Australia can’t get back the time lost to lockdowns – but an extra hour of daylight saving would help | Elias Visontay


State governments have released reopening roadmaps and are on their way to vaccinating us to freedom, and while the thought of a return to the great Australian summer has provided a morale boost, the knowledge of all the days we have lost to lockdowns this year remains difficult to scrub from our minds.

Among my peers of twentysomethings, there is a sense we have been robbed of an uncomfortable enough chunk of what is meant to be the best time of our lives.

More broadly, everyone has lost important moments: children have missed out on making friends in school yards; new mums and dads have been unable to see their own parents play with their grandchildren; long-awaited retirement travel plans have been put on hold; and new romances and potential new families have been delayed.

While we can’t turn back time, there is one thing that can be done to give us some of it back – an extra hour of daylight saving this summer.

On the face of it, the idea seems absurd, and in the few times I’ve tweeted my keenness for such a move, I have been hounded by an army of irate agriculture-adjacent users.

However, there are myriad benefits to having two hours of daylight saving instead of one – and beyond that, permanently shifting our standard winter time zone forward one hour as well.

More hours of sunlight later in the day means more time to enjoy the beaches after work, and more people spending time outdoors to visit businesses. A planned alfresco-isation of Sydney’s dining scene this summer is a key New South Wales government plan to revive hospitality and retail businesses coming out of months of hibernation.

There would be more foot traffic associated with this, meaning retail and outdoor entertainment could go on later. You could call it a tactic to woo some locals and interstate tourists from travelling internationally once the borders reopen.

The extra hour would also make our streets more equitable. We have failed to keep our streets feeling as safe as they could be for all of the community. An extra hour of sunlight might make women and more vulnerable members of society feel more comfortable staying later at after-work drinks, or going for a run at a time that suits them.

All of these make for a physically more active and mentally healthier society. Then come the more substantial, life-saving benefits.

Road safety is known to diminish in darkness. And an extra hour of daylight would have a significant impact on emissions.

These were the arguments mounted in 2010 in the UK as part of a campaign to move the clocks ahead one hour, year round, meaning effectively two hours of daylight saving during summer and an hour extra of daylight during winter.

Road deaths would be prevented – by about 80 in the UK annually, it was estimated – if “double daylight time” was adopted.

In terms of carbon emissions, British proponents cited modelling that about 450,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide would be saved from entering the atmosphere from the UK alone, as a direct result of people switching on lights at home an hour later.

Researchers believe that energy usage and reliance on natural light favoured the morning over the evening transition from dark to light, and with more people staying out before a later sunset, a spike in post-work energy use was flattened.

Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station during the city’s lengthy lockdown.
Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station during lockdown. ‘While we can’t turn back time, there is one thing that can be done to give us some of it back – an extra hour of daylight saving this summer.’ Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

The Lighter Later campaign, as it was known, gained widespread support from both Labour and Conservative MPs, but ultimately never came to a vote, torpedoed by a handful of MPs seeking bogus amendments.

The energy-saving arguments in favour of daylight saving continue, with calls in Brazil to reinstate the clock adjustment just two years after it was dropped, as a way to ease pressure on the hydroelectric-reliant energy grid in light of the country’s drought.

There were legitimate concerns over the time shift for some UK communities, such as in northern Scotland, who would stand to have darker mornings than the rest of the country.

But such a problem would not be as significant in Australia, where we have more plentiful sunlight and where individual states set their own daylight saving policy. Already, NSW contains two time zones year round.

Sure, the idea is unlikely to gain much support behind Queensland’s corrugated iron curtain, where the attitude to daylight saving was set by the former premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He detested daylight saving, arguing it would fade curtains and that cows won’t know when to be milked. A University of Queensland study from this year found this stance costs the state’s economy $4bn in lost productivity each year.

Nor would I expect it to be adopted in Western Australia, a state which has also done away with daylight saving.

But the path for NSW and Victoria to treat their citizens who have suffered so much this year, even for a trial summer run alongside the trial of residents gaining new vaccinations freedoms, makes sense. It would be just another way the pandemic has normalised states governing in a more distinctive way within the federation.

It would also not be the first time daylight saving has been tweaked to respond to a crisis. During the second world war, when facing an energy crisis brought on by a shortage of coalminers who had gone to fight on the frontlines, the UK temporarily set its clocks ahead an extra hour to save energy. Australia also adjusted the clocks during wartime.

For a state like NSW, with a premier and energy minister who are keen to appear more progressive on climate action than their federal coalition counterparts, such a climate-conscious move would be a bold opportunity.

It would mean more of us would be up to catch the sunrise – and that would feel good in a year of lost milestones and missed beauty. In Sydney, the extra hour would transcend the city’s east-west divide.

This is the perfect year to try out doubling daylight saving. Even if it doesn’t stick, at least we’ll feel like we’ve received a bit of a refund on our locked-down year.



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