Imagining Australia – National Identity

Four years ago, I coauthored Imagining Australia: Ideas for Our Future, with David Madden, Macgregor Duncan and Peter Tynan. One of the things we argued was that Australians should more often ask the question “what should the place look like in 2020?”. A few of our suggestions have come to pass (writing in mid-2004, we suggested the idea that some cabinet ministers might be non-elected, and proposed that Peter Garrett would make a good environment minister, and Malcolm Turnbull a good treasurer). But most of our ideas are still up for grabs. With the Australia 2020 summit about ten days away, I thought I’d take the opportunity to blog them a chapter at a time. Today – national identity.

We suggest that Australia needs a vibrant and relevant national story that will give direction, meaning and purpose to national life, and increase national confidence and self-respect. We suggest a number of ways in which we can refresh our national stories and values to better bind us together as a people.

First, we address the issue of national values and guiding national principles.
– We argue that Australian national identity relies too heavily on the notion of the ‘true blue’ Australian, which is today incapable of uniting our diverse society.
– We believe that our national identity should be restructured around a core set of national values.
– We suggest how the great Australian values of egalitarianism, mateship, and the fair go should be updated to better reflect modern Australia.

The second section advocates a number of measures concerning the ‘new Australian nationalism’.
– We argue that Australia lacks a meaningful central legend of nationhood, despite repeated efforts to elevate the Anzac legend and the Federation story to that role.
– We propose treating the Eureka uprising as the central legend of Australian nationhood, and that its legacy be reclaimed from fringe elements of the Australian community.
– Australia’s national symbols—the republic, flag, oath, anthem, and national holiday—need to be made unambiguously Australian.

In the third section, we explore the issue of reconciliation, an essential ingredient in any effort to rebuild, expand and modernise the Australian national story.
– We suggest that the process of reconciliation must become more celebratory, by raising understanding of the totality of Aboriginality, rather than focusing exclusively on past injustices.
– We argue that the best way to raise understanding is through interpersonal reconciliation, and that for reconciliation to succeed, advocates must seek to win over the Australian suburbs.
– It is also important that Australia set in place strong and positive symbols of reconciliation, including a Makarrata (treaty), Eddie Mabo Day, and assigning dual names to Australia’s capital cities.

Finally, we propose that Australians should more self-consciously conceptualise Australia as a cosmopolitan nation.
– Australia’s multicultural society is one of our greatest national strengths. However, the policy needs to be refined so that suburban Australia is given a sense of ownership over its direction.
– We argue that Australia’s international focus should become a source of pride, acknowledging our culture of international travel, and a disproportionately large diaspora.
– We also discuss how the cosmopolitan nature of Australian society is today reflected in the changing nature of the Anzac legend.

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4 Responses to Imagining Australia – National Identity

  1. Matt C says:

    Andrew,
    What role would government play in recasting Eureka as a foundation legend of Australian nationalism?

  2. Patrick says:

    and proposed that Peter Garrett would make a good environment minister

    No, that actually hasn’t come to pass 😉

    There are a few points that I would take issue with, but most notably:

    assigning dual names to Australia’s capital cities.

    Could we not??? What does this really achieve?

  3. Sinclair Davidson says:

    I don’t want to participate in bash – Andrew fortnight but you’re really putting out the contentious ideas at the moment.

    The (former) South African government had non-elected cabinet ministers (actually the President could appoint x number of MPs who then tended to become cabinet ministers). Shocker. There is something to be said for having to get your neighbours to vote for you and having elected MPs become ministers. Robert Mugabe has made extensive use over the years of non-elected ministers to bolster his numbers in the Parliament.

    I’d go the other direction – ministers should only be elected in their own right. So I don’t think that Australian senators should be ministers. The Senate is a house of review and should only review.

    (As an aside, I think Garrett has been treated very badly by the PM and the ALP generally.)

  4. Pingback: Andrew Leigh » Blog Archive » Imagining Australia - Global Engagement

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