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Business Envoy March 2020 Banner image

Early responders, Dr Stephanie Fahey, CEO Austrade

Australians have had a tough start to 2020.

Many of our communities, our small businesses and our industries are hurting, in the wake of the devastating bushfires and now in the grip of the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic in China impacted Australia’s international tourism operators and education services exports hard. Fresh food exporters to the Chinese market and businesses that relied on Chinese-produced inputs were also impacted. But as the pandemic washes across other global markets, small businesses across Australia are feeling acute pain.

No doubt these testing times will change the way we do business and with whom. Businesses have varying levels of resilience. For those most prepared, we are seeing them working together in new ways, and business leaders calling for heightened agility and flexibility.

Among the Australian companies to respond quickly to COVID-19 are edtech Practera, which is helping more than 20 universities deliver courses online to students affected by travel bans; and Drawboard, a start-up whose call to action is ‘Let’s make the paperless office a reality’.

Our university sector has also responded nimbly to COVID-19 by rapidly scaling up its capability to deliver online courses, offering flexible solutions and in some cases financial assistance to overseas students.

Another early responder we can all be proud of is the team of researchers at Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, who are leading the world in developing a vaccine for COVID-19.

Their work is further evidence of Australia’s rich history of developing clever solutions to complex challenges in agriculture, medicine, mining, education, tourism, advanced manufacturing and consumer goods.

We are a nation of early adopters, keen to embed the latest thinking and technology in our society however sometimes a crisis helps to break through passive resistance.

For me, Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian, the global company who sell software to the software developers, demonstrated Australian ingenuity and community spirit when he donated $12 million in prefabricated solar panels and batteries to bushfire-affected communities. His Resilient Energy Collective initiative will power up to 100 sites that were stuck with diesel generators, and in some cases, they could offer a long-term energy solution.

COVID-19 is a challenge of unprecedented complexity. But to be frank I would rather be in Australia facing down the health and economic onslaught of the pandemic than in any other country.

Austrade has been working closely with fellow government agencies and industry groups to develop and deliver the best support for business as COVID-19 disrupts supply chains and revenue streams.

Our global network of trade and investment advisers connect Australian exporters to the services and support they need. We provide regular and reliable global market updates and identify niche opportunities amongst the chaos. We have also been charged by government to support the $10 million Australian Bushfire Recovery Grants for bushfire-affected communities, and the Australian Government’s initial $17.6 billion economic stimulus package.

With more than 1,100 staff located in 122 offices around the world, we see, hear and feel the shocks of disasters at home, and across the globe. We spot opportunities for Australian businesses overseas, advise on how to diversify or adjust business models to spread risk.

We support Australian exporters to take advantage of emerging opportunities when others are yet to recognize them.

While the pandemic has highlighted some of the vulnerabilities of globalisation, now is not a time to be looking inward.

Australia’s wealth is built on a history of free trade and investment and has sustained 28 consecutive years of economic growth for our nation. It has given our home-grown producers economies-of-scale, brought in productive foreign investment to fund research, created jobs and lifted our skills base. The fundamentals of the Australian economy are strong and we will remain a stable and inviting place to do business.

That is why, in the face of global economic uncertainty, Austrade’s work in helping Australian businesses maintain and grow internationally and continue to attract investment is more important than ever.

Our new Nation Brand is also taking shape after intensive consultation with industry groups across the country. Austrade has been working for more than a year on an industry-led, government enabled brand that will truly represent Australia, Australian businesses, and Australian industries to the world.

The brand will showcase the best of Australia — our resilience, our ability to rally and stand by each other when times get tough, and our capacity to innovate in the face of adversity — and value-add for businesses in global markets.

For now, it is worth reminding ourselves that we are a resilient people, and we will bounce back with our well-known irrepressible optimism.

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