It’s coming up on 12 months since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in Australia – the country was hit by the first wave in March 2020 – and therefore, it’s timely to reflect on the major impact that the pandemic has had on government relations in Australia to date.

In short, the two most significant impacts have been:

  • An overwhelming amount of engagement with government has been directly or indirectly because of the pandemic; and
  • Despite the significant health and economic challenges that the pandemic has presented, the business of government – and, by extension, government relations – has continued, albeit utilising different formats than before the coronavirus took hold.

On the major reason for engagement with government stakeholders being the pandemic, it may be obvious, but the way the federal government – and state/territory governments – in Australia has responded to the pandemic has touched almost all areas of business, as well as the personal lives of Australians. Therefore, the amount of engagement with government about pandemic-related issues has gone from almost zero this time 12 months ago to the point where today, almost all engagement between external stakeholders and government is either directly or indirectly related to the pandemic or an issue which has arisen because of the pandemic.

On the second significant impact of the pandemic on government relations – that the business of government and government relations has continued – the external stakeholders who have been the most effective with their engagement with government during the pandemic have, so far, been the ones who have adapted to the “new normal” the fastest.

Specifically, these stakeholders haven’t delayed holding face-to-face meetings. If such meetings have not been possible, they’ve immediately switched to a videoconference or teleconference, taking the view that if a meeting is important enough to take place, then it should not be delayed. And on the government side, this has been a similar prevailing view.

With some overseas countries now in the process of rolling out vaccination programs for the coronavirus and a similar program in Australia seemingly not far away from commencing, some business leaders may be tempted to take the view that the end of the global pandemic is in sight. The reality is that in countries such as the UK and the US, vaccines have yet to reduce the number of daily infections and fatalities and this could be the case for some time, i.e. for the remainder of 2021. Australia could face a similar situation. If it does, then continuing to carry out engagement with government within the boundaries of the coronavirus new normal will be just as important in 2021 as it was in 2020.

Yes, face-to-face meetings will always be the most effective form of engagement, but if they just aren’t possible because of pandemic restrictions, then proceeding with the next-best option before the issue which is the subject of the engagement is overtaken by events is extremely important if government relations activities are to be successful.

– By Hamish Arthur