ANZ chairman David Gonski says Australia needs to radically rethink its risk planning for the future following the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, including being more self-sufficient in oil and being prepared to undertake domestic manufacturing of essential health supplies.
In a wide-ranging interview Mr Gonski also lashed some members of the commentariat for some of the irresponsible views that had been expressed during the crisis and said he adamantly believed the country could return to normality in 2021.
“It is quite sad that many who give the commentary fill the space and don’t actually do their homework,” Mr Gonski said, referring to one commentator who was pushing for governments to adopt herd immunity when so many people had to fall ill with coronavirus to achieve it.
Speaking with Future Generation Companies CEO Louise Walsh for the Conversations with Future Generation series, Mr Gonski said Australia needed to “look much much more seriously into our risk planning” post the pandemic.
“What that will mean is there are many areas that we feel we need to protect ourselves in. For example we may need more oil supplies available so that if there is an inability to bring oil to the country, that basically we have some more onshore,’’ he said.
Last month the Australian government revealed it would spend $94m to begin building up a stockpile of crude oil to ease long-standing concerns about the nation’s fuel security, a move welcomed by Mr Gonski.
Under International Energy Agency rules, countries have an obligation to hold emergency oil stocks equivalent to at least 90 days of net oil imports but Australia’s stocks had fallen to just 55 days at the end of December.
“There are many parts of the manufacturing chain that we need to do. For example PPE (personal protective equipment) in hospitals, we may need to produce or at least keep more plentiful supplies than we have had in the past,’’ Mr Gonski said.
Manufacturing to reboot economy
The federal government has more broadly called for a greater emphasis on manufacturing to reboot the Australian economy.
“(But) it doesn’t mean we have to produce everything and doesn’t mean we can’t buy from some countries and trade with them,’’ Mr Gonski said.
He said he and his wife had found it difficult being housebound at his home in Sydney during the lockdown.
“There are parts of this house I have never been to before and I have found it quite amazing sitting in chairs that were put here two years ago when we moved in that I had never sat in before.
It does feel quite locked in and indeed we feel for so many who have smaller premises to live in than we do,’’ he said.
He said there would be changes in society as Australia returned to normality over the coming months — particularly as social distancing became the norm — but he added: “I hope that after 12 months that we will move to the norm. It is my belief that we will come back to a normal hopeful enjoyment of a wider society.”
Mr Gonski also disputed suggestions from some analysts that companies would need far less office space in the future as the population embraced working from home. “I believe people like talking to other people. They like being able to deal with them, size them up, being able to have some social arrangements with them much more than just sitting in their homes,’’ he said.
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