he West, as an entity, a region but more importantly as an idea might be in decline but the neo West refuses to be occluded by the blights that define the former. This assertion might seem like meaningless verbiage or an oxymoronish one. But, once broken down, the terms of reference and the meaning will be clear(er). By the West, I am referring to the United States and Western Europe, the combine that, in different combinations and permutations, has dominated the post Industrial Revolution world. This West is either dead or is in the throes of death (unless a deep and far reaching renewal happens). But, the neo West which includes Australia, New Zealand and perhaps even Canada, to employ a colorful phrase, smells of roses. In and within the neo West, it is Australia, that can claim rightfully an elevated and even a higher pedestal. What, the question is, is it that makes Australia special?
Australia’s special(ness) has been delineated and put into perspective by the Economist newspaper’s latest edition. In a special report that amounts to an ode to the “lucky country”, the nagging teller of truth attributes Australia’s exceptional economic growth and record, rise in median wages , the success of its welfare state, its pension( superannuation) system and so on to deft and astute policy making., among other things. This, according to the Economist, has not only made immigration acceptable to Australia but also , perhaps more importantly, protected the country from the blight(s) of nativism and populism that afflict much of the West. There’s more that the Economist eulogizes about the country but the worthy newspaper misses some pertinent themes and issues that I would like to call attention to.
I have lived in Australia for around or just over a three and half year period. From a superficial and a prosaic perspective, my stint in Australia could be held to be a disaster. While I obtained a credential but did not complete the degree program I was enrolled in. And, in terms of “lived experience(s), except for a bold and beautiful one toward the tether end of my stay in the country,(something I will always cherish and will always be close to my heart ), my Australian sojourn, defined as it was , by aimless , intense wandering and a clouded emotional outlook was neither sanguine nor salubrious. But, the cumulative summum bonum of my experience(s) in the country are what made a “man out of me”, so to speak. I predicate this assessment on a retrospective take on Australia and my subsequent wanderings across the length and breadth of the Western world.
It may be pointed out that if my emotional outlook was clouded in Australia, my retrospective assessment might not hold water. But, I am forty five now and I think I have both clarity of mind , an uncluttered emotional and mental outlook and a fund of experience(s) which includes travels, intellectual growth , and a world view that I would like to think is defined by sobriety and proportion. My retrospective take on Australia against the backdrop of the country’s stupendous achievements might then carry gravitas and truth.
Let me return to the question I posed: what is it that makes Australia special and unique?
Astute and dexterous policy is undoubtedly a factor in the great success story of Australia. But, it is only prong of the answer or , in t academic parlance, one key determining variable. However, there is more to the country than mere policy (as important as it is). Australia’s real success is predicated upon the country’s immense and huge fund and reservoir of soft power. Ironically, the term was coined by an American academic but it appears that Australia took it to heart and embedded the concept into its sinews. But, in the context of Australia, what would or does soft power mean? What are its components?
Formally, thematically, substantively and philosophically, one major prong of Australia’s soft power is the legitimacy that the country and its institutions enjoy both by the “natives” of the country and immigrants. While economic growth and the distribution of the pie, are an important component of the legitimacy that the country enjoys, but it’s real and more far reaching import is philosophical. It is and pertains to be belief(genuine) that any Australian can have a “fair go”, and that he or she would not be deprived of justice (defined expansively here). Yes, the “fair go” and justice thereof cannot be perfect ( no human construct can be), but , in general , the axiom holds. Shorn of accretions, if there is an Australian essence, this is it.
But, like all human endeavors and their consequences, success can be ephemeral. This broad assertion holds for Australia. How, the question is, can the outstandingly stupendous success of the country be carried forward?
The answer is multidimensional and multi pronged but three themes stand out. One is philosophical, the second political and the third pertains to policy.
Philosophically, Australia must zealously and even religiously guard the principle of the “fair go”. It is and should remain the essence of the country. In the final analysis, human motivation and behavior, as complex as it is, can be somewhat isolated to fair play and justice or their converse. As long as Australia maintains and adheres to fair play and justice for all, its “no worries” for the country.
Politically, Australia must wean itself away from the United States. The country is confident enough to hold its own and must not be besotted to the United States culturally, politically and in terms of foreign policy. While the United States is in decline, but its hard power capability which can translate into security for those under and in its alliance system, like Australia, is intact. But, security is a more expansive and broad concept to be narrowed down to “hard” ideas. Australia, by virtue of its principles, philosophy, policies and pragmatism, and the ideas that underpin these, has carved out , if not a place but certainly a niche for itself in the world and the region around it. It would constitute sheer travesty if the country yields to or seeks the United States’ tutelage. It is time that Australia seeks comprehensive independence from all and holds its own in matters of import.
Last, where philosophy and politics meld together, is the domain of policy. To thwart both fears and actual potential of drifting into China’s orbit or , crudely put, become a potential vassal state of China, Australia must diversify further its economy. One measure or policy prong that is obvious and stares in the face is to develop deep linkages with the “stalwart” economies of the Middle East like the UAE and perhaps even others. When economic conditions improve in the region, the liquidity sloshing in the system can be absorbed by Australia and the country must also “hard sell” itself to Middle Eastern tourists. As a complement, the small Middle Eastern (Muslim) diaspora in Australia can be tapped to develop these linkages. There’s more that the country can do and the suggests offered here are not exhaustive but might constitute a useful and a prudent starting point.
Australia, as perhaps the leader of the Neo West, has a lot going for it, largely by the grit, perspicacity, determination and genius of its peoples. But, to repeat, success can be ephemeral. The country cannot and must not rest on its laurels, lest complacency set it. It must seek and carry on reinventing and reimagining itself , keeping constant the ideas and themes of fair play and justice, but yet crystallize an identity and nature which would the envy of the world!
The author can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org