Given the coronavirus is going to be with us for years, if Thursday's figures out of Victoria are any indication, it is vital the federal, state and territory, and local governments don't drop the ball on other key issues while trying to put out the fire.
While COVID-19 is the largest single problem facing Australia in 2020 it is still just one problem among many. Much has been made, for example, of the fraught relationship between Australia and China and millions of Australians are feeling very nervous ahead of the next fire season which is now just months away. Homelessness and poverty remain endemic, despite the welcome decision to shift many rough sleepers into temporary accommodation, recent cases of coastal subsidence are a reminder the existential threat of global heating is as real as ever.
And then there is the issue that has dogged this nation for over a century; the shameful gap in living standards, life expectancy, health metrics, educational attainment, employment outcomes, incarceration and detention rates, and domestic violence between Indigenous Australians and the national mean.
While the Rudd government's decision to set up a specific "closing the gap" program was well meant, it has never lived up to its promise. This year's "Closing the Gap" report found only two of the targets set 12 years ago were being met; early education and Year 12 attainment.
In light of this, the news that governments around the country never stopped working on the comprehensive overhaul of Closing The Gap that was announced by Australia's first Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, and the Prime Minister, on Thursday was very welcome.
In development since 2016, the agreement breaks new ground in that it is no longer a program being delivered to Indigenous Australians by the federal government. The reason for the long gestation period was the decision to go back to the communities with an extensive and well-resourced consultation process. It is to be sincerely hoped that, possibly for the first time since Federation, the First Australians will receive the support they need and want, not what well-meaning bureaucrats and politicians think they should get.
It is interesting to note, given the prominence achieved by the Black Lives Matter movement, that the issues of suicide, incarceration, and youth detention, feature strongly. While there is some concern about the commitment to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates by 15 per cent by 2031 - not the 30 per cent some pundits had been expecting - this might represent the injection of a welcome air of realism into what has, until now, been a highly politicised process.
The past willingness by governments to set blatantly unachievable targets in many of these areas can be seen as a lack of a genuine commitment to bringing about meaningful change. The most positive aspect of this latest Closing the Gap agreement has to be the generally positive reaction that it has received. Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman and the shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, made it quite clear the program has bipartisan support on Thursday - even though she is concerned that no additional funding has been allocated at this point.
Coalition of Peaks convener Pat Turner put it well: "We now have a comprehensive set of commitments from governments that places Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander community-controlled organisations at the centre of Closing the Gap".
Hear, hear. This iteration of Closing the Gap may just be the game changer that this country has been looking for.