one space to another?

G:        Anyone who’s known Joel would say he will not be quiet. It’s really not clear how much he’s going to ramp this up because I remember very clearly in 2013 when he thought there should be a leadership change back to Kevin Rudd he was a big agitator. Now he says that this is just about policy, it’s not about leadership but nevertheless there are quite a few frustrated people in Labor who think well Anthony Albanese probably isn’t going to win the next election and this inevitably leads to destabilisation. My feeling is that even if Anthony Albanese is not going to win the next election is it sensible to burn off another leader? Anyway who is the obvious - Jim Chalmers is the alternative – well the frontrunner if there was to be a change but would he do any better against Scott Morrison in these circumstances? I think probably not. So -

C:        Do you think it’s possible though for Albanese to unite the party over climate change? I mean he did have that reputation when Julia Gillard was the leader of the Labor Party and Prime Minister and he did all of that background work, that he was a good negotiator, he could bring different voices together, that he really was a good mediator, really. But he doesn’t seem to be able to pull that off in this instance within his own party?

G:        Look, I think he will be able to stitch something together but I think that the trouble is that the sort of tears in the fabric will still be visible as it were and this is an issue where people in the party are genuinely divided because there are the pragmatists who say well you’ve got to have a fairly mild policy, a policy that’s not too far from the government, and this is Joel, of course, because you need to win those regional seats in Queensland. There are the others who are borderline Green people although they’re in the Labor party but they say well this is a defining issue, great moral challenge etc as Kevin Rudd once said and we can’t afford not to have a really robust policy.

Now getting those two sides together is pretty difficult and of course Bill Shorten found this and he was accused of saying one thing in the south, one thing in the north, it’s a real dilemma, it is a serious policy issue and rift.

C:        Surely if it was a quality mend or a quality join of these two ideas that was seen as a compromise but a credible solid compromise do you think that the electorate would buy that? I mean the electorate is not united on this either and there’s a lot of people in the middle who are undecided.

G:        Well that’s right and I think when you talk about the electorate you’re talking about particular electorates. You’re talking about the inner-city seats or some of the suburban seats in the main cities and you’re talking about the regions and I think that you'll get different sort of responses from different areas.

C:        Now one of the other big issues that we’ve seen aside from COVID and from the bushfires has been China, that has been a recurring theme this year and it seems to me that all the commentary is that China’s relationship with Australia has taken a complete nosedive starting with the call for an investigation into the origins of -

G:        Even earlier, I think.

C:        Even earlier.

G:        Ministers in the Turnbull Government weren’t able to get there or have calls returned on occasion.

C:        So where to now? Can you see things improving? I mean is this one of these changes that will endure and continue to worsen or do you think this is a change that might be corrected?

G:        Look, I think it’s a very serious situation and obviously how the Biden administration handles China will play into our situation but I think that really how it goes is in a sense more about China than Australia. Obviously the deterioration reflects the tougher and more assertive position taken by the Chinese Government in recent years and although China was agitated about that call for a COVID inquiry and probably even more agitated actually about the Turnbull Government’s legislation against foreign interference I think that it is reflecting how China sees the world and China sees Australia as lackey to the United States and it really wants to denigrate Australia, put it on the back foot. It is a competitor obviously for influence over Pacific countries, it is increasing competition at a superpower level with the United States. Its whole power is growing and I think that what Australia can do is to an extent limited. Sometimes critics say well we don’t engage properly at a diplomatic level -

C:        Yeah, they’ve had a bit of criticism.

G:        But I don’t think that this is just about language or diplomacy and I think we do have to take actions. You can argue about the call for the inquiry into COVID but I don’t think you can reasonably argue about the need for protection against foreign interference and that’s going to be an area of conflict with China.

C:        So with the Biden election in the US do you see the shift in their dynamic with China having a positive influence on ours? Do you think there’ll be a flowthrough from that?

G:        Look, I think that the Biden administration will perhaps tone down and shift the relationship somewhat with China but I don’t think there’ll be a huge shift. I think that there’s a general feeling across parties in the United States that China represents a challenge and so the shift will be one of degree rather than a qualitative shift.

C:        Earlier on you mentioned integrity and that that’s also been a bubbling issue this year and I guess the most recent it would appear in ICAC in New South Wales with the relationship between Gladys Berejiklian and former MP and then recently allegations raised on Four Corners about federal ministers and inappropriate relationships with staff. Is this going to change and have standards shifted? I mean no-one’s lost their jobs as a result of these allegations or supposed inappropriate relationships. I mean I just wonder if the tolerance for this type of behaviour has changed and is that something that’s happened over time? Do you think it’s because of COVID and they’re distracted by bigger problems? But there hasn’t been a real price that anyone’s paid for behaviour that perhaps once upon a time would have been punished more severely.

G:        Some of this behaviour wouldn’t have come out in former times. I think that that’s one thing to consider. Its right that no-one’s lost their jobs either in the pressure on the New South Wales Premier or the two federal ministers but it’s a continuum. I think that Gladys Berejiklian has taken a knock from all that, a political knock and that reduces her authority and credibility and flows onto other things and then other actions that she’s taken get more scrutiny and so on. Similarly the minsters, I think their reputations are dented. If you take Christian Porter for example, he would have been on people’s lists as a potential future Liberal leader and thus a potential Prime Minister but I think that many observers would have now struck him off those lists. So it’s not necessarily always a question of losing your job, it might be a question of to some extent constraining your future when these issues arise.

I think that we are getting more pressure of course to get that legislation done and dusted for an integrity commission. Bit of an irony that just before the Four Corners program it was Christian Porter outlining that legislation, draft legislation. There’s a lot of consultation to go. I think that a lot of people think that the part of the legislation which covers politicians and public servants, it should have more provision for openness rather than secret hearings and so on. On the other hand the experience over some years in New South Wales ICAC has meant that some critics see that as at times being a kangaroo court and therefore don’t want that repeated federally. It’s quite interesting by the way that you’ve now got support for an integrity commission from both sides federally, Labor enthusiastically, Libs reluctantly but a decade ago neither side supported such a body. They said well there’s no corruption at federal level and we don’t need it.

C:        But as far as these sort of professional relationships go I mean can you ever really legislate against it? Can you really ever erase that? Of course there are clearly some unequal power dynamics in some of those relationships but also some of these relationships are terribly successful and go on to marriage. People often meet people in the workplace. Is it something that you can really get rid of in politics?

G:        I think it’s a very difficult area and it goes to power dynamics, whether people are under pressure or have very unequal power but I think that it’s now a debate of course that’s going politically but also in the business community. We’ve just seen the head of Channel 9 out because -

C:        There was the High Court earlier as well -

G:        - of a relationship. Yes, I think the High Court case is in a different sort of category.

C:        Power, relationships and power.

G:        I think that the political ones we’ve been talking about and the business one, consensual relationships and the other one involved a whole lot of other more complex issues but I think it’s a debate of the times. People have become quite moralistic about these things as well as seeing it in terms of women’s position and rights and inequalities and so on.

C:        Have they, though? Because we have a Prime Minister who’s very strong with his Christian values and espouses family values and so who’s upholding those values I mean given that he is so strong with his religious convictions? He hasn’t come down strongly on his ministers about this.

G:        Well he probably has privately. Malcolm Turnbull of course put in the ban on sexual relationships between ministers and their staff -

C:        The bonk ban.

G:        - you musn’t call it that because Scott Morrison gave a journalist a very firm lecture about language the other day. But I think what you saw with those ministers is what you often see actually in ministerial crises and that is a Prime Minister has to decide whether he tosses a minister who’s in a difficult situation or whatever, made a huge mistake or something, to the sharks and whether that or the blood in the water will just encourage more sharks to look for more victims, or whether they stand by their minister. Usually, not always but usually the decision is to stand by the minister and hang onto them and try and tough it out. I don’t think it necessarily means that Scott Morrison wouldn’t be pretty unhappy with the behaviour.

C:        Yeah, I mean there must be some concern that it might have an impact on the Christian vote because that was important in the last federal election.

G:        I doubt that it would have – well it might against those particular ministers. I doubt that would flow over to the Prime Minister because I think that again all these issues are being marginalised. They flare up for a few days in the media and so on but I think in ordinary people’s minds out in the electorate they are being marginalised, they’re aware of them but they think well they’re secondary to what’s happening in my life. On the religious vote incidentally it’s interesting that I think a victim of COVID if you can call it that will be the religious freedom legislation which was supposed to be being brought in and has sort of disappeared. I doubt that that’ll be revived before the election. I think it’s a good thing it won’t be but I think that some of the religious constituency might be unhappy that it’s disappeared.

C:        Okay, look, I’ve got an eye on the clock and seems to be that there are people who would like to ask you some questions as well but just quickly before we do go I mean do you think 2021 will be a better year than 2020?

G:        Well I think it’s got to be a better year but I think it’s going to be a tough year so assuming that we keep the virus under control, and of course that’s a big assumption because it’s raging in the world, I think based on that assumption we’re still going to have a difficult time economically. Obviously there’ll be a bounce back if the health front is okay but nevertheless a lot of people will have lots jobs and find it hard to get back into the labour market. The Reserve Bank is particularly concerned about this. That was reiterated in a speech last night by the Reserve Bank Governor and also a lot of businesses won’t survive. The government’s extended a great deal of credit and it’s also liberalised conditions ‘round bankruptcy and so on to help businesses but nevertheless they will fall away. If there’s a bit of stop start activity like we’re seeing in South Australia, closedowns of gyms and other things for just a couple of weeks but if you’re running a business that can matter and especially pre-Christmas.

So I think 2021 will be a tough year. Our borders internationally will stay closed for a long time, we’re not getting migrants in. Migrants are engines of economic growth, so are students so on many fronts the settings have changed and I think it’ll be a long time before things are restored.

C:        Okay so now you’ve got to grab your crystal ball, Michelle, so the first question, do you think Scott Morrison will call an early election with his increased popularity after his handling of COVID-19?

G:        Well a lot of people have thought he would call an election late next year. He says pretty firmly he doesn’t intend to do that. Now the cynics would say you never believe politicians but sometimes it’s wise to believe politicians and I think in this case I do believe him, may be proved wrong but I think that if his popularity’s high why wouldn’t he go through to the due time of early 2022? Firstly apart from COVID he hasn’t done a great deal of other things and so he might want to take all next year to do some of those things.

C:        Yes, it’s been a big distraction.

G:        Secondly even popular leaders who call early elections can get a knock. Remember right back to Bob Hawke, huge popularity, 1984, Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock was absolutely on the floor, ran a strong campaign, negative campaign about pensioners and assets tests and didn’t win the election but did well, did quite well and Hawke had a setback. So Morrison knows that and therefore I think he has no great incentive to go for an early election if he thinks he’s well placed for the normal time.

C:        Yeah and the public craving stability.

G:        Yeah and the public don’t want an election before it has to happen.

C:        This is a personal question for you. Hi, I’m wondering how Michelle has found writing about a seemingly apocalyptic year while maintaining constant, even level of perspective? How you’ve managed that, that you’ve maintained your perspective even though it’s been an apocalyptic year. How have you managed that?

G:        I think it has been a quite difficult year journalistically because there has been an intense amount of activity and it’s all ‘round the same subject but various aspects of that. Maintaining perspective is difficult because as I mentioned at the beginning thinking back to February we thought this would not have a great impact, this illness would not have a great impact on Australia, that we wouldn’t have the large number of cases. Now we’ve had compared to other countries obviously relatively few but I think it hit us harder as a country than we thought and of course there was the second wave in Victoria which was really bad in terms of deaths in aged care and terrible for people who were locked down for months and months and months compared to those of us who were fortunate enough to be living in Canberra who were only -

C:        Touch wood.

G:        - affected in a minor way and not for very long.

C:        There’s another question here actually about based on your decades of experience, being such a senior political journalist, can you remember another year that has been as challenging as this for a government?

G:        Well I think in terms of policy and surprise if you like, no. I think that the global financial crisis was a very challenging time for the Labor government, the Rudd Government, that was particularly difficult but not as difficult as this because you had in this case the health dimension and the economic dimension and it was so huge. If you look at other levels though you could go back to say the Whitlam time and I think that that was challenging in facing serious economic problems and then of course the whole constitutional crisis and so on on so that we’ve just had the anniversary, the 45th anniversary of the dismissal so it’s in some people’s heads. But that was challenging in a different sort of way, I think, obviously.

C:        Another question, do you think what is happening in the US is an indicator for the Liberal and the conservative parties in Australia of what might happen here? Is there a mood for change?

G:        You mean or the questioner means a change of government?

C:        Yes, that’s what I’d take from that -

G:        Because you could also look at how society there has unravelled and all the problems and the divisions. Now I think that we must in our democracy be very aware of how a community can polarise and this is particularly relevant to the media which has become in certain sections more shrill in recent times here and that can add to the divisions. But in terms of a change of government, no, I think that the circumstances are very different. I think that here you’ve had a government that’s been basically successful. Obviously its critics will point to areas where it’s not successful but overall in the handling of the crisis successful and therefore there’s not the sort of momentum for change. Now an election’s a long time away and I won’t make predictions, I'm just saying what it looks like at this point. Clearly in the United States you had a hugely divisive and controversial President and the change there was driven as much by just trying to get rid of the President as by positive factors.

C:        Another question, has COVID masked some of the difficult policy areas for the government such as sports rorts, bushfire response etc? Has it been useful in some ways?

G:        I think yes, it has suppressed issues and made it harder to get traction on some of those issues. On sports rorts that had almost blown itself out by the early stages of COVID because in that case I was speaking before about Prime Minister wanting to hang onto ministers, in that case the minister was thrown to the sharks because the situation became untenable and the judgment was made by the government well there needs to be a sacrifice and that was Bridget McKenzie. Obviously there’s been a bit of talk later about sports rorts but as I say I think the big impact of that was earlier.

Other issues, that dodgy land deal near Sydney Airport, various – well Australia Post, the rather strange issue of the -

C:        That’s right, the Cartier watches.

G:        - watches when the CEO was put in an impossible position and she quit, I think we’re still to hear a bit about that because the report of the inquiry into that is still to come back but again they don’t get the traction that they might get in a non-COVID environment.

C:        Also I was just wondering about aged care -

G:        Oh well that, yes, that certainly got a lot of attention but that will be a huge issue for next year because we’ll get the Royal Commission report, final report. We know that will be devastating. This has been an area of bad policy through a number of years and governments and of course most of our COVID deaths have been in aged care. I note yesterday that Scott Morrison when he was talking about South Australia said they’d stood up the aged care response, federal state response already in South Australia and that’s come out of the bad experiences before and he talked specifically to the Premier about this. So aged care is an issue which has been big this year and will be even bigger next year in terms of policymaking.

C:        Was it a missed opportunity in the budget not to allocate some money given that they’d had early recommendations from the Royal Commission or do you think they’re having up for big splash next year?

G:        Well I think that they did allocate quite a lot of money at various points over the last few months but I think that they have had to wait, sensibly to wait for that report and the whole system needs massive overhaul. It’s not just a question of money, it’s a question of organisation, regulation, public private, the whole system is flawed.

C:        Now here’s a gnarly question for you, for Michelle. Given that so much of the emergency powers actually rest with the states should we now be having a conversation about dissolving the states?

G:        Well to the questioner, good luck with starting that because I don’t think – the old Irish joke that if you’re going somewhere you wouldn’t start from here but we are here and I think that there is no way that the states are going to be dissolved. But of course the whole question of federalism has been a recurring one. Tony Abbott set up an inquiry into federalism which Malcolm Turnbull didn’t go ahead with and there are debates periodically about fiscal imbalance and of course the GST and the distribution situation was somewhat altered because Western Australia was kicking up at one point. But I think that what we have learnt really, even though Scott Morrison gets very cross about the states and the borders and so on in general the states are respected I think by their electorates because they’re providing the services and they’re doing a lot of on-the-ground stuff.

Now it’s interesting that in the Liberal Party you do find people on the right very annoyed about how the states have performed and especially how they’ve stood up in some cases to Scott Morrison but I mean the Liberal Party’s supposed to be the party of federalism and I think that you’ve got to bring perspective here. You can disagree with particular decisions by particular states but on the whole like the federal government I think they’ve performed well during COVID. Whatever view you take on borders, and it’s a vexed argument, this internal borders argument, but I think that the states have done pretty effective work. If you look at the ratings I think there’s an Essential poll out today and the Premiers seem to be well rated. So I think they have the support of their people.

C:        Okay so we’re running out of time now, we’ll have to wrap up fairly shortly. So we’ve covered a lot of ground about the big issues that have shaped politics in Australia this year, China, COVID, the bushfires, integrity, there’s a range of other issues so which parts of this change will endure do you think or how much of it has just been the pragmatics of the moment?

G:        That's a really hard issue to end on but I think if you look at perhaps what we’ve found out about ourselves and our politicians in a sense it’s been all about resilience and the extent to which you have resilience, whether as an individual or a government and the question for the future is how you need to strengthen that resilience and what sort of areas, whether for example that we need to be more self-sufficient in medical supplies, something like that or other areas for individuals, they’ve learnt a lot about themselves, I think. The other big thing has been flexibility, that you’re faced with a situation that none of us – think back a year when we were all making preparations for holidays last year. I was going overseas, maybe you were too.

C:        Yes.

G:        If someone had said look, people in Victoria’ll be locked down for months and -

C:        You won’t be able to visit your grandmother.

G:        Exactly and you or your cousin will have lost their jobs, we would have said this is inconceivable. So what Australia had to do, what its governments had to do, what its individuals had to do was to be flexible in this situation and we’ve talked a bit about how Morrison and the government was flexible and the states. We know how our friends and our relatives have had to be flexible in rearranging their lives, whether trying to find new jobs or trying to cope with four children running around a smaller house while the parents work from home. So I think those have been a couple of the themes of the year and they will carry on into the future, the need for resilience, the need for flexibility. Whether the specific changes will go on, well I think some will like more people will work from home but there’ll be a bit of a bounce back on that and you will see some industrial relations changes, you’ll see some differences in federation but the detail is yet to be worked out.

C:        What about bipartisanship? Do you think that will endure?

G:        Well no, that won’t endure, the question is how long it lasts and that’s really how long the crisis lasts, I think because we are still in it. It’s not as intense as it was just a few months ago but it’s not over.

C:        Thank you so much, Michelle, that’s all the time we’ve got to have this discussion at the moment so we’re going to have to say goodbye. Before we do though I want to just thank everybody for your involvement, your engagement in the discussion, for the fabulous questions and I'm sorry that we couldn’t get to all of them. Also just to let you know that if you would like to purchase the book, The Year That Changed Us, you can do so through the National Library bookshop website. So thank you very much for joining in, thanks Michelle.

G:        Before we go can I say thank you too to our audience today but also to those readers who follow us week in, week out, we really do appreciate that you do so. We hope we give you something of value and we hope you subscribe to the newsletter as well as get hold of the book.

C:        Great, thanks very much and thanks so much for joining us by Facebook live.

G:        Bye-bye.

End of recording