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Australia, in Retrospect!

We have both spent many years working in Australia - in my case twenty-four years in various Australian Government roles, but it is a decade since we ventured across the ditch to catch up with a number of colleagues from my days in Papua New Guinea and Darwin.

What immediately struck me was the sheer scale of the 'lucky-country' syndrome. Australians have become very accustomed to to leading a very easy life-style that accommodates little sympathy or patience with any interference from any external factors that may mess with their enjoyment. I guess that this is mimicked in many ways in Auckland, but few other places in this country. 

There is little tolerance for instance with any sacrifice that may be required were one to accept the basic tenets of climate change that are generally accepted dogma here, with notable exceptions of course. Accepting anything, other than nuclear power, that may replace the total addiction to brown coal power production in Victoria in particular is an anathema. There has been a huge move to subsidised solar in Queensland in particular, but a sudden recent back-tracking as the cost in terms of transmission redundancy, and gross over-compensation for back-fed power has dawned on Governments, both State and Federal.   

And there appears almost total inability to accept any lifestyle changes that must be brought about through the huge (and growing) deficit ($36b at last count). While our Government nervously counts the cost of the dairy slump, and makes almost daily adjustments, Canberra appears stuck with economic paralysis with which the  coalition appears totally unable to act in order to allow for the inevitable consequences of the Western Australian iron ore, and NSW coal gluts. There are none of the fleets of ore carriers that we observed off Port Hedland ten years ago. And last weeks budget did little to accommodate this change in circumstance.

The economy is indeed in deep poo, but Treasurer Joe Hockey appears to have little of the independence that English enjoys - he appears totally beholden to the political needs of Abbott, whose current popularity boost is almost entirely built on being able to keep illegal immigrants at bay, and resist social change and taxation reform - sound familiar? Abbott is certainly not in a mood to yet accept the inevitable in regard to marriage equality - he is not known as the 'Mad Monk' for nothing - you can take the boy out of the seminary, but not the seminary out of the boy!

And then there is immigration - the door has been left ajar, or swinging for almost too long for anything to be done about it. The ratio of Arabic speakers (and Arabic schools) in unmistakable ghettos within the Melbourne and Sydney conurbations takes this group beyond the realms of integration - the word is hardily even mentioned. I watched spellbound as a school group of a hundred or more hiabed girls entered the Melbourne Art Gallery.

As for Aboriginal affairs - regrettably, hardly a movement in ten years. To be brutally honest, for most Australians, they hardly exist other than as a draw of Federal funding resources, and as a few prominent ARL and AFL stars - exactly as they were ten years ago. When Sydney Swans star Adam Goode staged a moderate war-dance after a significant goal against Carlton last week he was widely vilified, but Goode takes no prisoners, and rounded on his critics - it hardly made the news in over there, but I understand was a headliner here.  

Aboriginal health and education remains almost beyond the wit and ability of the Government. There remains a deficiency of will, or funding to undertake what we would consider the most basic of reforms in that regard other than as 'budget-cycle' 'stabs in the dark' - exactly as was the case ten years ago, and leadership remains as abysmal as ever in this regard. Talk of a Treaty remains just that - talk.     

Donald Horne's Lucky Country remains exceptionally lucky, but for how long is hard to tell. The wealth demonstrated within the major cities where 90% of the population live hardly reflects the reality of an  erstwhile resources boom that relies heavily on the FIFO (Fly-In/Fly-Out) State of Western Australia. Dairying here may reflect a similar attitude, but the atmosphere of entitlement that affects every aspect of national life in Oz is very real, and that will make the fall greater when it comes, as it inevitably will.

One suspects that the only thing that is holding the hypothetical 'ball in the air' is the flood of Asian money that is destroying the dynamics of the housing market there as it is here. The only difference is that they have figures to prove it! One thing that did stagger me was the level of corruption, both reported and prosecuted, and the generally lower fiduciary standards - they really do appear to have dropped at every level of society, and this dismal fact is reflected daily in the pages of the SMH, the Age and the Australian. Or am I just naive about what goes on here? 

Denigration is not my intention - it is still a wonderful country to visit - the Vivid Festival in Sydney is as spectacular as ever, and I don't think I experienced a single instance of bad service while we were there. The Melbourne and NSW Art Galleries continue to be the main attractiuon for us - they are both remarkable, and continue to surprise with the absolute slendour of the exibitions, let alone their collections. One thing that stood out on this occasion was a visit to the Australian Club in Macquarie St that has an Australian collection almost as good as the NSW Gallery. The food & wine was not half bad either!




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