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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

an uneasy Australia? « Previous | |Next »
August 19, 2010

The 2010 federal election is not characterized by big reform promises from the political parties, or the leaders of our political parties providing a vision for the future. As the boring election campaign draws to a close we can look back and ask: 'what has the election been about beyond the advertising, spin, manufactured images and the cautious policy announcements targeted to marginal electorates'? Can we discern what Australian citizens are concerned about?

In The west can see its future on planet Australia in the Financial Times John McTernan, a political secretary to Tony Blair and a thinker-in-residence for the Australian state of Victoria, identifies the three main issues of the 2010 federal election. These are climate change; an underlying anxiety about threats to Australia’s living standards, expressed most prominently through concerns about migration; and an underlying unease about Australia’s place in the world.

McTernan sums up the 2010 federal election thus:

Whoever wins on Saturday, these issues at first seem very Australian pre-occupations. But they represent a toxic and introspective political mix. The desire to enjoy growth while defending our lifestyles against outsiders, accepting climate change intellectually while rejecting its implications for our behaviour, and a nagging concern about the rise of China – all are issues which will quickly move up the agenda in Europe and North America. Eventually what’s going on down under could turn our world upside down too.

McTernan gives us a very different perspective to the standard business one one of poor infrastructure planning, insufficient investment in transport and ports, schools and hospitals, and water and sewerage systems. Or the economist's concerns about low productivity growth since 2002.

Or the terrors of debt or the horrors of government waste of the fiscal hawks. Or the tech head's national fibre-to-the-home broadband network, even though investment in broadband has become a significant issue in a national election campaign and, as such, is an indicator of just how important broadband is becoming in our lives.

In some ways McTernan's three issues have been expressed in the debate over a Big Australia, especially in the concerns over Australia needing to become more sustainable. However, these concerns have been pushed aside by the proponents of Big Australia, who advocate increased population and high rates of economic growth, disparage their opponents as little Australians, and launch attack after attack on the Greens.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:26 AM | | Comments (15)


Well, that's the difference between outside detached and being "part of it".
But the Debt Terror marks a new development and a new low.
A step over the edge into the heart of darkness and irrational world of child's night terrors, enthusiastically driven by msm and the big political formations. It's the political equivlent of setting up museums for fundies, where cave-folk frolicked with dinosaurs.
They should hang their heads in shame, for doing this to the public.
What political p-rn hidden under this particular raincoat!

How can you expect vision from the ALP when its body is the grap of the NSW Right ( Mark Arbib) whose dedication to party over principle drove the Right's rustbucketing of NSW?

The machine men of the NSW Right are just about grabbing and hanging onto power by using focus groups and spin target at undecided voters marginal seats. Once in power they just want to hang onto to power. They are not about making Australia a better place.

And what is this "nagging concern about the rise of China" exactly?

We, as a nation, have always grovelled to the prevailing power of the time. Surely we can adapt...

McTernan says that the underlying unease about Australia’s place in the world:

stems from its economic boom, driven by exporting minerals to Asia, and China. China’s growth is obviously an economic boon, but is also seen as a long-term threat to Australian industry, and a deeper psychological challenge to ordinary Australians’ sense of themselves. Re-orienting their country as an Asia-Pacific nation was hard enough, but seeing themselves as providing the feedstock for Indian and Chinese growth is profoundly discomfiting.

Though Australia has always grovelled to the prevailing power of the time, China is a different kettle of fish to the USA and India is different to the UK.

I know pollies run a pretty impressive welfare system for themselves - just ask Downer and Beazley - but THINKER-IN-RESIDENCE?? I mean that has to be a joke, surely.

Gary does he cite any evidence for this alleged 'deep psychological challenge to ordinary Australians' sense of themselves'? Or is this another instance of an intellectual presuming to know how the lumpen proletariat feel on the basis of intuition, or a chat with a taxi driver, or something? Maybe that's a thinker-in-residence's job description: make stuff up.

I'm a little tired of being lectured by Poms and Australian ex-pats about how Australians suffer from some kind of identity crisis with associated feelings of insecurity. The Germaine Greers and Robert Hughes and Barry Humphries and the rest can keep rabbiting on about it if they like but it has a very flat, anachronistic flavour to me. Like reading a 50 year old edition of a student newspaper or 'Nation Review'.

From my perspective, the vast majority of Australians don't feel remotely challenged by China's growth, in their 'sense of themselves' or in any other sense. Indeed I surmise that quite a few welcome the chance to distance ourselves the increasingly erratic and bizarre USA. And if you asked them if they were uneasy 'about Australia’s place in the world', I think they would ask WTF you were talking about.

Sorry Gary... I really DON'T get it! Seriously!

For over a century we've bowed to the Brits and the Americans with little (on no) hesitation.

Yet, for some reason, we apparently find the mere thought of bowing to the Chinese deeply disturbing.

That's more than a bit ridiculous, isn't it?

there has been a thinker -in-residence program in Adelaide for a number of years. I didn't know Victoria had one, and I cannot find one on the web.

maybe McTernan is referring to the White Australia policy and Australia's historical wariness to, and suspicion of, non-whites. Maybe he is too polite to mention the "populist xenophobia"?

Australia has historically seen itself as an white European outpost in an Asian sea. One that looked back to Europe and then to the USA. It has historically fought on Asian soil for the UK and the US (against China in 1950's in Korea). Now it is straddled between, and pulled by both, the US and the China.

Summing up I would say,
If Labor gets up it will wake up monday morning with 50% of the country against it. It will be in bed to a certain extend with The Greens and who know what in the Senate. It will get 2 1/2 years to do something. There will be no excuses of world economic problems (hopefully) and their job will be to start the NBN, fix hospitals, education, introduce an ETS that the Greens are happy with and at the same time keep jobs growing and everybody happy.
Its a big job and the media will be relentless. If they fail to deliver again they wont get another chance for a long time I would think.

the NBN has already started--in Tasmania. People are using it. It is also being constructed in Townsville.

The regional backhaul blackspots is being built---eg, from Darwin to Brisbane. I'm not sure about the others.

there is a possibility that the NBN won’t ever deliver on its promise. An account of why this may be so. It is the best I've read on the problems faced by regional Australia re telecommunications.

I agree with your account of the next three years if Labor wins.

I don't read a mood for change like last election. Its more a mood for lack of interest. Most people I have talked to feel that it wont change much for them whoever gets in.
Obviously if both teams were starting off scratch in the Stawell Gift then Labor would be gone but Labor is starting off the 17 metre mark so its a big ask.
I backed The Coalition a while back when they were 4/1 so I will stick with them to win narrowly.

I wonder how that will translate in action, Les.
Seems not much margin for them.
1960 again?