Features Australia

Birthday/Reflections etc.

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

11 July 2020

9:00 AM

Australia is on course to self-destruct

One of the many benefits in having a big bash to celebrate turning 90 (apart from the obvious one of it being preferable to the alternative of not turning 90) is that you get to hear the eulogies that would otherwise be not accessible to you in more funereal circumstances. Last weekend at Bowral’s magnificent Bradman Museum, the just-under 100 who gathered to drink my health kindly focussed much more on what they saw as my achievements than my many stuff-ups; fortunately those with more detailed knowledge of the latter (and who delighted in recounting them) are no longer with us, which is an additional benefit of longevity.

I almost recognised the paragon described by the 14 carefully selected friends (including three clearly prejudiced sons), who spoke so kindly of me in proposing my birthday toast. I nevertheless readily accepted accolades such as being ‘a renaissance man’ which presumably meant that I consume good red wine to excess while listening to Mahler, watching Verdi and enjoying impressionist art (to the concern of a son who is a renowned contemporary art curator in New York). It was only after the first half of my 90 years spent in professions as disparate as finance journalist, author, music reviewer, magazine deputy editor, TV ‘personality’, radio commentator, company director and stockbroker that my political and diplomatic life, outlined with his usual verbal elegance by John Howard, covered the next 25 years.

During this time what appears to have been the political precedent that no one with any relevant competence should be appointed to a ministry, was broken; despite my significant financial experience, Malcolm Fraser appointed me parliamentary secretary to Treasurer Howard, despite a considerable involvement in the arts and being a sporting Blue from Sydney University, in opposition I was appointed Shadow Minister for the Arts and Sport and despite having been a director of two listed public companies with extensive experience on exporting to the US, I was appointed Consul-General in New York, with a brief to enhance Australia’s financial relationship with the centre of US capitalism.


The years of nominal retirement from 2001 involved a brief demoralising stint as a reluctant member of the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal constantly having to cope with people complaining, then being given the opportunity to complain myself about everything by having a fortnightly column in the Australian Financial Review (of which I had been finance editor almost 40 years previously). When Fairfax ran short of money to pay contributors, a decade ago The Spectator Australia provided me with the same facility with the result that my longevity is largely attributable to the health benefits of being able regularly to clear my liver in print. It is with this in mind that I write the following message:

As I look back over my long life, it is evident that I have enjoyed the best years of Australia, economically, politically, socially and even culturally as old mates like Robert Hughes and Len Evans, my former editor Donald Horne and a host of singers, musicians, authors and actors lifted Australia’s international status and destroyed our notorious cultural cringe. But our future is largely behind us; the end of the Howard government in 2007 was the turning point. Up to then, Australia had been renowned for mateship, a boisterous and often self-deprecating sense of humour, for free and lively discussion, for resilience and self-reliance when facing adversity, for a waste-not want-not ethos, for saving up to buy things, for owning your own home and for the entrepreneurial spirit that launched industries like steel, manufacturing and mining (that now almost on its own has to carry the burden of our national export wealth).

These have been replaced by hate laws and censorship by minorities desperately seeking reasons to be ‘offended’, by mob rule, by de-platforming holders of views contrary to the current woke fashion (specially at universities), by the expectation that the government will provide, by an entitlement mentality as half the population receives some sort of direct public funding (even before the Covid-19 hand-outs), by the fragility of a generation that needs safe spaces and trigger warnings, by disposables and waste rather than conserving and repair, and by an era of record credit-card debt and falling home-ownership as discretionary spending booms in what is now a society dominated not by makers of things but by providers of services.

This different Australia cannot simply be attributed to the immigration that has brought us many more benefits than disadvantages; the rot is internal. And the change from Australia being renowned for its beer consumption to being a major customer for the world drug trade is steadily increasing the volume of human wreckage. The absence of real crises (until Covid-19) during a world-record thirty years of continued economic growth – not even interrupted by the Global Financial Crisis – along with the collapse of the religious ethic that underpinned society has meant the strength of character of the nation has not really been tested as it was in the first 60 of my 90 years. I was born in 1930 at the height of the depression, spent from 4 until 11 at a boarding school, walked a mile to my public school, was a teenager worried about his naval officer father serving in combat zones (we read of his death in a newspaper) and constrained by rules and rationing during the six years of World War ll, attended Sydney University on a scholarship for the sons of dead servicemen, lived through the Korean War, the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam and even the Whitlam government, which really was character-building! Maybe Extinction Rebellion is onto something – but relating not to climate but to society’s mindless moral self-destruction.

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