The Liberals must be doing something right. The Left are re-skilling themselves in the art of mocking Australian values and ridiculing ordinary Australians. The derision coming from reliable sectors is in response to the Prime Minister’s invocation of our shared values and the need to have a deep understanding of them when it comes to the great privilege of Australian citizenship. This has been coupled with a sound move to begin curtailing the default reliance on 457 visas to resolve skill shortages in the workforce. This powerful re-set appears to be internally formulated by the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister Alex Hawke, and we can guess that it has been acted on by the PM due, at least in part, to the constant pressure from Tony Abbott, pushing him to the sensible right.
Either way, the reaction seems so familiar. I’m almost nostalgic. Whenever we’ve had robust, conservative leadership with a hint of patriotism, B-grade celebrities, whinging professional ‘commentators’, soft-left journalists, urban dilettantes and invertebrate Labor politicians everywhere have asked, ‘what even are Australian values?’ Or this old chestnut: ‘is there even any such thing as an Australian?’ They are then promptly applauded by audiences in Ultimo and crowned philosopher-kings for these profound inquiries.
The Left get out on social media and laugh at Australians, saying that we amount to nothing more than VB and Bunnings sausage sizzles, Akubras and the ritual of complaining loudly about the quality of coffee overseas (that last one is quite funny). The Guardian did nothing more to report than selectively publish tweets mocking the notion that Australian values exist. Unable to come up with any serious problems with a collective re-dedication to Australian values, the Left call for us to laugh. Peter Schumpeter in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy said: ‘to call for a guffaw is an excellent method of disposing of an unfortunate truth, as every politician knows to his profit’.
Australiana — such as wide-brimmed hats on politicians or kookaburra-themed tea towels — lovable and familiar though it may be, is very obviously only part of the picture. It is cynically deployed by people somehow empty of affection for their country to suggest there is nothing more. There is not only crippling doubt as to the existence of Australian values, there’s a nagging anxiety about our ability to sustain ourselves and excel in the ‘digital age’, among other things.
A telling conversation occurred on Sky News’ Paul Murray Live regarding the crackdown on 457 visas. There was a suggestion that Turnbull is risking university research and industries reliant on information technology, by eschewing skilled foreign workers.Well, why don’t we have locals skilled in this area? Janet Albrechtsen pointed out that when it comes to population, compared to America, India and China we are ‘a shallow pool’. But Bronwyn Bishop sagely reminded the panel that Australians ‘always bat above our weight. We always do in so many fields’. Hers is a rare attitude, an uncompromising belief in the exceptionalism of the Australian people.
And who could argue with her? There is so much evidence in our history. How can we forget the Australia of decisive wartime strategist Sir John Monash, or the world-dominating musical talent of Dame Joan Sutherland, or even gigastar Dame Edna and her capable manager Barry Humphries? We forget the Australia of Patrick White, Nobel laureate in literature; the philanthropy and dignity of Dame Marie Bashir; the aggressive, counter-cultural pacifism of Archbishop Daniel Mannix; and David Ngunaitponi (Unaipon), on our $50 note, who wrote with a style reminiscent of Milton and made ten applications to patent inventions as varied as an anti-gravitational device, a multi-radial wheel and a sheep-shearing handpiece.
We have a collective amnesia when it comes to the epoch-defining statesmanship of Sir Robert Menzies and the self-immolating wartime leadership of John Curtin who said, upon the surprise Japanese assault on Pearl Harbour and concomitant declaration of war, ‘this is the gravest hour of our history. We Australians have imperishable traditions. We shall maintain them. We shall vindicate them’.
Ours is nowhere near as grave an hour for the Commonwealth. And yet in the face of overwhelming scorn, it seems harder to vindicate our traditions. Nonetheless, they’re there.
Even at a younger age we knew what we were about. Traditions and identity take time but it didn’t take so long for Australians to know that ours didn’t include fascism. Many politicians since have ventured to define Australian values in the negative, by saying what they’re not. They’re not for female genital mutilation. They’re not for wife bashing. They’re not for hatred. We seem only able to define them positively when we think of our beloved Anzacs. Their legacy is one of courage, sacrifice and mateship.
The Ancient Greeks called it agape, that particular, honest love that comes with friendship. Christ called it charity, love of neighbour. We call it mateship. A mateship forged between settler and convict. A mateship found crossing the Great Dividing Range. A mateship declared in the Federation Pavilion on January 1st, 1901. A mateship cast on the Western Front and the steep coastline of Gallipoli. It’s a mateship we must strive to rebuild with indigenous Australians.
Sir John Monash, concluding his account of the victories of the Anzacs in France, said that every day of the war filled him with loathing and distress, He did not glorify war. His uppermost thought was ‘the earnest prayer that Australia might forever be spared such a horror on her own soil’. His wise advice to future generations was a deterrent military readiness. I think we can safely add to that mateship — a love of neighbour and our values — as something necessary for Australia to ‘secure the sanctity of her territory and the preservation of her independent liberties’.
Interestingly, this great general spoke of a small handful of Australians who had to brave ‘indifference and even the ridicule of public opinion’ to ensure Australia was ready for the trials of World War I. Indifference, and ridicule towards Australians who love their country, is nothing new. So in the face of it all, persist. The Prime Minister and the Coalition must persist, at the very least. The mockers will be glad they had us.
Let’s not refrain from saying; God bless this great Commonwealth. God love our mates.
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