Having blogged for a couple of months now, I am conscious of the lure of writing ‘why dont the people in charge do as I say’ pieces. As an antidote I’d like to offer 5 observations which strike a European like myself on why Australia is a great country, some of which are likely to be taken for granted by the people who have lived here all their lives:
1. The social cohesion and harmony within Australia just blows you away. No ghettos worthy of that name. English is the dominant language everywhere. No violent minorities burning cars and looting police stations every other week. No youth subculture of anger directed at public amenities like parks and bus stations. No fear that the next person in the street you dare look into the eyes is going to beat you up. It may be strange to hear, but that cohesion and internal harmony is quite unusual in Europe, and basically unknown in the US.
2. Radical changes are simply proposed and implemented in a very short space of time. Changes politically impossible elsewhere are implemented here without a second thought. One can complain that changes are not thought through and often have to be reversed or amended later on, but this willingness to simply change things is very refreshing after spending 30 years in Europe where people argue about changes, but hardly ever implement any change worthwhile. Good historical examples were of course the reductions in trade tariffs, HECS, the PBS, or the labour market reforms of the late 90s. Only now are these reforms being copied in other countries, at least 10 years after Australia just did them. A good topical example is the quite radical proposal that the Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson announced, effectively making indigenous parents’ welfare payments conditional on the school performance of their children. Economists only dared breath such ideas indoors until last week and were mortally afraid of being called a racist should they publicly propose this kind of thing, and now an Aboriginal leader himself is proposing them! If it happens, it will be once again Australia leading the way.
3. (one that you are very likely never to have thought of) Australia has no large areas of low-lying coastland that would be lost if Greenland melts and the seas rise by 7 meters in the next 1000 years. You may not think that’s such an advantage, but it is when you come from countries that would basically disappear if the seas would rise by 7 meters (such as the Netherlands or Bangladesh). This is one of the many reasons why Australia should not be as afraid of climate change as other countries.
4. All major indicators of well-being look very good for Australia: happiness, life expectancy, school education, literacy levels, quality of education of immigrants, female labour force participation, natural habitat per person, etc., are all at the top of the OECD range. The lucky country indeed.
5. There’s no real danger to Australias stability, wealth, or cohesion anywhere on the horizon: no major ethnic divisions to speak of that should worry us (even most of those calling themselves indigenous share a majority non-indigenous ancestry); no likely foreign aggressor that will bother us; no impending natural disaster for which there are not obvious adjustments at hand (less rain in the South-East is compensated by more in the North-West; desalination plants can make up for less rain near the big cities; world food prices are dropping so we can quite easily import food if soil erosion should temporarily force us to, etc). Barring a serious WW3 (not the minor skirmish we pretend is worthy of the name ‘War on terror’) I cannot realistically see anything to threaten Australia’s well-being in the coming decades.
When I reflect on all the ways this country is blessed and reflect on the poverty and dictatorship that still exists in many other countries, I cannot help feeling that Australia is a lucky country with nothing to seriously worry about. If you compare the dredge and misery that is Zimbabwe or Darfur with ‘merit pay for teachers’ or ‘industrial relations’, doesnt a smile appear on your face too? Happy is a country indeed where we so ferociously debate such relatively insignificant issues and are able to go home at the end of the day to our large houses with healthy and happy children who face such a bright future.
Update: John Cleary in the commentary mentions another clear great thing about Australia that has happened relatively recently, i.e. the almost complete disappearance of religious bigotry.