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Meanwhile, on Planet Australia...

Posted: 26/01/2012 00:40

It is Australia Day today (ambiguously commemorating the foundation of the Penal Colony of New South Wales by Captain Arthur Phillips, an event which occurred more than one hundred years before the actual creation of the Commonwealth of Australia) and so this HuffPost UK blogger thought he would honour the fine tradition (think Clive James, Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer... ) of members of the Australian diaspora in London, by waxing mostly whinical about things Down Under, by offering a few thoughts about the world of Planet Australia.

Life on Planet Australia may have evolved under very different gravitational conditions. By any serious measure Australia enjoys a life of enormous good fortune (sixth lowest population density; second in the world on the human development index; GDP firmly anchored inside the global top 20; average house size bigger than anywhere on earth, etc, etc) yet Australians seem wracked by anxiety, labouring under the misapprehension that the country faces serious problems associated with over-population and infrastructure meltdown. "Aussie families are doing it tough" (which some, of course, are; but most, statistically, are not) goes the ludicrous rhetoric of any number of populist politicians. Australia also seems inordinately preoccupied with the tiny number of asylum seekers who make the perilous journey by boat across the sea from Indonesia. It is as if the country is in the throes of a perpetual moral panic.

Of course there are things that Planet Australia should be genuinely worried about. As the person once named as the country's "number one intellectual" (it is of course characteristic of the national sporting obsession that even public intellectuals must be treated as if engaged in field athletics) Robert Manne has observed, Australia is an experiment in what happens if you put almost 70% of newspaper ownership in the hands Rupert Murdoch.

And although life remains good for most on Planet Australia, the bitter winds of neoliberalism have nonetheless been felt across the wide brown land, with income inequality on the rise for more than a decade, to now be above the OECD average.

Relations with Australia's Indigenous peoples remain vastly problematic. Australia also has a great deal to fear from the consequences of climate change. As Sarah Laskow writing for Grist put it recently: "Australia is so, so screwed". Weather is only a symptom of climate, but Australians were today expecting an array of extreme conditions across the continent. The canary is coughing.

In the political arena on Planet Australia, a minority national government led by Labor's Julia Gillard is tenaciously holding on to power against a centre-right coalition led by Canberra's answer to Vladimir Putin, Tony Abbott.

Under then leader Kevin Rudd, Labor was elected by a landslide in 2007 and saw off the financial crisis with decisive action, yet has somehow managed to squander the electorate's favour (not least through the precipitous ditching of Rudd) at an extraordinary pace. Gillard boxes on, but if the polls are to be believed the intellectually incoherent and viciously opportunistic Abbott looks headed for a big win in the elections due next year. Meanwhile, the Australian Greens continue a slow but steady rise.

Deposed as prime minister, Kevin Rudd now travels around as Australia's foreign minister. This week Rudd was in London visiting William Hague. In the course of the meeting, the fine old Planet Australia tradition of playing 'follow the empire' was observed, with Rudd deciding to support EU sanctions against Iran. Call it the 'as a result, Australia is also at war' syndrome: from the Boer War to the Great War; Vietnam to Iraq; if there is a blue foley on, 'Australia will be there'.

Yet without going all Dorothea Mackeller on you, from surprising reservoirs of cosmopolitan openness and social solidarity, to a knack for unexpected political innovation (that conduced to deliver a national carbon tax late last year), to often neglected cultural richness (Patrick White anyone?), there remains so very much to love about the place. Richer beyond belief, the real wealth of Australia resonates in people and places that transcend the mean accounting of gross domestic product or the venal aspirations of populist politicians. There are foundations of magnificence still to be built upon. The door is still open; the challenge remains a fair bet. It's all part of life on Planet Australia.

 

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