The usual clich© routinely trotted out on Australia Day goes like this. We’re always been great at sport. Not to put too fine a point, we’ve err . . . punched above our weight. We’ve more recently been congratulating ourselves on the end of our ‘cultural cringe’. In fact our cringes are still fairly healthy in various respects not least in our economic achievements – as indicated by our sad insistence on describing things in such terms as ‘world competitive’.
Even so, there’s an amazing list of things at which Australia is remarkably good. It’s not that clear that we’re doing all that well in the cultural stakes right now – at least if the cultural and financial performance of our film industry is anything to go by. But there’s a veritable scattergun of things we’re great at.
Twenty years ago I was travelling the world selling cartoons I had drawn over the previous three years. Naturally I looked around at the competition. At least according my admittedly culturally specific biases, around five of the best ten cartoonists I’ve ever seen are Australians – viz Petty, Leunig, Moir, Leak, Tandberg though there are plenty of others (I think Patrick Cook got bored with it and only dashes a few drawings off occasionally).
I remember over a decade ago Geoffrey
Robinson Robertson claiming that the High High Court (either the Mason or Gibbs Court) was as good a supreme court of appeal as could be found anywhere. I’d make the same claim for our Reserve Bank.
It has managed to play a huge role in giving us a decade and a half’s respite from recessions. Along with the US Fed, its performance looks like the best – but it’s been more low key and apolitical than the Fed was under Greenspan. And it’s been much more pro-growth without making any undesirable concessions on inflation than the NZ or the European Central Banks.
We’ve got the world’s best social security system. Of course people complain about it. They always will. It’s complex and full of political compromises – as (at least in a democracy) it always will be. Yet it’s the most targeted system in the world – literally twice as efficient with around one half of the proportion of funds being wasted on high income households as the next best social security system – New Zealand’s and it’s around five times more targeted than the social security systems of most OECD countries. You know about all that ‘churn’ you hear about – where we tax people only to give the money back to them in social security benefits. Well it’s true there’s a lot of it in Australia – but how often do you hear that it’s much less than any other developed country!
While we’re talking about messy things, things that can only ever be assessed by comparison with other real world examples what about our political system? Having been the country to pioneer the “Australian (ie secret) ballot” Australia has gone on to develop a remarkable political system which provides an valuable compromise between the weak governmental models of Europe with constant manoeuvring between minority parties to form governments and unitary systems like the UK which provide strong government but at the potential cost of disenfranchising large segments of the community – e.g. the substantial Lib/Dem vote in the UK. We have a strong government for as long as it retains the lower house’s confidence with a house of review with teeth (at least when the government doesn’t control it which is most – but not all of the time).
From what I’ve seen radio national is the most cost effective national issues based broadcaster and, though it could go much much further, it also seems to have gone further fastest in embracing the podcasting revolution.
So Troppodillians, I plan to tell others of these observations in a column I”m writing for Australia Day. But I wanted input from YOU! Can you suggest other things/areas in which Australia is somewhere near the best in the world that people don’t talk much about? If you can and I agree with you, your suggestion may be shamelessly stolen for my op ed. Moreover you won’t be acknowledged in the op ed, but you will be acknowledged, gratefully, here at Troppo.