Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 355

Four steps to resurrecting Australia

“Down down, you bring me down, I hear you knocking at my door and I can't sleep at night
Your face, it has no place, No room for you inside my house I need to be alone”

'I am the Resurrection' by the Stone Roses, 1989.
Source: Lyricfind. Copyright: Universal Music Publishing Group.

Australia is facing its deepest economic chasm, caused by Covid-19 virus which forced the country and much of the world into lockdown. Local data, coupled with international experience, suggests lockdown is working to slow viral transmission, and we are moving the dialogue quickly towards an exit strategy.

It appears at this stage that through some combination of ‘tyranny of distance’, low population density, relatively uncrowded homes, a low viral load at lockdown, seasonal impacts, a prepared medical system or simply because we are the ‘Lucky Country’, Australia has fared well. We did not act as swiftly as we could (#bondi), and early messaging was confused, so it is hard to attribute it to great management, whatever is claimed ex post.

What comes next?

To date, it was possible to analyse the outbreak as an advanced mathematical problem. Now, our policymakers are faced with huge challenges ethically, socially, economically and politically, until they are rescued by medical science or favourable mutation.

These challenges are fourfold:

  • Determining an acceptable post-lockdown death rate (ethical)
  • Encouraging or enforcing lifestyle changes to slow viral transmission (social)
  • Ascertaining how we pay for committed stimulus and economic rebuild (economic)
  • Creating a vision for the future within this window of public endorsement (political)

Addressing these in turn:

1. What is an acceptable post-lockdown death rate?

This is the tricky ethical question our leaders are forced to deal with. It is critical to setting a date to exit lockdown, which in turn is critical for our economic recovery.

We cannot eradicate the virus unless we keep our borders closed forever. Hence, we will be faced with a reality that there will be deaths from COVID-19 into the future.

For what it’s worth, my simple, reductive model has about 1-5 deaths per day forecast in Australia for the first half of May, which seems like the earliest we may consider easing lockdown. This question is not an easy one to propose an answer for.

2. What changes do we need to make to our lifestyles?

The concept of exponential growth has been brought to light to non-mathematicians by the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the terrible death rates we have seen so far in places like Italy, France, Spain, US, UK, China, Iran, and increasingly much of Europe.

The concept R0 – the basic reproduction number - of a virus, tells us how many people a carrier infects. To keep a virus in check, we need to keep R0 at, or below, 1.

Immediately prior to lockdown, R0 may have been around 3 in Australia. We therefore needed to reduce and retain the rate at which COVID-19 spreads post lockdown by about two-thirds, which at this stage, we seem to have achieved.

The concepts of social distancing, self-isolation, work from home, and increased hygiene are a start. It is likely we will need to regulate capacities of venues such as bars, restaurants and transportation in future.

We will likely need to keep our borders closed for longer. Viruses do not respect national boundaries, and we cannot control the actions of other countries.

It is vital that we carefully monitor and test the prevalence of the virus in the community post any re-opening: prepare for random, compulsory testing. This is for everyone’s good.

Simply put, the clear lessons of the past few weeks will need to be learned, and applied, or we will end up with a lethal second wave.

3. How do we pay for the stimulus?

Politics and religion are taboo subjects based on strong ideologies. In recent weeks our budget-balancing government has been forced to throw their core belief out of the window.

The cost of this lockdown falls squarely on future Australian taxpayers, who have funded the averting of a potential social catastrophe by attempting to re-allocate some of the pain.

It is likely that further government spending will be required to build confidence as we come out the other side.

The key to recovery is getting people back to work, but with attempts to manage lower person to person interactions, federal and state projects can help to smooth the path.

4. What is the vision for the future?

This is our trillion-dollar question.

The public has committed hundreds of billions of dollars already to support the lockdown, and now is the time to be repaid with a grand vision for the future. We will tip in some more for that to become reality.

Now is the chance to invest in a modern communications network to replace our antiquated NBN; now is the chance to develop high-speed rail to connect our major cities; now is the chance to build renewable energy generation capability, and infrastructure to mirror our European counterparts; now is the time to embrace electric and autonomous driving, to push the boundaries of medical science, to create the southern hemisphere’s Silicon Valley, to reform our tax system, to cut red-tape, and so on.

This must be grasped at all costs, or we have missed our big chance. There is a window, but a small one at that, where everyone is on the same team, fighting a war against a common, invisible enemy.

When we roll away the lockdown, we must not find an empty agenda

In summary, it’s a tough month or two ahead for our leaders, and it’s important we all play our part in staying at home until the restrictions are relaxed, then continue to focus acutely on reducing the spread of a virus that will still be present.


Douglas Isles is Investment Specialist (Retail) at Platinum Investment Management, although this article is written in his personal capacity. He is also a member of the Actuaries Institute COVID-19 Working Group.


May 06, 2020

Good start but a bit superficial in parts. What happens with deaths in the second half of May, and on? The case rate is creeping upwards again. Paying for the stimulus makes no mention of whether upcoming tax cuts should be shelved or dropped. However, your item 4 is right on the money. We have a chance to make a new, better Australia with the political goodwill the government has at the moment.

May 02, 2020

Antiquated NBN?????

Ray Cameron
May 01, 2020

A great article and solid comments from your readers. Clearly we have some very good thinkers in Australia. I think a major factor in our results so far is the current bi-partisan Federal/State leaders committee. Can it continue with specialists co-opted for each of the 4 segments?

David James
April 30, 2020

Hi Douglas - thoughtful article. If you are truely interested in how point 4 could be pulled together and come to life, I outline a plan here: . We have been lucky for too long, we need to start planning. Happy to disucss the structure if you'd like.

April 30, 2020

Paying off the debt - if we assume that the figure of $300 billion is an accurate estimate of the cost of the package, we know that there are approximately 25m people in Australia. This works out to a debt of $1200 per person. If we were to borrow the $300b at 3% (the government should be able to borrow at an interest rate less than 3%) this will mean that if taxes were increased by $1400 per person, that the borrowings would be repaid in 10 years. Relatively immaterial.

Going forward - instead of becoming Silicon Valley, why not be much more simple - start manufacturing and become more self sufficient - steel, aluminium, petroleum, chemicals, etc. Instead of exporting these materials and importing the finished product, add value to our raw materials here in Australia. Result - more employment, less Centrelink benefits paid. Will reduce the amount that we each have to pay to repay the loan for the stimulus package.

After WW2, the government decided we needed to be self sufficient, and set up the steel industry, the car industry, the electric light manufacturing industry, ship building, etc, etc. Then we let them all go overseas. Get our manufacturing back, and most of our problems will disappear

May 01, 2020

Hi John,

I've always struggled to understand this idea of Australia going back to manufacturing. Yes, it may increase employment but our relatively high labour costs in a value-added product which in reality is destined for overseas markets relegates both the raw material and the end product un-competitive.

Ill give you an example; Lets take the example of raw material where we hold a competitive advantage. Manufacturing steels from iron-ore requires a high labour margin on top of the ore price. Whilst the underlying product is competitive no manufacturing process nor the end product will give you an end product which is competitive in an international market let alone the increased cost in shipping steel as compared to iron ore.

Compare this to Brazil, where the cost of ore is comparable (more or less), the cost of Labour is significantly discounted and logistics are again discounted renders the final product a far more competitive and cheaper option for someone like China. The sector here will require government assistance for years, protection and will eventually die. The market always wins.

Invest in high barrier technological value-adding industries such as IT, Robotics, Finance where our education systems and talent has us competing to our advantage instead. Support this with a strong broadband system and we are positioned for the future.

May 05, 2020

Hi Mark,

You are correct from an economic perspective; we have a high labour rate. However, if we can control our housing price, which equates to almost 30 per cent of a typical household income, there is no reason that we can not reduce our labour cost. Additionally, if we have less money to spend on overseas travel, we will be forced to enjoy our holiday in this beautiful country which will help to distribute wealth more evenly. Furthermore, we may decide to consume less and reuse or delay our disposal - please spend an hour in your council recycle centre, and you will see how much waste we produce.

May 03, 2020

Hi John. Your maths are wrong as it is $12,000 per person, not $1200 per person.
Furthermore, only about 65% of Australians work, so roughly 16,250,000 people.
So $300bn/16.25mill = $18,461 per worker.
I’m sure the workforce participation and employment rate will be lower after this too, so more like $20,000 per working person I’d expect, or slightly more.

Plus the Government can borrow at well below 3%, which makes it easier to manage.
They can borrow for 30yrs at around 1.65% now or for 20yrs at around 1.5% or 10yrs at 0.87%

April 30, 2020

Great article Douglas - esp part 1 (value of 1 human life - priceless if it's mine?) and part 4 - with low interest costs and a populace that accepts a deficit and needs real jobs (but probably at more realistic = lower wages) it's time to move from lucky to clever.

Keith Adamson
April 30, 2020

A great article in all respects. Certainly food for thought and deep consideration.
I particularly like point 4 - Vision for our Future. Wow so visionary! I wonder if any of our leaders really have the foresight to grasp it and put a plan such as this or similar into action?


Leave a Comment:



Australia's baby boom filling some of the immigration losses

Are debt and its servicing cost serious worries?

Most Australians live better than the Rockefellers


Most viewed in recent weeks

Too many retirees miss out on this valuable super fund benefit

With 700 Australians retiring every day, retirement income solutions are more important than ever. Why do millions of retirees eligible for a more tax-efficient pension account hold money in accumulation?

Is the fossil fuel narrative simply too convenient?

A fund manager argues it is immoral to deny poor countries access to relatively cheap energy from fossil fuels. Wealthy countries must recognise the transition is a multi-decade challenge and continue to invest.

Reece Birtles on selecting stocks for income in retirement

Equity investing comes with volatility that makes many retirees uncomfortable. A focus on income which is less volatile than share prices, and quality companies delivering robust earnings, offers more reassurance.

Welcome to Firstlinks Election Edition 458

At around 10.30pm on Saturday night, Scott Morrison called Anthony Albanese to concede defeat in the 2022 election. As voting continued the next day, it became likely that Labor would reach the magic number of 76 seats to form a majority government.   

  • 19 May 2022

Is it better to rent or own a home under the age pension?

With 62% of Australians aged 65 and over relying at least partially on the age pension, are they better off owning their home or renting? There is an extra pension asset allowance for those not owning a home.

Keep mandatory super pension drawdowns halved

The Transfer Balance Cap limits the tax concessions available in super pension funds, removing the need for large, compulsory drawdowns. Plus there are no requirements to draw money out of an accumulation fund.

Latest Updates

SMSF strategies

30 years on, five charts show SMSF progress

On 1 July 1992, the Superannuation Guarantee created mandatory 3% contributions into super for employees. SMSFs were an after-thought but they are now the second-largest segment. How have they changed?

Investment strategies

Anton in 2006 v 2022, it's deja vu (all over again)

What was bothering markets in 2006? Try the end of cheap money, bond yields rising, high energy prices and record high commodity prices feeding inflation. Who says these are 'unprecedented' times? It's 2006 v 2022.


Tips and traps: a final check for your tax return this year

The end of the 2022 financial year is fast approaching and there are choices available to ensure you pay the right amount of tax. Watch for some pandemic-related changes worth understanding.

Financial planning

Is it better to rent or own a home under the age pension?

With 62% of Australians aged 65 and over relying at least partially on the age pension, are they better off owning their home or renting? There is an extra pension asset allowance for those not owning a home.


Listed infrastructure: finding a port in a storm of rising prices

Given the current environment it’s easy to wonder if there are any safe ports in the investment storm. Investments in infrastructure assets show their worth in such times.

Financial planning

Power of attorney: six things you need to know

Whether you are appointing an attorney or have been appointed as an attorney, the full extent of this legal framework should be understood as more people will need to act in this capacity in future.

Interest rates

Rising interest rates and the impact on banks

One of the major questions confronting investors is the portfolio weighting towards Australian banks in an environment of rising rates. Do the recent price falls represent value or are too many bad debts coming?



© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.