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The COVID Diaries: Corporate borrower 6

The following interview is with an Australian-based corporate treasurer. It was conducted on 14 May 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working – and are you looking forward to it?

Not a hard timeline. We expect it is not going be this month, but probably sometime in June. We have been working from home for about two months now. Like everyone, we are over it. I have kids and they are over home schooling as well.

Being based in Victoria, we seem to be a little bit behind the rest of the country in terms of restrictions. When schools reopen, over the course of the next few weeks, hopefully that is going to allow us to think more about heading into the office.

Yes, I am looking forward to it. Working from home is great every now and again, when you can carve out some time in your diary and get stuff done. But having to do everything by phone and email seems to take longer.

Has your view of the crisis and the nature of the challenges it presents changed? It seems Australia has prioritised public health over the economy, at least in the medium term. How are you thinking about that trade off?

We are fortunate in Australia and New Zealand that we have natural borders that make it somewhat easier to restrict international travel. Some of the biggest outbreaks we have seen have been from people coming into the country where we perhaps didn’t have strict controls or quarantine procedures – such as cruise ships.

It seems that the infection rate and case rate are very well under control. I am pleased there has been a lot of movement from the federal government, despite the various speeds at which various state governments are travelling at.

The way the federal government has tried to drive the return to activity has been positive. It has been quite unusual to have everyone quarantined. I understand government wants to reduce the risk of spread but when you have these sorts of outbreaks you obviously only quarantine those infected.

Everything that has been done has allowed us to get on top of the virus. But it is not just important for the sake of the economy to get up and running, but also the wellbeing and livelihood of workers.

It is also important for school kids to get back to normal. I don’t think anyone can say that school children from kindergarten to year two are going to have a normal education – they are certainly going to miss out. The older school kids are better equipped to learn in this environment. When younger people are at less risk, it makes sense to get them back at school – including from a mental health angle.

“I don’t think anyone can say that school children from kindergarten to year two are going to have a normal education – they are certainly going to miss out. The older school kids are better equipped to learn in this environment.”

Are you more or less optimistic about the crisis than you were during the early acceleration period of moving to home working and adding social distancing measures?

It is certainly the right time to be lifting restrictions but we have to be more targeted in where we are putting down measures – making sure we have a greater ability to quarantine places where there are outbreaks rather than the whole economy.

The testing and tracing regime is designed to enable this. It remains to be seen whether there will be fewer outbreaks because of it but it would be good to see more restrictions around protecting people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

How do you think things will be different when we get back to normal? What changes can you see to work practices, social changes and the economy?

It will be quite some time until people are comfortable getting back to the level of density we were operating at pre-coronavirus.

In terms of work practices, it has been a good disaster-testing period for some businesses – having to have people working remotely. There will be a level of change, where working remotely is going to be more widespread. Our industry lends itself toward this but most industries will now take a look at it.

Anything travel related is going to be difficult, particularly anything cross-border. The Australian and New Zealand government discussion around potentially opening a travel bubble would be a good start.

We have been asking people what they have been reading relating to the crisis but we think everyone has seen enough by this stage. What are your entertainment recommendations for lockdown?

The Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance, on Netflix has been good. On YouTube, there is an interesting new Michael Moore documentary called Planet of the Humans. It is about renewable energy. The new season of Billions is coming out on Stan and I am looking forward to that. But I don’t get a whole lot of time to indulge in TV or movies.

KangaNews is your source for the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Australasian debt capital markets. For complete coverage, click here.

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