Australia, who are you?

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I heard a story the other day from someone traveling through Europe.

When asked by a local what nationality they were, this person replied ‘Australian’.The European turned their back on them and walked away. The traveller said this was the first time they had experienced this. Normally as an Australian they were welcomed with open arms.

The other experience I had was at a networking event filled with small business people from diverse cultural backgrounds. I’m a first generation Australian as were quite a few others. A couple were also new immigrants.

This, I thought, is more like real Australia, not like the white, middle class and middle aged men you see on TV.

‘Best country in the world, Australia,’ two of these men insisted.

‘Is it?’ I wondered. It should be. We’ve been so lucky in many ways.

But rather, I feel shame at being a member of a selfish country that doesn’t care about its poor or homeless, the refugees who legally apply for asylum, the climate that is so obviously changing every year, our animals and plants in distress and decline, the little native bush we have left that’s readily given over to poor farming practices, indigenous Australians’ rights, people with different views, privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of choice over mainstream and alternative medicine, supporting developing countries, public education, women, jobs or the rest of the world except maybe for America.

That’s not quite true. We sort of care. But not enough to do something about these things if it means possibly going against our personal interests.

Instead we are a country that voted against a non-existent death tax, and for share franking to continue when we either had no shares, or because we believed we had a right to avoid paying tax on them so we could give our superannuation to our kids. This is the superannuation already taxed at very low levels to allow for self-funded retirement, thus taking the burden off the state. Me me me over eduction, affordable housing, the economy, infrastructure and aid.

Our identity is as a laid back fair go kind of place. What sort of backbone is that? In any case, there isn’t much that’s fair out there in real Australia, even if there are a million and one rules. We are sexist, ageist, racist and we don’t give a damn about people less well off. I understand the world feels more dog eat dog. I feel it too. But where is the national character in us that says ‘This is not right’? Where is the leader who stands up and is willing to make constructive changes for our future, even if it makes us feel a little uncomfortable? Change is growth and growth can be uncomfortable. Rather, we’re content to tread water and drift backwards.

Australia, I feel, is also a country that reacts with fear rather than finding the courage to follow a vision. In truth, we have no vision. We’d rather knock that down, continuing our unhealthy tall poppy tradition. So we roll over on the things we don’t like and shrug saying ‘Nothing I can do about it’ or ‘I don’t follow politics’. Must protect the status quo.

We have no Magna Carta equivalent and I think we need one that also considers the rights of our first inhabitants. If we properly address our past, we might be better able to build our future. From this process we can forge a stronger identity and define values to guide us during these challenging times.

I used to feel proud in East Timor of the job our soldiers did. I used to feel proud as a diplomat to put forward certain values, politics aside. I’m glad I don’t have to do that now because I couldn’t do it and sleep at night. Compartmentalisation can only go so far.

But getting back to my initial story, while I don’t fully know why the European turned away from the Australian, in my heart of hearts I do. I suspect they might see us as a lucky, spoilt young country that refuses to grow up and be responsible.

And if this was the case, I would agree.

[Before you tell me to go back to where I came from (even though I was born here), I’m writing this because I care. Not because I don’t.]

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