What are we best at?

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.

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57 Responses to What are we best at?

  1. wbb says:

    We’re pretty good at botting offa other people’s ideas.

    We’re also very good at humour: viz Gunston before Ali G; Aunty Jack before Little Britain; Frontline before The Office; Vizard before Letterman.

  2. Bannerman says:

    It’s RobERTson actually

  3. Having been the country to pioneer the “Australian (ie secret) ballot”

  4. D W Griffiths says:

    Here’s three:

    * Children’s television. The Wiggles are huge in the US, but a number of other acts and works had done very well over there pre-Wiggles. I don’t remember the list now, but it’s substantial. (I once sat on a plane next to the blue Wiggle, Anthony Field, and made this case to him. At the time the group had just built a large new production facility and felt the need to go into the US market, but were also scared about mucking up. To this day, I like to pretened I helped in some tiny way to bolster Field’s confidence.)

    * Car design. For a very small producer we have done some remarkable work in recent years. The highlights would have to be the Ford Territory (a magnificently practical interior from a team led by a Soviet emigre, Alex Simdikov) and the new Holden Statesman/Caprice, which we export in large quantities to the Middle East.

    * Cinematography. The finest example is Dean Semmler, but there are a number of others. (Hypothesis: once you can manage the harshness of the Australian light, you can make anything look good.)

  5. Tim says:

    I’d add public administration in general. Our public bureaucracies in other words.

  6. Jacques Chester says:

    I see a lot of Australian email addresses among the ranks of opensource programmers. Until the AUSFTA we were a leading “haven” for projects outside the USA. That might change as things go on.

  7. Yes, sorry Bannerman, You is right – corrected now.

    Yes, DW I agree about Children’s TV and also car design. I think the original version of the last model Holden and the old Falcon released in 1987 or thereabouts (code named EA26) were magnificent visually and were not really recognised as being as good as they were because they were, as they had to be, mass marketed, not niche marketed.

    Btw, the trouble with the Wiggles is that they’re not all that good. Seasame Street or even our own Hooley Dooleys are far more musical. They’re just neat and clean and anodyne. Two of them appear to have trouble staying awake for reasons that I can understand and that has led one to retire early. Oh well, he maintains control of his share of the royalties!

  8. Yes, I agree about public administration. We had one of the most successful anti-AIDS strategies of any country in the world.

    Australian ex-pats have a good reputation within international business in management generally from what I’ve heard.

  9. Tony.T says:

    Most of our humour is dismal. It makes me cringe.

  10. Possibly the best health system in the world. For all its faults.

  11. SJ says:

    D W Griffiths: You forgot the P76. ;)

  12. D W Griffiths says:

    Hey, SJ, give a bloke a break. I wrote that Australian car designers “have done some remarkable work in recent years”. The Leyland P76 was designed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was designed by a character called Giovanni Michelotti. No, he wasn’t a new Australian.

    I will, however, agree with Nick’s comments on Holden’s VT Commodore, which at launch was one of the finest-looking cars in the world, and which led to the magnificent Monaro.

    Nick, here’s another suggestion: journalists. From Clive James to Col Allan, Australian journos have done great things on the world stage. (The standard theory is that Australia, where hardly anything happens, fine-tunes our jounalists to be absolute demons when they reach a part of the world which actually has any events of note.)

    I’d second the health system.

  13. Tony T,

    “Humour” is too broad a category by far. I think Australians have a great sense of humour. Subtle, ironic, low key. It suits some genres (like cartoons) and hasn’t worked that well with others. But Barry Humphries seems to manage. And Frontline was a great show. So it depends.

  14. phil says:

    Nicholas – I should be preparing for a big workshop tomorrow but this question got me thinking.

    Bands? INXS, AC/DC, Air Supply, Bee Gees (with ex-Pom caveat), Savage Garden etc? On a per capita basis, we do pretty well I think.

    I’d be tempted to say our egalitarianism, but maybe I’m living in the past with that one. As a former Australian consul, I always felt pride in representing a country where everybody got a fair go. As a culture, the way we appeared overseas was always relaxed, yet open and competent. Good luck with interpreting that one, should you choose to do so.

    Also, it’s nice to see someone acknowledging our public admin. As a tax-eater myself, I think we put an awful lot of unrecognised effort into trying to do things well: targeted, cost-effective and usually based on sound research. In relation to Aussies in the private sector overseeas, a couple of my former team members have done extremely well. And note they learnt their skills and application in a public sector environment. But look also at examples such as James Wolfensohn, the bloke who runs CCA (Douglas Daft?) and so on.

    BTW, I have to bite on the P76 (yeah, tragics like me always do). My uncle was still in the car business when they were launched in 1972 – he brought down a Super V8 to the national launch at the Lakeside Hotel in Canberra. It was streets ahead of the competition (HQ Holden and XA Falcon) in everything except build quality, and that got better. He couldn’t get enough to meet his local demand.

  15. patrickg says:

    * Cinematography. The finest example is Dean Semmler, but there are a number of others. (Hypothesis: once you can manage the harshness of the Australian light, you can make anything look good.)

    We certainly do over-represent in film.

    Dion Beebe & Christopher Doyle have both been even more influential cinematographers than Semmler, I would argue. In addition to them there is the inimitable John Seale, Peter Menzies Jr, Russell Boyd, Robert Krasker, Don McAlpine and Andrew Lesnie, to name a few – all great, living cinematographers.

    Of course, there’s dozens of directors, editors, writers, actors, etc. as well. I think Australians have a nice way of seeing things.

  16. Yobbo says:

    I agree with FXH. Our health system is pretty darn good, especially when you look at the other OECD countries for comparison.

    I beg to differ on our social security system though. It really depends on how you define “best”, but even then it’s not that great.

  17. Patrick says:

    From the above, it appears logical to say ‘public institutions’ full stop. One of those not discussed are the police – they are corrupt, but less so than most places, in Queensland they are racist but it is recognised as a problem, in Victoria they are trigger-happy but in general astonishingly disciplined, especially at large protests. On world standards, I would say they get a high ranking indeed.

    Robertson is wrong to elevate the Mason court – but the High Court has been very good for a long time, with maybe a slip in the seventies and eighties.

    Finally I would nominate our Constitution. I find that a lot of people find this one counter-intuitive, but then I ask them to name five national constitutions that have lasted as long (without resorting to semantics and citing ancient empires; excluding fundamental amendments such as Canada’s bill of rights or Argentina’s dozen reforms). If as I do you consider that England has put itself in Constitutional limbo since at least Factortame then it becomes even harder.

    Post-scriptum I would add finance. We have hundreds in the ME and NY, thousands in London, hundreds in Hong Kong. Our listed property trust sector and infrastructure trusts sector are arguably the world’s best, as is our general public exposure to ‘alternative assets’ such as hedge funds. Although our corporate regulators seem to be getting a little too heavy-handed, especially since CLERP 9, our corporate regulation is fundamentally world-class as well. They all feed off each other (and indeed they all feed off the Constitution I mentioned above!), hence I would say finance generally.

  18. Migraine says:

    There has been a lot of keening lately about the fact that Australian literature is disappearing from universities and schools. It’s true: there are very few chairs of Australian literature left in our universities. Perhaps only one.

    This might have something to do with the quality of Australian literature, but I’m not in any position to comment on that suggestion.

    What I can say, though, regarding unheralded excellence, is that Australia boasts many of the best scholars of other people’s literature. We have some of the best Classics scholars and schools in the world. And it might surprise many of you that we have an excellent record in Shakespeare scholarship and criticism. A disproportionate number of new, internationally-regarded editions of Shakespeare over the past fifteen years have had Australian editors – selected by academic publishers on the basis of their reputation.

    Unfortunately, the neglect of the humanities (and social sciences) means we will inevitably lose our standing in such things. Perhaps sooner than we realise.

    So what? Does it matter, having a wealth of well-respected scholars? Does it matter if we lose them? Well, yes. Because these are the people who teach us to think – to read, analyse, criticise and treat with appropriate suspicion the ever-increasing volume of ‘information’ we are bombarded with.

    Lose those abilities, and then see how things spin.

  19. Vee says:

    Australian success stories: co-developed Penicillin, invented the black box and reportedly even the notepad.

    Off topic: I’ve been thinking about the churn and redistribution of it to targeted areas. I think I’ve come to a decision and I think you may be right that the redistribution to family benefits or area x of a household. Its a piece of bureaucracy that can easily be overlooked at home with numerous other issues playing out daily and that bureaucracy is shifted to the govt/public sector and the person doesn’t have to think twice about it. I’m not so convinced that there is any benefit in the social security churn for singles or the single parent single child family though.

    Could I also add a “hear hear” to MB’s comment.

  20. Yobbo,

    care to elaborate on our social security system. What country does it better?

  21. Nana Levu says:

    On our AIDS campaign. I worked for a short time in Department of Health in the mid 80s when the AIDS strategy was kicking off. I think the key to Australia’s success was that key public servants were prepared to get down from their ivory tower in Canberra and go to the key groups: the gay community, intraveneous drug users, and sex workers. These groups were empowered to take control of the education campaigns to great affect. In a society of an aloof bureacracy this approach would not have been possible.

  22. Bring Back CL's blog says:

    Agree on health care and on social security and the OECD, World Bank and IMF thinks that our Retirement incomes is the best also although there we have been doing nothing for a long time

  23. Patrick says:

    Our retirement incomes don’t need much since we did the maths two decades ago and actually did something about it, unlike in Europe where maths has been formally banned in every government building.

    Because it might never happen again, let me say explicitly that I agree completely with MB as well.

    Even by most of the standards Yobbo would be likely to apply, particularly cheapness, our social security should pass muster compared to any other developed country that I am aware of.

    Related to public institutions and my comments re the police, even though road safety seems to be at least as much about money as safety, I think we are world-beaters there as well. It may be mainly first-mover advantage, but we have it for now.

  24. Backroom Girl says:

    It will probably come as little surprise that I also agree that our income support system stacks up pretty well in comparison to others. The reason it is still fairly ugly is that there is no beautiful, simple solution to providing income support that a) is adequate to meet at least the subsistence needs of people who are unable to support themselves; b) is targeted to people in financial need; c) provides a reasonable financial incentive for people to get a job and/or earn extra money; d) intrudes on people’s personal lives as little as possible; AND e) is affordable in both the short and longer term. I think most people would agree that a good income support system needs to do all of these things, but achieving all of these objectives at least in some measure involves a huge amount of compromise and a fair deal of complexity. Anyone who pretends otherwise either has no idea or is secretly willing to jettison one or more of the objectives (most commonly, adequacy of support or fiscal affordability).

    And while we may have made some useful decisions in recent decades to set up our retirement incomes system for the future, the real genius was in the long-ago decision that took us (together with NZ) down the Australasian targeted, flat-rate social assistance route rather than the social insurance model adopted everywhere else in the developed world.

  25. rf says:

    Try this for size: revelling in making invidious comparisons with other countries and their supposed lack of invention/humour/foresight. What a load of back-slapping toss.

  26. Yobbo says:

    As I said Nick. Whether you think its good depends on what you think of Social security to begin with.

    Hong Kong’s is better because there is less of it and yet their population is hardly starving.

    Japan has a fully comprehensive social security system like ours and yet they have a much lower incidence of welfare dependence, so I would say Japan’s is better too.

    And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure Canada’s is pretty much identical to ours, since the 2 countries copy each other on basically everything. I doubt there are 2 nations in the world as similar as Canada and Australia.

  27. Peter Whiteford says:

    I agree with Yobbo that it all depends on how you define best. Nothing can be said to best, better, worse or worst until you identify the criteria by which you make the rankings. As Backroom Girl points out this becomes complicated whenever you have multiple criteria.

    On the criteria that it apparently sets itself, I think the Australian social security system does extremely well, and certainly better than any other OECD country. However, the point is that no other OECD country appears to use exactly the same criteria as Australia.

    On their own criteria, I think Denmark and the Netherlands do extremely well also, but if you prefer lower to higher gross spending then Australia is better, and if you like really low spending then Hong Kong is better again.

    However, if you include inequality among your criteria then Hong Kong is not very attractive – a Gini coefficent well over 0.5 compared to Australia’s of around 0.3. It doesn’t do very well on relative poverty either – according to the Hong Kong Council of Social Services just over 17% of the Hong Kong population were below a 50% of median income line compared to around 11% in Australia.

    I don’t think that Japan is all that good a model either, on my criteria anyway. It is true that they have less “dependency” on welfare among people of working age – 11.4% of the population compared to Australia’s 17.5% (OECD standardised), but they have more poverty among people of working age – 13.2% compared to Australia’s 9.4%.

    The level of social spending is only a bit below Australia’s – 16.9 vs. 18.0% of GDP, but a much higher share goes to the aged and it is nowhere near as targeted as Australia’s – in fact it is about the least targeted in the OECD.

    Also Japan is the only OECD country in which “absolute” poverty has increased over the past 15-20 years (i.e. adjusting the poverty line by prices alone). It is also a country where the tax and benefit systems apparently actually increase child poverty.

    Many people (me and the WHO among them) would argue that the French health care system is very good in terms of apparent outcomes to inputs, but it is a bit more expensive than Australia’s.

    On a completely unrelated matter, when Australian television is very good (e.g. early Seachange) it is definitely among the best in the world.

  28. D W Griffiths says:

    To take up and extend Peter Whiteford’s substantive analytical point, we do well in soaps generally – up-market (Seachange) and mass-market (Neighbours, Home and Away). What other soap can match Neighbours’ record of graduating both Russell Crowe and Kylie Minogue?

    I am almost serious about this.

  29. Peter Whiteford says:

    Before I forget I think our immigration policy has been much more successful than virtually all other countries (since the White Australia policy anyway). The only competitor is Canada – which probably pips us at the post. The differences beteen the unemployment rates of migrants and “natives” are narrower in Australia and Canada than any other countries, and the educational attainment of children of migrants and children with another language spoken at home are better in Canada and Australia than anywhere else.

    Glen Withers has a paper on this over at his ANU website.

    We also do well on obscure colloquialisms. When they showed “Rabbit Proof Fence” in France the called it “Le Chemin de la libert

  30. observa says:

    Sports broadcasting (cinematography and analytical commentary) generally. From stump cam to snickometers and now ultraviolet camerawork, as well as the footy codes, we’ve spoiled the world’s fans.

  31. observa says:

    Perhaps a more subtle one than the obvious no brainer of sports broadcasting due to our fasciantion with sport, would be our ability to accept the need for major socioeconomic change and take the changes in our stride. Think back about freeing up our economy, floating the dollar, ditching protectionism and subsidies and embracing freer labour relations as well as swallowing a major change like the GST relatively easily. What this shows is a healthy appetite to embrace and manage desirable change quickly if it’s spelled out logically and coherently.

  32. There has been a lot of keening lately about the fact that Australian literature is disappearing from universities and schools. It’s true: there are very few chairs of Australian literature left in our universities. Perhaps only one.

    Migraine – I believe a number of people who work in the teaching of Australian literature have vehemently denied this assertion (which stems originally from an article in The Australian) on blogs. Try Sarsaparilla – can’t remember when the article was published to hunt down links. My understanding is that chairs are increasingly not chairs “of” something but given the collapse of departments into interdisciplinary school people are just appointed as Professors in many universities. And there are quite a few who profess Australian literature. I gather also that the claim made in that article that there is only one university in Australia where people can do honours in Ozlit is totally false.

    Here’s a worst of – the broadsheet press. Fairfax or the Oz, take your pick. Compare the SMH or the Oz to British, French or American newspapers. Or Canadian if you want somewhere closer in scale.

  33. wbb says:

    Yeah, out press is particularly bad. Been run by philistine thugs since day one.

  34. Nabakov says:

    Well, Australians are certainly world class at analysing themselves with a queasy mixture of cringing and gloating. Yes, behind the Canucks for cringing but well ahead of them for gloating.

    Beyond that? Well yes we have the world’s most pungent and genuinely funny politicial cartoonists, the best value for money plonk and cheap yet creative cuisine, the best cricket team, the most ingenious and practical automotive engineers, the best art techs and roadies, we host the world’s best tennis Grand Slam tournment, have the best ratbag journos and we have the most civilised, non-judgemental, public health-aware yet dirty good fun approach to sex of all the OECD nations. And we do punch well above our weight in any kinda punchup.

    Can’t really think of anything else we should be best at. Aside from nude hang gliding on acid – which is probably best left to the Kiwis anyway.

  35. Yobbo says:

    we have the most civilised, non-judgemental, public health-aware yet dirty good fun approach to sex of all the OECD nations.

    Sorry, I’m pretty sure Japan pips us there too. Not having any sexual taboos in their religion goes a long way towards it.

    Your category is pretty specific so I’m sure you’ll disagree, but as far as “liberal attitudes towards sex” goes, Japan is ahead of every other OECD country (and every non-OECD country for that matter) by light years.

  36. patrickg says:

    Yobbo said:

    And that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure Canada’s is pretty much identical to ours, since the 2 countries copy each other on basically everything.

    Actually, Australia and New Zealand have been called the only two ‘wage-earners’ welfare states’ in the world, though this is changing, here more so than NZ in many ways.

    In some ways I feel like our welfare system is getting worse – not because of cutting back, per se, but because many of the policy decisions our government has made concerning welfare in the last ten years have not in fact been based around this wage-earners background, but from a more traditional welfare model (not necessarily a bad thing, though I tend to feel if it ain’t broke, why fix it).

    The result of this is that our system is becoming less effective because those kind of policies don’t really work off a ‘wage-earners’ foundation like they do from conventional policies.

    more information here, but Castles has written much more in-depth stuff about this. I had the pleasure of studying welfare whilst he was at ANU.

  37. Backroom Girl says:


    I agree that the reason Australia originally went down the welfare path it did was because it preferred the idea of providing for the welfare of working age people and their families mainly through policies that ensured relatively high incomes for workers.

    But to my mind, the wage-earners welfare state was pretty much a male wage-earners welfare state, in which women suffered institutionalised discrimination of many kinds (in the wages they could earn, their entitlements to income support in their own right, etc)

    So as a woman I have personally been very happy to see our welfare institutions move (too slowly for my liking) away from the male breadwinner model.

    Which reminds me that there is another area where Australia performs pretty well relative to the rest of the world – that of gender equity in the workplace. Certainly things are not perfect, but despite our relatively low levels of labour force participation and very high levels of part-time work among women, Australia has one of the smallest, if not the smallest gender pay gaps in the world, measured as it should be in terms of hourly rates of pay.

  38. jimmythespiv says:

    Yobbo is right on the sex question. I was in a Tokyo department store last week and the “marital aids” and similar items were diplayed next to kiddies toys ! No hangups at all.

  39. patrickg says:

    Fair call, Backroom Girl, those policies certainly weren’t geared at getting women into the workforce.

    I would perhaps, erect a tiny defence in that the policies were largely reactive rather proactive excepting perhaps the first decade of their inception.

    In terms of poverty levels and access to healthcare they were stupdendously successful, for both genders I believe.

    However, like you I would be equally happy to see the policies moving away from a male breadwinner model, but to be honest I’m not really convinced that they are (not in the last ten years, at any rate).

    I don’t even know that we’re really moving away from a wage-earner’s system, so much as simply compromising it.

    In terms of gender equity in the workplace, we really should look no further than Norway, where wage equality is much higher, corporations are legally required to ensure half their boards are female, one year of paternity leave is legislated (not too mention maternity leave of two) and gender representation in parliament is around something like 45% (I’m pretty sure not legislated, that’s just the way it worked out, which I believe is far and away the most realistic gender representation in politics anywhere in the world.

  40. Helping to explain Yobbo’s frequent presence in Nippon !

  41. Backroom Girl says:


    Wage equality may be much higher in Norway if you look at total gross weekly earnings, since women in Norway are much more likely to work full-time than women in Australia. (That might also explain why more of them get further up the greasy pole too.)

    But as far as I know there is no real difference between the two countries if you compare the gender ratio of average hourly rates of pay.

    And you’re right about the absolute resilience of the male breadwinner model – it is damn difficult to eradicate. But perhaps that is because we still do subscribe to it at some broad societal level – or at least the modern-day version, which is one job for Dad and half a job for Mum.

    I don’t think I’ll be moving to Norway any time soon, though – I kinda like it here.

  42. Why are we trying to ‘eradicate’ the male breadwinner model. It’s a good model – along with others!

  43. Backroom Girl says:

    Sorry, Nicholas, must just be the crabby feminist in me :-)

    Of course it’s an OK model for people who choose it (though, I must say, I think opting for it for any length of time poses considerable risks for both men and women). The real problem is that policy makers seem to have great difficulty crafting policies that accommodate more than one model of how couples organise themselves in relation to work and family. For example, we have moved a little way from assuming that all husbands work and wives do not, to a model that allows that sometimes it will be the wife who works and the husband does not. But we don’t seem to be able to incorporate the concept that some couples actually prefer to share the load more equitably. So perhaps it’s the single breadwinner model I have trouble with, rather than the male breadwinner model per se.

  44. I agree that there are big risks for women in the male breadwinner model – when the child raising demands fall off and the woman wants rewarding work. I’m trying to get my wife more focused on those risks, but her attitude is that she can only really put her whole self into one thing at a time and that she’ll be putting it into raising the kids till they’re at some age when the child rearing demands are less and then she’ll cross that bridge when she comes to it.

    I think quite a few couples are like this, though much less than up to the 1960s. If people want to make these choices, I’m not too sure what policy can do. It is of course very unfortunate that hierarchies in both government and private firms are not all that mobile. Despite all the excitement about downsizing etc, once you have a position it’s hard for you to lose it whereever you are, and the corollary is that those trying to move into the workforce (and perhaps efficiency and meritocracy to some extent) are disadvantaged.

    I do know that there are some innovative firms that specialise in generating part and near full time jobs particularly for women who are looking after kids. I know this because I run one of them – though there are better and bigger firms than ours around doing this.

  45. Patrick says:

    I would love to share the load more equitably BRG, but my wife has breasts and I don’t – that basically ‘condemns’ me to classical breadwinning for the foreseeable future!

    But we are both aware of the risks of perpetuating that – we think that the answer might lie in a home business but we worry that would actually impact even more negatively in the end.

  46. Angharad says:

    We’re the best in the world at Australian Rules footy :)

    Re Yobbo on social security

    Hong Kong’s is better because there is less of it and yet their population is hardly starving.

    Well it helps when you have about 45% social housing (ie government funded). In a place where housing costs are high, subsidising housing is some substitute for cash transfers through social security system.

  47. Peter Whiteford says:

    We also produce the best Vegemite in the world, although personally it’s not my cup of tea.

    I’m not sure what category is involved, but I also think that Henry Lawson’s poetry was better than that of anybody who wrote similar stuff (late Victorian colonial ballads?)

  48. JC says:

    Financial products.

    Having seen NYC’s for 16 years i can say we’re better at it. They are big, Colossal even but they have a huge domestic matrket to play with. And to be honest a lot of their inefficiencies gets covered up by the sheer size of the market.

    Macquarie love them or hate them (I love to hate them) are being copied by the Goldman Sachs of this world- The Macquarie model it is called. Not just the infrastructure stuff they get into but the way they have set themseves up. As a bank they deveoped a great system of avoiding the use of their balnce sheet to become players in industry.
    It is more a throw back to the old days when JP Morgan was around butr with a modern twis. Those guys are brillant. Very greedy but brillant.

    The small market gave us a good education in not making mistakes too often or you go down the gurgler.

    Hedge funds:

    I believe we have the biggest growing segment in the world. Not quite up to US size but our hedge funds will be the biggest regional palyers.

    Why did it happen?

    I think the gambling streak, combined with a free thinking open bunch of people helped things along.

    Lot’s of Ozzies running investment banking departments around the world. Gorman runs Morgan stanely private banking business world wide. as an example.



    We’re the very best.

  49. Yobbo says:

    Not arguing, Angharad. Nevertheless, Hong Kong’s overall transfer payments are much less than ours. So, from the point of view of someone who wants to minimise welfare expenditure, HK’s system is “better” than ours.

  50. patrickg says:

    So perhaps it’s the single breadwinner model I have trouble with, rather than the male breadwinner model per se.

    On that I totally agree. Unfortunately I think the policy changes (and sometimes lack thereof) of the last ten years have been geared more at encouraging a male breadwinner model at the expense of a more gender neutral policy.

    I think that he rise in the number of ‘waged poor’ in Australia is a strong demonstration of how welfare policy is failing to respond to need. At the heyday of this model, even the few women who were in the workforce were able to work and quite easily keep themselves from poverty – even though they were earning considerably less than their male counterparts.

    The gendered wage disparity in Australia has fallen somewhat since the sixties/seventies, but I think it is definitely still large enough to provide a significant disincentive for women to enter the workforce where only one person in a couple will.

    I will be interested to see what kind of policies both parties offer up to address this in the next election – I suspect childcare will be a reasonably significant campaigning point.

  51. Backroom Girl says:


    I think you are right about the intent of many of the Howard government ‘improvements’ to the welfare system, at least on the family payments side. While the official rationale for these has always been about promoting ‘choice’, I suspect that the subtext is that they want to promote one particular choice (the one that involves mothers working less rather than more). But that could just be my feminist paranoia.

    However, if this is their agenda, they haven’t been very successful. Labour force participation of women/wives/mothers is still rising, albeit more slowly than in previous decades.

    In another part of the government hive brain, there does seem to be a recognition that perhaps they will need to encourage more women to work to lift overall participation rates in the face of population ageing. It’s just that they don’t seem to want to put two and two together in any explicit way (for example, recognising that increasing labour force participation by women would almost certainly involve increasing participation by mothers), preferring to pretend that their policies can be all things to all people.

    But all of this is distracting from the real subject of this discussion. However, I’m considering whether to write one or two posts on this specific subject in the near future, so perhaps we can revisit the topic again then.

  52. I look forward to it BG.

  53. patrickg says:

    Australians are great at hijacking threads. ;)

  54. And Furthermore says:

    In no particular order we are good at:

    Health and welfare systems
    Medical science (6 Nobel prizes?), also ecological and agricultural science
    Inventions and innovation
    Sport (obviously)
    Cultural diversity
    Arts & entertainment, for me it is mainly comedy & music
    Political, legal and economic systems
    Personal freedoms and opportunities, and overall quality of life for citizens

    Australia is far from perfect, and has plenty of serious existing and potential problems, but we do very well by world standards at most things.

  55. Fred Argy says:

    Nicholas I am slow in catching up with things but having now read it, this must surely be the most interesting post ever! Your piece and all the commentaries should be put together in an anthology of sorts. By the way I agree with you about our central bank. I don’t think anyone has mentioned our HECS scheme.

  56. Saltation says:

    2 things, both raised before but i’ll second them:

  57. Kanti says:

    We produce a fantastic pool of people. I work for a global company and the number of people from the Australian subsidiary of the company that are now working all around the world for the same company is very impressive.

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