26 September 2023

Reset: Restoring Australia after the Pandemic Recession

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Ross Garnaut, La Trobe University Press, $32.99.

Prominent economist Professor Ross Garnaut makes a good case about how knowledge played a successful role in policy-making during the COVID-19 pandemic. Above all, facts must be utilised when creating policies related to climate change and the economy.

Reset shows how the COVID-19 crisis offers Australia the opportunity to rearrange its economy and build a successful future – and why the old approaches will not work.

Garnaut develops the idea of a renewable superpower, calls for a basic income and explores what the ‘decoupling’ of China and America will mean for Australia.

In the wake of COVID-19, the world has entered its deepest recession since the 1930s. Shocks of this magnitude throw history from its established course – either for good or evil. As we strive to overcome the Coronavirus challenge, we need new, practical ideas to restore Australia, and this book has them.

There is still a long and hard road to what were once acceptable levels of economic activity in Australia and the world. Written in the last quarter of 2020, this book explains the choice Australians will make over the next couple of years.

Garnaut admits the challenge in writing this book so soon in the pandemic has been to tell an evolving story while its major features are still taking shape. The lectures upon which this book was based were presented in May and June 2020. Economic, pandemic and political data have been updated to as close as possible to the date of publication.

One chapter explains why going back to what we have before the pandemic is neither desirable, nor possible. Another looks forward, to the huge challenges Australia faces.

Then there’s discussion about how much debt would be too much, followed by how to increase investment. Then we learn how to achieve income security for all citizens. Chapter 9 “looks at the investments in solar and wind power, electricity storage and transmission that are necessary to decarbonise our power system and then, on a much larger scale, to power new export industries”.

While one chapter describes the substantial opportunities from sequestering carbon and growing industrial raw materials in the Australian landscape, the next discusses the international context for Australian restoration.

Garnaut says the “decisive and early response to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 maintained economic activity through and after the initial lockdowns at reasonably high levels. That was a good start, but the October 2020 budget leaves us with the big choices still ahead of us”.

Then the book plots a path to the better destination.

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