Monthly Archives: January 2011

What Is So Different About Australia?

John Ralston Saul at the Sydney Writers Festival 2010

John Ralston Saul:

“There’s an interesting opportunity if you’re Australian or Canadian because we know what that (the European) tradition is, but we also belong to another tradition. One which was here before any immigrants came, and is still here and still very much alive and has many philosophical bases to it and one which has been created much more thanks to what is here than is admitted by most of the immigrants. An approach, which is not monolithic, which is not singular, which is not Westphalian, which doesn’t have one language, which has multiple myths. And if those of us who are immigrants are lucky enough to belong within that mythology that’s an enormous privilege. That’s something astonishing no matter how many things we’ve done wrong along the way.”

So what is Ralston Saul talking about? To paraphrase, he is saying, Australia is a country and a place where people, cultures and traditions existed prior to it being colonised by the British. Unlike, say France, where its citizens and intrinsically “European” culture and traditions were born out of its inception. Australia has adopted the “European” model of the nation state from the British and all that comes with it, the economic, social, habitational, legal and cultural structures. But it is not the same because we have both traditions and cultures. We hear the word multicultural bandied about incessantly, but really Australia is that and much more. It is a nation with a multitude of cultures and traditions, and with this comes so many more ideas and the opportunity to have original thoughts and solutions to the problems we face. The problem is that we have not recognised the true (and boundlessly positive) potential in Australia’s inherent difference.

John Ralston Saul goes on to say:

“…take away the commodities from Australia and Canada and I can tell you, what’s left is little better than probably a mid-level third world economy”

“We’ve all bought into the Western concept of ‘progress’…”

“So there is this contradiction between the way we’re living our lives which seems so European and Western and the reality which that there is a whole other tradition here evoked by those new Australians…”

and hence,

“You have access to thoughts and ideas which are deeply outside what is taught…”

He suggests that Australia and the world have a problem, global warming, and yet all we can do is argue over percentage points. We have an economy which is heavily dependent on finite commodities and no future plan for when the ground is emptied. Our “Australian” way of life will not survive with a services-based economy, and demand for retail goods and increased population growth is not going to maintain our living standards. This is where Ralston Saul thinks our unique situation of having access to so many ideas, thoughts and cultures can lead to an Australian cultural independence and an identity that is truly our own, made up of every person living in this country; every “new Australian” and every other citizen born here. That is not to say that we should discard our cultural heritage and current identity because that is both impossible and undesirable, we would not be where we are now and would not have had the experiences and made the mistakes, without it.

This is where I extend Saul’s ideas with some of my own. There can, if we choose, be harmony and minor discord between our “blood-stained” past of colonisation and our all-inclusive future. Now, what is key to understand is that brilliant, carefully-nurtured and tested ideas will not spring from our politicians. The ideas will come from “ordinary Australians” and they will come to prominence through a gradual societal embrace of these swirling ideas. Our consciousness needs to be awake to these possibilities. Politicians will pick up on these ideas when they have intellectual and social support. Now you may be an optimist, a cynic, a realist, an idealist, a conservative, a moderate, a leftie, a greenie or a ‘not interested’, but for the sake of perhaps genuine and unique national development keep your eyes, ears and mind open.

Culture and national identity is not a list of qualities, like mateship, fairness and generosity, just as a person’s essence or soul is not a list of characteristics. There is something that drives Australia to be what it is today, and that is the sum essences of every citizen. And to figure out an individual’s essence, you need to understand your essential drive in this world, be it to help others, solve our problems, shed light on ignored areas or even assist in the smooth-running and progressivity of society. It is because of this diverse range of drives, people, culture and traditions that we can continue to avoid uniformity (or as Ralston Saul refers to it, the “monolithic state”) and better yet we can help Australia continue to be a more unique, positive and individual force than it is in the world today.

John Ralston Saul and I cannot and have not given you concrete answers to how Australia will develop, but that was not, I believe, his or my intention. Conversely, it is to open up discussion and future possibilities, and also to show you just how lucky Australia (and other nations) are to have so much potential for originality and improvement.

If you have any contributions to make regarding these ideas, both mine and John Ralston Saul’s, his lecture or Australia Day in general, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your views.

Listen to John Ralston Saul’s brilliant and very entertaining lecture at the Sydney Writers Festival here.

Happy Australia Day.


Filed under Ideas, Philosophy

The late Tony Judt – A Lecture on the State of Social Democracy

Professor Tony Judt (before he was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2008)

I was listening to Radio National (621 AM) whilst I was cooking dinner when I heard this man, Tony Judt (Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University), speak. It was a recording of the 2009 Remarque lecture he delivered entitled, ‘What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?‘. I was immediately struck by what he was saying and it deeply resonated with me. I would suggest that all politicians and advisors on the Left of politics – especially the Australian Labor Party – should listen to this. Clarity and direction are the main rewards they will reap.

NOTE: Please bookmark this page if you don’t have time to listen to the lecture now and would like to. It is well worth your time.

“We have lost the capacity to think of public affairs except in, and in a very restricted sense, in economic terms. When we ask of a policy or a proposal, is it good or bad? We don’t actually ask, is it good or bad? We ask, is it efficient? Is it productive? Would it benefit gross domestic product? Would it be efficient in that respect? Would it contribute or not contribute to growth and so on. We ask, in a very restricted sense, economic questions, we talk economics as a language of public policy. That is not a natural condition, it is an acquired one.” [Adapted transcript found here at The New York Review of Books]

I highly recommend listening to the entire lecture (found on the Radio National website here) as hearing Judt speak and arguing his contention is and was a wonderful experience. Also whilst you listen to the recording keep in mind that Judt was paralysed from the neck down, in a wheelchair, using a breathing apparatus (as his nose muscles could not breathe for him). This only increases my admiration for his dedication to teaching history and sharing his ideas.

Watch the full video of the lecture here (including Judt’s informal and humorous introduction and explanation of his situation).

Tony Judt died from Motor Neurone Disease on the 6th of August, 2010.

If you listen or watch this lecture I would love to hear your thoughts, comments and responses to Judt’s position.


Tony Judt on having Motor Neurone Disease – speaks to The Guardian

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Filed under Politics

A Post On Why I Haven’t Posted

From the title of this post you may think:

– Oh, how very post-modern and self-reflexive of you;
– I really don’t care; or
– Maybe I will (or won’t) get something from reading this post about not posting.

Well, to put it bluntly, after the 2010 election campaign and the hung parliament result/hectic period of Independents and ALP/COAL negotiations, I was decidedly OVER the current political debates. Or perhaps I should really ask, what debates? Policy is a six-letter-word but it might as well not exist as a word or a concept at the moment.

This blog was created to engage with policy and the political debates in parliament, the Internet and the media. Since the beginning of the new parliament (as in, the end of 2010) there has been nothing in policy or Australian Federal politics that I have found particularly engaging, intellectual, robust (in terms of debate) and held to be important by at least one party or interest group. You might say, but what about the NBN, or WikiLeaks, or dams, or… ahhhh… Someone help me out? Discussions in the media and between people might not have been fruitless but I have not wanted to add to anything to an issue when it seems to me be going round and round in circles.

I enjoy writing, sharing/listening to information and ideas on Twitter and on this blog, but I prefer to engage in topics with facts not speculation or personal opinion. And it has been my rather subconscious decision to refrain from writing about anything political or policy-oriented until I have something relatively new and worthwhile to say.

I don’t believe in being negative and I hope it doesn’t come across this way because I am optimistic that whatever “slow policy period” we are going through will subside. And don’t get me wrong, in the meantime I still enjoy reading other bloggers and Tweeters posts. So until then… I will be posting, but it won’t be original pieces. I will be sharing ideas that other brilliant people have been cultivating and hope that a discussion or …debate (!) might arise out of that, on this blog, at home or just with yourself.

If anyone else has a view on this “slow policy period”, please feel free to post a comment below (NB: I have an respectful discussion policy).

All the best for the New Year, GS.

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Filed under Politics