Groan. It’s around that time of the year again, in the lead-up to Australia Day, when some self-important members of the citizenry feel the need to publicly declare that they are embarrassed and/or ashamed to be Australian.
Until recent times, this faux breast-beating came primarily from the alienated left-wing intelligentsia. Invariably, they were well-educated and relatively well-off Australians inhabiting the inner-city or the affluent inner suburbs.
It is no exaggeration to say that literally millions of the world’s population want to live in a nation like Australia. That is, a country with democratic institutions where the rule of law applies, where basic education and health is available free of charge, and where a social safety net is available for those who need it.
For many decades, students in schools have been told by some teachers that Australia is an illegitimate state which represses its people. This view is increasingly prevalent in the social science departments of Australia’s tertiary institutions. In political terms, this interpretation of Australia is found predominantly within the green-left – that is, the Greens and members of the Labor Party’s Socialist Left faction.
However, lately, the traditional left-wing “I’m embarrassed to be Australian” chorus has been complemented by some alienated right-of-centre types who have been motivated by their opposition to Australia’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In September 2020, the normally considered James Allan wrote in The Spectator Australia: “I’m now embarrassed to be an Australian, no that’s too weak; in fact, I’m ashamed to be an Australian.”. His article was headed: “Ashamed to be Australian: How did we become as bad as Cuba and North Korea?”
Which raises this question: How did it come to pass that The Spectator Australia decided to run such a rant in what presents as a journal of considered opinion?
Now, Allan is correct to oppose some of the authoritarian measures implemented, primarily by state and territory governments, in response to the pandemic. However, it’s just tosh to equate the commonwealth government’s restrictions on Australians departing the country with the ruthless totalitarian communist dictatorships in North Korea and elsewhere.
It’s akin to the leftist rant that the Coalition government led by Scott Morrison is fascist or Nazi. For example, in March 2020 lawyer Michael Bradley looked at the Coalition and saw “the central features of fascism”.
The recent deportation of the unvaccinated Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has certainly fired up the right-of-centre. Sky News presenter Caleb Bond declared on January 14 that Australia had “lost the plot” and that Djokovic’s story was “so damn crazy”.
He maintained that, due to the handling of the case, Australia has become an “international laughing stock”.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph last Wednesday, Rita Panahi declared “Australians have never cared much what the rest of the world thinks of us but right now we should care”. She went on to refer to the “current mass lunacy that is afflicting our country”.
Panahi’s article was headed: “We are a laughing stock.”
It used to be the left-of-centre types who declared Australia to be a laughing stock to the rest of the world. Now it seems that the right-of-centre types have joined the chorus.
The truth is that the overwhelming majority of people on the planet have better things to do than to think about Australia. Do the good people of Sudan or Siberia give a toss that a wealthy tennis player has been deported from Australia? And, if they do, would this be a motivating factor for unrestrained laughter?
The fact is that many commentators have scant knowledge of the difficulties involved in governing democratic societies. For the most part, there are no easy decisions. As the historian Geoffrey Blainey has pointed out, many of the crucial decisions taken by democratic leaders over the decades are of the 60-40 or 70-30 for/against percentage score. Some are even close to 50-50. In short, there are few if any simple choices.
The available evidence suggests that Tennis Australia was desperate to get Djokovic to play in the Australian Open, despite knowing that he was unvaccinated. Other less well-known tennis players took the vaccine in order to enter Australia.
In view of this, it would have been difficult for any commonwealth government to allow Djokovic to stay in Australia. Sure, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke could have decided otherwise. He refrained from doing so. Meanwhile, the tennis goes on – as does the rest of the world.
It was not so long ago that the left was banging on about the (alleged) most recent example of Australia being an international pariah. Writing in the Nine newspapers on November 12 last year, during the COP (Conference of Parties) 26 meeting in Glasgow, the Climate Institute’s Tim Flannery and Simon Bradshaw declared that they “felt embarrassed” at Australia’s performance at the UN climate talks.
In the left-inclined The New Daily on the same day, Zac Crellin opined that “the Australian government has little to show for its attendance other than a seemingly battered and bruised global reputation”. The article claimed that Australia had been “embarrassed for the duration of the Glasgow summit”.
Less than three months after COP26, nations are still buying high-quality Australian coal along with iron ore. And there is increased interest in Australian gas. Purchasers of Australian national resources have no reason to feel embarrassed. Nor should sellers.
The world is an imperfect place – as those who grew up with a notion of original sin well understand. Australia was no utopia before European settlement in 1788 – and it is not perfect now.
Over the past two centuries, Australian governments have got many things right and some things wrong.
Yet, compared with all other nations, Australia has done well. It is a relatively prosperous nation. And it is an accepting nation – judged by the relatively high level of intermarriage between citizens and the relatively low level of racially motivated crime.
On any reasonable analysis, Australia is one of the world’s most successful nations. That’s no joke.