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"If we're brave enough." Waleed Aly on how COVID-19 could make life better for all Australians.

Fact: coronavirus has changed just about everything we thought we knew about life and the way we live it.

And while this global pandemic will one day be a distant memory, a popular sentiment you might’ve seen floating around over the last few days and weeks is this:

When this is all over, do we really want life to go back to how it used to be? Or are there some positives born out of our new normal we’d like to take with us into the future?

We don’t yet know what this future will look like for Australia, but what history tells us from past pandemics like the Black Death, the Great Plague of London and the Spanish Flu is, once they’re done, society is never the same.

This week, The Project are diving deep on what life will look like for Australians beyond COVID-19. On Monday night, co-host Waleed Aly turned the focus to our nation’s welfare system and whether COVID-19 might be the best thing that’s ever happened to it.

You can watch a snippet from Waleed Aly’s investigation into the Australian welfare system on The Project below. Post continues after video.

Video via Ten

From keeping our unemployed above the poverty line, to enabling women to return to their careers after having babies, here are three ways the coronavirus could make life better for all Australians when it comes to welfare.

1. More affordable, or even free, childcare.

Currently, childcare is free for all essential workers, a coronavirus initiative that will be reassessed in three months’ time. But what would life look like if childcare continued to be free, or heavily subsidised, for all Aussie parents?

The Project reported a 2019 KPMG study found fixing the old childcare system, so it would no longer penalise mums for working more days with high childcare costs, would set the Government back by $368 million a year.

The return? Nearly double that, providing a $678 million boost to the economy. And a boost to our economy benefits all Australians, regardless of gender or whether you have kids.

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Perhaps more valuable would be the freedom for parents, but specifically women, to choose whether to return to work or become a stay-at-home parent, without the cost of childcare being a factor. This would see more talented women picking up from where they left off in the workforce, rather than returning at a disadvantage or starting over.

As The Project co-host Carrie Bickmore added, “If you look at who we’re relying on now – teaches, nurses, female-driven industries – affordable childcare is priceless”.

LISTEN: Mamamia’s daily news podcast asks, has New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern changed what it is to be a good leader? Find out in the episode below, post continues after audio.

2. More generous payments for the unemployed.

Because of coronavirus, unemployed Australians now have more than $39 a day to live on.

It’s the first real increase we’ve seen to the Newstart allowance since 1994, “a staggering approach from a Government with a long, tough history on welfare,” Aly said.

As it stands, both JobKeeper and JobSeeker (the new-and-improved Newstart) will be reevaluated in six months, but The Project showed what a future with more generous welfare payments could look like.

“One of the gifts of COVID is the fact that we have government talking about how every job is important, how every individual is important, especially our vulnerable. That’s such a shift in the way we think,” Violete Roumeliotis, Settlement Services International CEO, told the program.

In other words, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s infamous catchphrase “you’ve got to have a go, to get a go” no longer applies.

According to The Project, modelling shows an increase of $75 per week to the Newstart allowance would cost us $3.3 billion a year. The increase would have a $4 billion flow on effect for the economy, and see the creation of 12,000 jobs after the first 12 months.

Up until now, the Coalition believed the best form of welfare was a job. But with so many Aussies out of one, the need for more generous welfare packages has become apparent.

You can watch the full ‘Beyond COVID-19 Welfare’ segment from The Project in the video below.

3. Re-thinking what the dole represents.

Last, but not least, the pandemic has changed the way Australians view the dole.

You can’t ever truly understand someone’s experience until you live it, and right now, more than three million Australians are understanding what it feels like to line up outside Centrelink.

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By changing the way we think about welfare and who it’s for, and understanding the varied circumstances that see people become dependant on those payments, we can remove the ‘dole-bludging’ stigma attached to welfare.

So, what are the chances welfare will change for the better?

As Aly explained, these extraordinary circumstances have brought us to a fork in the road from which the Government has never been in a better position to go down a new and different path.

“This virus has opened up a whole new world of possibilities – invaluable social reforms that could change lives, now within Australia’s grasp – if we’re just brave enough to choose a new path. We know what the old path looks like – welfare recipients living below the poverty line, mums unable to re-enter the workforce because cost of childcare is just too great,” he said.

“One thing is clear: government policy in this area will never be the same again. Not without a fight.”

Feature image: Ten/Getty.

What do you think of The Project’s view on how coronavirus could re-shape our welfare system for the better? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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