GWAS Perspective: Who the bloody hell are we? (The Economist's Australia Appraisal)
The Prophet Hosea, who preached in Israel before the fall of Samaria in 721 BC, conveyed the Lord's anguish with the faithlessness of a people who had been brought out of Egypt with the hope of future prosperity and security.
"The people of Israel are like a half-baked loaf of bread," said the Lord. "They rely on the nations around them and do not realise that this reliance on foreigners has robbed them of their strength. Their days are numbered, but they don't even know it. The arrogance of the people of Israel cries out against them... Israel flits about like a silly pigeon; first her people call on Egypt for help, and then they run to Assyria!"
The parallel with Australia, brought to our attention by the British-based publication The Economist in a 16-page special report last week, is uncanny. Like the Old Testament Israelites, Australians suffer under a national blanket of insecurity that sees us switching loyalties to wherever we derive our prosperity – currently, China – and security (America), much like our taste for sporting fixtures and television shows waxes and wanes (we love cricket when we're on a winning streak; not so much when we lose).
We are rabid early adopters of new technologies – perhaps in response to the geographic distances that former Prime Minister Paul Keating (1991-96) once summed up in his characteristically crass way; Australia is "the arse end of the earth" – and are notorious when it comes to seeking approval abroad (we are reluctant to celebrate our own until they have got the international seal – and often, by then, they've picked up sticks and moved abroad). We don't like to be told we're in the wrong. We are always on the defensive.
A switching of cultural allegiance between Britain and America; a democratic political system built on short-term vision; a religious tradition split down Catholic and Protestant lines now intertwined with an all-embracing multiculturalism; a lingering guilt surrounding the original inhabitants of the land, swept under the proverbial rug; slow population growth and impressive per capita productivity; a government that kowtows to big business; and the world's second-largest per-person production of greenhouse gas emissions. How embarrassing.
Perhaps we are still, 220 years in, wet behind the ears, finding our feet, and wounded by jibes from our British forebears and abandonment issues that cut deep; but it's time to grow up.
And that's the message from The Economist.
Sometimes it takes a foreigner's view, and outsider's perspective, to remind us of what we have. And we have so much. We ARE the lucky country. So why do we behave like Israel, refusing to come out of the comfort of the womb and claim the position of world leaders in those areas in which we excel – like sports and biochemistry and environmental issues – while applying what we've learnt, and our propensity for generosity, to aid those nations that surround us and help them to grow and prosper, which will in turn make them true allies when the going gets tough?
It will get tough. Like Gen-Y benefiting from the prosperity enjoyed by the Boomers, the luck will run out if foundations for the future are not laid now. Lacking a cohesive vision, inspirational leadership and discipline, we are at risk of floundering, grasping at straws that will not sustain our cultural, economic or environmental prosperity, nor protect our borders when our friends become adversaries.
"Israel was once like a well-trained young cow, ready and willing to thresh grain. But I decided to put a yoke on her beautiful neck and to harness her for harder work. I made Judah pull the plough and Israel pull the harrow. I said, 'Plough new ground for yourselves, plant righteousness, and reap the blessings that your devotion to me will produce." (Hosea 10:11,12)
Highlights from The Economist editorial, 'The Next Golden State':
- "the country's economic success owes much less to recent windfalls than to policies applies over the 20 years before 2003. Textbook economics and sound management have truly worked wonders."
- "Australians must now decide what sort of country they want their children to live in. They can enjoy their prosperity, squander what they do not consume and wait to see what the future brings; or they can actively set about creating the sort of society that other nations envy and want to emulate"
- "it could do more to develop the sort of open, dynamic and creative society that California has epitomised, drawing waves of energetic immigrants not just from other parts of America but from all over the world. Such societies, the ones in which young and enterprising people want to live, cannot be conjured up overnight by a single agent, least of all by government. They are created by the alchemy of artists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, civic institutions and governments coming together in the right combination at the right moment. And for Australia, economically strong as never before, the is surely such a moment."
- "It means above all fostering a sense of self-confidence among the people at large to bring about the mix of civic pride, philanthropy and financial investment that so often underpins the success of places like California."
- "Many Australians do not seem to appreciate that they live in an unusually successful country. Accustomed to unbroken economic expansion – they are too young to remember recession – they are inclined to complain about house prices, 5% unemployment or the problems that a high exchange rate causes manufacturing and several other industries. Some Australians talk big but actually think small, and politicians may be the worst offenders. They are often reluctant to get out in front in policymaking – on climate change, for instance – preferring to follow what bigger countries do. In the quest for a carbon policy, both the main parties have chopped and changed their minds, and their leaders, leaving voters divided and bemused. There can be little doubt that if America could come to a decision on the topic, Australia would soon follow suit."
- "Just when their country has the chance to become influential in the world, they appear introverted and unable to see the big picture. Little legislation of consequence has been passed since 2003."
- "Instead of pointing to the great benefits of immigration – population growth is responsible for about two-fifths of the increase in real GDP in the past 40 years – the two parties pander shamelessly to xenophobic fears about asylum-seekers washing up in boats."
- "None of this will get Australians to take pride in their achievements and build on them. Better themes for politicians would be their plans to develop first-class universities, nourish the arts, promote urban design and stimulate new industries in anything from alternative energy to desalinating water... the most useful policy to pursue would be education, especially tertiary education."
- "First, however, Aussies need a bit more self-belief. After that perhaps will come the zest and confidence of an Antipodean California."
In the 16-page report compiled by John Grimond – which touches on themes of political reform, GDP, key industry (mining, farming, wine), superannuation, the tax system, population, immigration, racism, sports, humanitarianism, egalitarianism, tourism, the environment, strategic trade/defence alliances, political leadership and discourse and ideology – I thought there to be a lack of investigation into our national health – mental and physical – and how it might disadvantage us economically in future generations (and what of the health system itself?), as well as the impact of multiculturalism on national identity and a cohesive, productive and healthy economy. Barely a hint, too, at women's progress as a marker of national maturity, prosperity and confidence.
Read the full Economist's report on the state of Australia here.
Girl With a Satchel