Australia's corporate sector has finally had enough of the ongoing lockdowns that have left the country's economy hobbled and its people cut off from the rest of the world for months.
Increasingly frustrated by a slow vaccine rollout and the ongoing lockdowns, the leaders of many of Australia’s biggest companies, including BHP, Macquarie and Qantas have signed a letter demanding that the government acknowledge it's time to "learn to live with the virus," as many other countries have done, since "COVIDZero" has finally been exposed as an impossible dream.
In the letter - which was reported on by the FT - the signatories allege that Australia is making “big mistakes” in failing to reopen to the world. By making the lockdowns so severe (and so unceasingly long), the Australian government is putting politics before the well-being of the Australian people ahead of the federal elections that must be held by the end of May - when the Senate's present term is slated to expire.
The companies that signed the letter "...employ almost one million Australians" and warned that lockdowns were having "long-lasting" effects on the economy. However, this shouldn't be news to Australia's political elite: Economists at Australia's central bank, the RBA, already lowered their growth projections after a stronger-than-expected Q2 GDP print.
But all the incremental data seen so far suggests that Q3 could be a disaster - well that, coupled with the intensifying economic pressure from Beijing, which is trying to win a geopolitical stare-down contest with the Australian government by blocking a growing number of imports.
As for Australia's infamous "drawbridge" border policy, the letter's signatories insisted that the decision to close Australia's borders was a colossal mistake.
"The borders should have never been closed,” Graham Turner, chief executive of travel company Flight Centre, told the Financial Times. “We’re making some very big mistakes here.”
"It’s time for corporate Australia to turn its disquiet and rumblings into a roar,” said Greg O’Neill, the chief executive of Melbourne fund manager La Trobe Financial, one of the signatories to the open letter sent by the Business Council of Australia. “It is time for courage and honesty. Not politics.”
Australian COVID cases have finally plateaued...
...Yet, the country still has among the lowest vaccination rates in the developed world. Only 41.4% of the population is fully inoculated — well behind the UK (66.7%) and Canada (70.4%) and below the US, where 54.7% are inoculated.
In the letter, the Business Council of Australia also warned about a quiet "mental health crisis" plaguing the country, a result of the lockdowns and other anti-COVID measures - "some of the impacts of current lockdowns are hidden, and the effects will be long lasting."
Corporate behemoths aren't the only ones struggling with Australia's COVID rules. Groups representing small businesses have made similar complaints. Alexi Boyd, CEO of the Council of Small Business Organizations, said the refusal to reopen internal and external borders has hampered the country's economic recovery.
Anti-lockdown protests have flared in Melbourne in recent weeks, leading to hundreds of arrests and chaos like protesters shutting down a major highway. The government in Victoria tried shutting down construction sites in the area after workers participated in the protests. Unsurprisingly, this only made demonstrators angrier.
In recent weeks, the Aussie government has shown some acknowledgement that they might have chosen the wrong course. But with his conservative Liberal Party trailing the Labor opposition in the polls, PM Scott Morrison is under a lot of pressure to stay the course and pray that the latest delta-driven wave finally subsides.