As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded across the globe, experts have been the source of insight into its unprecedented effect on economies and society.
At The Australian National University, academics from the Crawford School of Public Policy have played a key role informing government responses to the crisis and interpreting policy to the media and public.
School Director Professor Helen Sullivan said experts from a range of disciplines had provided research and commentary on the pandemic and its impacts in Australia and the region.
Professor Sullivan said a number of economists within the school had written on aspects of the economy, including how the country could come out of a recession and the impacts in terms of climate change.
Significant contributions have included modelling from Professor Warwick McKibbin on the global macroeconomic impacts of the pandemic, analysis from Professor Robert Breunig on the need for tax reform, and insights from Professor Frank Jotzo on the merits of investing in renewable energy to boost the economy.
Other experts were working on aspects of disaster recovery, social disadvantage and social impact, Professor Sullivan said.
“These are people who are political scientists, anthropologists, lawyers, people who are interested in what the pandemic has done to all aspects of our human relations and indeed our relationships with non-human parts of Australia,” she said.
In June, the Crawford School launched a COVID-19 online portal, providing a hub of public policy insights and research from its experts. The portal brings together publications, podcasts, blogs, media reports and videos related to the pandemic.
Research Director Björn Dressel said the portal was designed to help people “cut through the noise” of the day-to-day information and reporting on the coronavirus, and access longer-term expertise and analysis. The website also highlights the breadth of expertise within the school.
“We don’t just want to feature individuals...but rather portray the school as a laboratory of ideas and thoughts that range from the world-leading experts on economic modelling, to the anthropologist who’s working with Indigenous communities as an early career researcher,” he said.
Work featured on the portal includes research from Sara Bice and Kirsty O’Connell on the impact of the pandemic on infrastructure policy, Hugh McClure’s tracking of policy responses in Pacific Island countries, and analysis from Colette Einfeld on the use of behavioural insights.
“Government right now is really focused on economic recovery but, as you can see from our website, there’s a lot of concern among scholars about what price are we paying for that economic recovery, there are a lot of equity issues here, there are a lot of ethical issues to consider, there are constitutional issues to consider,” Dr Dressel said.
Professor Sullivan said many academics within the school were drawing on their regional expertise to provide insight into the effects of the pandemic in the broader Asia-Pacific region.
“One of the things they have been able to do is to show...the different ways in which different countries, different societies, different communities are experiencing crisis and comparing that, or allowing the public to think about that in the context of how things are being done in Australia,” she said.
“We see it very much as a way of thinking both about what’s happening in Australia - economically, socially, politically, culturally - but also thinking about Australia and the region.”
Professor Sullivan pointed to work by Professor Sharon Bessell and Dr Angie Bexley, who drew on a 2018 study using the Individual Deprivation Measure to discuss the risk of infections in some Indonesian communities that had limited access to a household toilet and clean water.
“That had a really profound impact on discussion in Indonesia,” Professor Sullivan said.
In April, several academics from the Crawford School were members of the Group of Eight’s Roadmap to Recovery Task Force, which provided a report to the Australian Government to guide responses to the pandemic.
Dr Dressel said recent events, such as the bushfires during the Australian summer and now the pandemic, had seen the government rely more on technocractic expertise.
“The role of academics is an interesting one because on the one hand, and the Crawford School is a prime example, we are asked upon to provide expert advice that feeds straight into the policy process, but on the other hand we are also asked to translate some of these complicated models and ideas into something that is more digestible,” he said.
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