ALS Topic 37 - Is Australia a Significant Country? Does it Matter?

Focus questions for Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar, 22 June 2019
Venue: · Adelaide
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Note: About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding.

Focus Questions


1. What, in your view, makes a country significant?

2. Is the idea of 'a country', such as 'Australia', really of little relevance to most people? Beyond earning a living, individuals are increasingly wrapped in a bubble of specialized interest. The Internet magnifies this. Some live for a particular spectator sport. Some for a certain kind of music. Some for anime. Some for video games. Some for stock markets. Some for UFO sightings. These interest groups, though tribal, are only accidentally tied to country names.

3. Outline your personal idea of "an ideal country". How well does Australia fit that? What is missing?

4. What kind of events, or innovations, or other matters might in the future make Australia of more (or less) significant internationally?

5. Australia has one of the largest number of immigrants and potential immigrants, as a proportion of population, of all the countries in the world. Obviously there is something that makes Australia personally significant for these people. What are the magic ingredients of attraction?

6. At what point does national status, on some metric (sport, military, economic, whatever) become toxic? Is Australia at risk by any such measure? For example, the United States of America is surely a 'significant country' by most measures, though not always in a good way. On the other hand, it is a militarized state trapped in a downward spiral of mis-allocated resources, with crumbling infrastructure, and the only developed economy without a universal national health system.

7. How important is population size to national significance? For example, NZ with about 4 million people is seen as internationally insignificant, whereas Israel with about the same population often dominates the news cycle. Australia, before the threatened Japanese invasion from 1941, had only about 7 million people. The public rationale for mass immigration after WWII was 'populate or perish'. How is that working out?

8. How realistic is the view that Australians have of themselves as a nation? Note that after working in 7 countries I found that the general opinion in every one of them (including Fiji) was that world events were somehow deeply influenced by their own interests.

9. How can the narrow, parochial understanding of most people be harnessed to deal with issues that affect all of Australia, or even the planet? Every politician knows the personal survival truth that 'all politics are local', even where threats and opportunities are clearly driven by national or global factors.

10. What is the Australian character? Does it make sense to even talk about such a thing? The Australian national self-image, at least until the 1950s was that Australians, although few in number, were hardy, frugal, resourceful, inventive people in a harsh landscape. They could put anything back together with string and chewing gum if necessary. The current ideal seems more fractured. There is the urban centric mob, selfie-conscious consumers with manicured beards or designer dresses, sipping cafe lattes as they tremble with confected outrage about this or that. There are the suburban commuters, in deep with a mortgage, heavy consumers of creature comforts, not much interested in 'causes' or the wider world. There are the people in country towns, mostly without much ethnic diversity, contemptuous of the city rat race, seeing themselves as the true Australians.




Comments & Extra Reading

Andrew C. Worthington (3 January 2019) "When convicts from Britain were shipped to Australia [from 1788 to 1868], did they just get dumped there or was there a potential job already waiting for them?". @

Robert Russell (6 January 2019) "Was anyone opposed to Australian federation?[in 1901]". @

Julianne Schultz (2 November 2017) "The threadbare stories we tell ourselves are wrong. Australia needs a new narrative". The Guardian @

Jane Cadzow (26 January 2018) "'This is different rich...It's crazy': the Chinese riding the spending boom - There’s never been an immigrant class quite like it. And while they’re relatively few in number, the stonkingly rich Chinese who now call Australia home are driving the boom in demand for everything from Toorak mansions with tennis courts to luxury handbags, jewellery, yachts and plastic surgery. It's Friday night at Chadstone shopping centre in south-east Melbourne, and a queue has formed outside the Chanel boutique. A sign at the store's entrance says it's full: "Due to safety reasons, we are unable to let any more clients in at this time." A dark-suited staff member stands near the sign, as if to deter anyone so desperate to spend $7000 on a handbag that they are thinking of forcing their way inside". The Brisbane Times @

Jason Wilson (21 February 2018) "Townsville isn't an outlier. It shows with clarity what Australia could become - In Townsville, the biggest city on the Great Barrier Reef coast, a focus on jobs that are no longer there obscures the facts about the death of the reef". The Guardian @

Tracey Bryan (Jan 25, 2015") "What are some of the social differences between Australia and the USA?". @

Richard Flanagan (5 Aug 2018) "The world is being undone before us. If we do not reimagine Australia, we will be undone too ... ‘We are now entwined peoples; by custom, by humour, by friendship, by love, by work and by sport, in art, in music, in words, and through the land; in all these ways we have over 200 years found ourselves in each other" The Guardian @

Greg Jericho (25 October 2017) "Stop scoffing. It's about time Canberra's reputation got a boost - Is it cool or ‘hot’? Probably not. But Canberra’s charms have a way of turning visitors into residents". The Guardian @

ABC (Australia) (6 June 2019) "Sailor shortage strands Australian warship HMAS Perth in dry dock for two years". Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Liz Allen (February 28, 2019) "Solving Australia’s ‘population problem’ through public policy - Australia has a problem with population. It’s a problem with the potential to result in enormous chaos, risking the nation’s economic well-being. And this problem is moving like an overcrowded Sydney train, careering out of control towards inevitable carnage". The Sydney Morning Herald @

Matt Martino, Ben Spraggon, Joshua Byrd, Matt Liddy and Cristen Tilley (21 May 2019) "How does your income compare to everyone else’s? - Most people struggle to accurately estimate how their income compares to other Australians. See if you can do better". Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Naaman Zhou (28 Feb 2019) "Australia breaks weather records with hottest ever summer - 2018-19 season tops temperature highs across the country, exceeding previous record set six years ago" The Guardian @

Helen Davidson (3 Apr 2019) "Foreign aid declines further in Australian budget, with focus on Pacific - Advocates warn the repeated cuts to the aid budget risk making Australia irrelevant in Asia" The Guardian @

Royce Kurmelovs (4 Feb 2019) "'What about the plug?' Australia's electric car infrastructure stalled by policy paralysis - Why has it taken so long just to move past the bare minimum needed to support what is now an expanding sector? - Most electric car owners will charge at home or at work but one in three will still be reliant on public charging stations". The Guardian @

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh (5 June 2019) " Why the raids on Australian media present a clear threat to democracy - The Australian Federal Police has this week conducted two high-profile raids on journalists who have exposed government secrets and their sources." Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Farz Edraki (6 April 2019) "Spy chief Nick Warner says there's a "delicate balance" between civil liberties and security - The list of security threats to Australia is "almost endless" and greater than ever before." Australian Broadcasting Commission @

Gareth Hutchens (27 Mar 2018) "Infrastructure Australia urges inland rail line from Brisbane to Melbourne - Planning body says high-speed rail should be a ‘high-priority initiative’ for Australia - Infrastructure Australia has called on Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria to preserve a land corridor for a high-speed rail line to run from Brisbane to Melbourne." The Guardian @

Gareth Hutchens (22 Jan 2018) "Top 1% of Australians own more wealth than bottom 70% combined - Australia now has 33 billionaires, up from 14 since before the global financial crisis in 2008". The Guardian @

Mike Seccombe (June 15 – 21, 2019) "Cannon-Brookes and the new climate guard". The Saturday Paper @  [Essential reading. Quote: You don’t often see people smiling when they talk about climate change. But Mike Cannon-Brookes couldn’t help it as he quoted the responses of certain small-vision politicians to the plan he cooked up two years ago with fellow tech billionaire Elon Musk to help fix South Australia’s electricity crisis. One of them, he recalled, derided the idea of installing the world’s biggest battery to store renewable energy and stabilise the state’s power grid as akin to building “the Big Banana of energy”. Another scoffed that it was the “Kim Kardashian of the energy world ... He did not name the sources of those comments. He didn’t need to. The first quote is attributable to Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the second to the country’s then energy minister, Matt Canavan. ... The 100-megawatt, $90 million battery was delivered on time, has proved to be very profitable, and has saved South Australia $33 million to date in stabilisation costs and by adding competition to the market .. “The mission a few of us have is to get Australia 200 per cent renewable,” he says. “Two hundred per cent is actually easier than 100.” That’s because it creates an export industry, and with it jobs and income, to replace Australia’s dirty exports of coal and gas. ...The main cause of climate change is the burning of fuel, yet 80 per cent of the world’s energy needs still comes from those fuels. At current levels, those greenhouse gases trap as much heat energy as 500,000 Hiroshima bombs every day. .. Gore cites a 2018 projection from the world’s oldest and most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. It said this century will see the movement of one billion climate migrants ... In Australia, Cannon-Brookes says, we are on the cusp of being a renewables superpower. The first exports of electricity are imminent, he says. “There’s a firm called Sun Cable,” he says. “It’s, like, a $20 billion project.” The plan is to generate three gigawatts of energy from a 15,000-hectare array of solar panels, and transmit it via 3800 kilometres of high-voltage DC cable to Singapore. Even bigger, in Western Australia’s Pilbara, a consortium of renewable energy companies, banks and research institutions, collectively the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, has plans to build 3.5 gigawatts of solar generation and 7.5 gigawatts of wind generation, and to export it via DC cable to Asia. It’s a little way off yet, but it is forecast to create 3000 direct jobs over the 10-year construction period and 400-plus jobs during the forecast 50-year life of the project ... As renewable energy projects proliferate, Cannon-Brookes says, so do jobs. Some 5000 in Queensland alone at latest count, up from 3500 the previous year. Potentially, there could be hundreds of thousands. And yet, at the last election, political attention focused on one old energy economy proposal, the Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin, which, even if the claims of its proponents are believed, will create fewer than 1500 jobs."]

Sarah Mullins (16 June 2019) "'Sleep with me ... or I rape you': Backpackers speak out ahead of working visa change : Next month, Australia's working holiday visa program will be extended, allowing backpackers to stay in Australia for a third year, but some are warning it could increase exploitation and abuse of young workers." Australian Broadcasting Corporation @  [ Thor, comment: Working overseas can be a life changing experience, often for the better (it was for me). However the nature of such work is that it is temporary, and temporary workers everywhere are exploited - in every industry, and in every country where you find them, whether it is backpackers and casual workers in Australia, so-called 'industrial trainees in South Korea and Japan, S.E. Asian maids in Hong Kong and the Middle East .. and so on. This is one thing Australians have to sort out if they want Australia to be 'significant' in a good way]

Gay Alcorn (18 Jun 2019) "Call to arms: how can Australia avoid a slow and painful decline? - The Guardian @ 
[Quote: "Australia is facing challenges from the rise of Asia, rapid technological change, climate change and the environment, changing demographics, declining trust in institutions and business, and strains on social cohesion. ..Australia has been warned it risks ‘drifting into the future’ if it fails to respond to challenges in a fast-changing world Australia is at a crossroads. Drift towards a future of slow decline economically and socially or, if action is taken now to address our most important challenges, create a future of greater prosperity for all, globally competitive industries and a sustainable environment. That is the conclusion of a major report bringing together the thinking of more than 50 leaders in business, academia, NGOs and the community sector, working with the CSIRO to model alternative futures for Australia. The report is described as a “clarion call” for the nation."]


Thor's own websites:

1. articles at ;

2. legacy site: .


Is Australia a Significant Country? Does it Matter? (c) Thor May 2019 return to Ddiscussion