Nick Bryant, Rebecca Huntley and Marcia Langton: ‘Which Australia?’ (Carnegie Conversations: Ideas

Nick Bryant, Rebecca Huntley and Marcia Langton: ‘Which Australia?’ (Carnegie Conversations: Ideas


[ Applause ]>>I’m reminded of one
of my favourite quotes, when John F. Kennedy
hosted a dinner for every living Nobel Prize
winner, in the White House, and he said “There hasn’t been
such a collection of brainpower in this room since Thomas
Jefferson dined alone.” [Laughter] Rebecca
Huntley just told me that she has three degrees. I can’t remember how many
Nick has, but he has degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge, which must make boat race day
pretty difficult [laughter], and Marcia Langton is a
professor and no doubt has, you know, three PhDs, I didn’t
get time to ask you, one PhD, there you go, I am a
simple arts graduate, and you know what you
say to an arts graduate? Can I have fries with that? [Laughter] So I should
introduce you more formally. Marcia is professor
of, is Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies
at the University of Melbourne, and has been since
February 2000. She’s an anthropologist,
geographer, and commentator on
indigenous issues. Nick is BBC New York
Correspondent and U.N. Correspondent, and
was here for how many years as BBC Australia Correspondent?>>I always used to tell the
BBC five, but it was, in fact, seven [laughter], I
always used to subtract two so they wouldn’t throw
me away [laughter].>>And as the author
of a book which many of you I suspect have read,
The Rise and Fall of Australia. And Rebecca listens to people. She is a researcher, and author,
background is in publishing, academia and politics. A lot of what she does
is just go out and listen to Australians, take the
temperature, take the pulse of Australia, is that fair?>>Yeah, it just makes me
sound a bit creepy [laughter].>>No, I think there are
far too few listeners in Australian society. But tonight, it’s this morning,
we’ll all be talking rather than listening, I hope,
and I’ll just preface this with a minute or
so of my own blah. I just want to put
all this in some kind of international perspective. I think that there
is a worldwide sense in the democracies– a
growing worldwide sense that politics, as
such, is broken. You know, you may have
noticed Ed Milliband, the British Label
Leader, paying court to the comedian Russell Brand,
self-styled revolutionary who is urging everybody of his
age and younger not to vote in the U.K. elections,
there are, in Britain, and all over Europe, there is
a rise of parties of the right of the extreme, of the
eccentric, one way or another, there is a deep dissatisfaction with conventional,
vertical parties. We’ve seen what’s
happened in Greece. There’s still extreme
turmoil in Greece, as economic conditions bite,
and there are a lot of countries in Europe where economic
conditions have bitten very hard, Spain, Greece, notably. And around the world we also
have countries like Turkey, which appeared to be on the
road towards greater democracy, moving back toward dictatorship. We are in a region which is
very heavily dominated now by China, economically. And China is in quite possibly
on the brink of major change for the worse, economically. There are a lot of people
talking about the possibility of the Chinese bubble bursting. We’re already seeing some
effects, early effects of that, because the Chinese demand
the things that we dig out of the ground,
has dropped so much, and that’s already starting
to affect Australia. So I think those are
some of the areas where we might be
traversing tonight. Politics, economics, and change. Global change. How it may affect Australia. And while everybody will be
talking about domestic issues, I think we need to put it in
that sort of global context. We can’t look at
ourselves as separated from the rest of the world. The way we’re going to do this
is for each panellist to talk for about ten minutes about
what’s good about Australia, what’s bad about Australia,
and what we should do about it. And I’d like to start
with you, Marcia.>>Thank you Mark. And the other Mark as well. And my singular idea for solving
the most longstanding political problem in Australia, and
that is the relationship between indigenous
people and the nation, is what a very large number of aboriginal leaders are
calling empowered communities. The empowerment of
indigenous communities through a very structured,
designed process, is the best policy
idea in many decades to resolve the federalist
problem that’s already been spoken about. It is, without doubt, the case
that the federal state tensions over money, tax, and so on, are
aware the source of our problems in sustaining indigenous
communities arise in the first instance,
and that’s the problem that we have to solve. And the empowered
communities design does that. But you know, there is the
very simple moral issue of empowering communities. Why should it be the case in
this rich first nation that is so highly regarded
internationally in the United Nations, in
other international agencies, in peacekeeping, in the global
economy, continue to suppress and treat indigenous people as
native mendicants, and you know, both sides of politics
do it in their own way. The imagination as to where we
stand in the nation is bereft of any ethical structure
and I think it’s about time everybody started
listening to our idea. There’s a grand document on
the Prime Minister’s desk. I want to see Australians
grapple with this idea, and get out of the rut of
well, for instance, you know, another thing that
happened recently that hasn’t been
mentioned here yet is that Premier Collin Barnett
engaged in what looks very much like dog-whistling
in Kalgoorlie. And then he was joined,
unfortunately, by our Prime Minister, to
suggest that some hundreds of indigenous communities will
be closed, forcibly closed. At least that’s what
we heard on the media. Now, some weeks after widespread
protests, the truth comes out. And it’s nothing like that. But there will be a process
to assess the sustainability of communities which
we have already done, and we have a method
for doing it. So I’m glad to see that there’s
been a shift in what looks like, to me, dog-whistling politics,
and if we have a proper place in the nation, a proper place
in the federation, that we, ourselves, have designed, then
you know, everybody can go home and stop feeling guilty.>>Do you want to describe a
bit more what the plan involves?>>Okay. So what happens
at present is that because of the long history of
exclusion of indigenous people from the nation, through, because of the Constitutional
history. And I won’t go into that,
it’s quite detailed. But basically indigenous
people were not part of the federal structure
until after the 67 referendum. But the hangover of that first
70 years of the Federation is that the states do not treat
indigenous people as citizens of the state, deserving
of the same services as other citizens of the state. And, in fact, that a part–
let’s call it what it is, apartheid, which is, you
know, better or worse, in different jurisdictions
and different areas of states is then
compounded historically by the Commonwealth coming in, in the Wittlemire
[phonetic spelling], and granting certain kinds
of special indigenous rights, limited rights, and then the
state is, for instance, say, land rights in the
northern territory. Which was meant to be
a national legislation, but didn’t ever become so. But as a result, successive
northern territory governments refused to fund indigenous
communities on aboriginal land, because they said it was a
Commonwealth responsibility. So that gave all the
other states a narrative, and so they too refused to
fund indigenous communities, and they simply said that’s
Commonwealth responsibility. But to make it worse, the Commonwealth government
departments then ganged up on the Department
of Aboriginal Affairs, and [inaudible] and
now, you know, many iterations later
the office that deals with indigenous affairs in the
Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and so we don’t
get any services or nothing much to speak of from, say,
the Department of Primary or you know whoever
is responsible for primary industry
infrastructure, and so on.>>So that’s the problem. How do you break down?>>Okay so–>>How do you change
the structure? It’s just clearly a structural
problem you’re talking about.>>It’s the problem of
Federalism and the exclusion of indigenous people, so yes
it’s profoundly structural. So what we’re saying is this. Instead of, you know, plane
loads of bureaucrats washing up on our shores, and annoying
us about every little detail in collecting TA and so
on, travel allowance, as they go through our
communities, what we would like is for them to stay
away for most of the year. We, our leaders do the planning
through regional organisations, invite them and other
government representatives at appropriate times to
put together the plan, pool the funding from
the federal, the state, from each of the
relevant departments to implement the plan
and to have a pool fund that is the budget for the plan, that’s designed by
the local region. So–>>Okay.>>You know? Radical idea isn’t it? [Laughter]>>It certainly is. It certainly sounds logical. So we go from the perspective
of the First Australians, to the perspective
of a non-Australian, somebody who has been viewing
this country as an outsider, very deliberately, but as
married into the country, has a stake in it through
his own children, too, what’s your idea
of, first of all, what’s good about
Australia now, what’s bad, and what should we do about it?>>Look, it’s extraordinarily
generous to invite an Englishman, a
pawn, to talk about the future of Australia [laughs],
I feel a bit like a Trojan horse
that’s been wheeled into this sacred inner
sanctum to wreak havoc, but I promise I won’t, because
as Mark said, I’m a stakeholder. The three most important
people in my life, my wife and two children,
are Australians. Maybe I’ll become one before
the end of my life as well. It’s also a great privilege to
speak in the Sydney Opera House. This building has always had
a mesmerising hold of me, and I’ve always thought it’s the
kind of perfect national symbol. The perfect badge of identity. Because it seems to me to encapsulate your split
personality as a nation, and many of the internal
contradictions. I mean, when it was built,
it was just great adventure, a symbol of post-war optimism. International search
for an architect, the way the building
was configured, so it looked out onto the ocean. But of course, in the enforced
resignation of Jorn Utzon, the fabulous Danish
Architect, another side of the national personality came
out, which was a parochialism, a conservativism, a fear of
such a revolutionary design. When the Opera House was
opened in October 1973, the Queen cut the
ribbon, which was proof of the umbilical
link with Britain. But the ceremony also
included recognition of the First Australians. An actor playing Benalog
[assumed spelling], Benalong [assumed spelling], gave this extraordinary
narration from the very roof
of the Opera House. It was built by immigrants
from southern Europe, a symbol of the demographic
changes that took this country, and often thought that
extraordinary concept, the black American
Opera Star, Paul Robson, performed in a scaffolding
of the Opera House. It was a kind of musical
foreshadowing, in a way, of the end of the
white Australia policy. The music of the first weekend, I think you had sublime
Beethoven, you had Rolf Harris singing Time
a Kangary [phonetic spelling] Dance Boar [laughter]. It spoke of the high
culture and the low. This building’s been the focal
point of anti-war protests. You remember No War
that was emblazoned in red paint on one
of the sails. But it’s also hosted
George W. Bush. Spencer Tunic had a massive
nude installation here. Thousands of Sydney sighters
came early one morning and stripped off, but it
has also hosted the Pope. But I think the main reason I’ve
always regarded the Sydney Opera House as this great Australian
symbol is because it’s glorious, and yet it’s unfinished. And an awful lot of people
don’t seem to be that worried about that [laughter], and I think that for me is
why this building has become such a great symbol. So you ask me what I think is
great about Australia and bad about Australia is a
little bit like asking me to summarise my book, The
Rise and Fall of Australia, and the rise and fall,
it’s another linear thing, I describe a kind of rise
that’s been followed by a fall. The Rise and Fall of
Australia struck me when I was a correspondent here,
it was happening simultaneously. Well, what do I mean by that? What do I mean by the rise? Well, you’ve become the
lifestyle superpower of the world. You look at the livability
indices, and they show that Melbourne and Sydney
usually come out on top, and the U.N. Development Index, you’ve come second
only to Norway. What has long been regarded as an imitated country has
become an emulative country. People want [inaudible], your
lifestyle, that’s why people cue up in Notting Hill, that’s like
Bill Grange’s new restaurant, so that they can taste scrambled
eggs done the Sydney way. It’s why people in Williamsburg,
the hipsters of Williamsburg cue up to get a coffee that’s
brewed by an Australian barista. You have become this
lifestyle superpower. You see it in your culture. I talk in the book about how
the cultural cringe has been replaced by the cultural creep, this growing international
appreciation, a recognition that Australia, this relatively
small nation has become a global cultural powerhouse. You see it most obviously
in the success of people like Cate Blanchett, and what a
fabulously cringe-busting thing that she took a Sydney
production of A Streetcar Named Desire
to New York and people in the New York press
regarded it as one of the greatest productions of
that play they’ve ever seen. But it’s a mistake to regard
Australia’s cultural success just in terms of Cate
Blanchett, and the other actors that have done so
well in Hollywood. You see it now in the writers. Richard Flanagan when
in the book A Prize, you see it in the dancers,
you see it in the architects, you see it in the sculptures,
you see it in the painters, you see it in the photographers,
you see it in the camera men, and you know, this time
last week, for instance, I was down in Carnegie
Hall in New York listening to the Australian chamber
orchestra, a performance of extraordinary musicality
and extraordinary physicality. If you’ve seen the ACO, you’ll
know what I’m talking about. They’re an incredibly
physical orchestra. But I wonder how many
Australians know the Chamber Orchestra is regarded as
the finest in the world? A lot of your commerce is
just having great success in the moment, companies
like Westfield, companies like McQuarrie. McQuarrie is the largest
non-governmental owner of infrastructure in the world. Westfield is the largest owner
of shopping malls in the world. When they opened up at Ground
Zero, in the next few months, the shopping centre there, it’s going to have
Westfield above the door. And of course, you’ve had this
extraordinary economic success, that commentators like Paul
Cribman [assumed spelling] have described as an economic
miracle. You’ve had near on a course,
a century without recession. And that’s extraordinary. And it’s not just due
to the mining boom. There have been three global
recessions in the last 20 years or so, and you’ve
avoided the first two without the mining
boom kicking in. So there must be
something else happening. And what I suggest that is, and arguably the
greatest achievement of contemporary Australia
is you’ve created this Australian model. The ear of great reform
in Australian politics, starting off with Cork started
going through [inaudible], in the early years
of the Howard years, have created an economic model
based on judicious regulation and carefully calibrated policy
settings that have stood you in enormously good stead. It’s one of the reasons
why you’ve managed to avoid the subprime
banking crisis, because your banks are
sensibly regulated, and you didn’t have the
problems that the British and the Americans had. Now, this model has proven
to be recession proof. The question is whether it will
continue to be politician proof. Because I think that’s a
big problem facing Australia right now. You face a political crisis. You’ve had the most stable
economy in the western world, but you’ve had the
most unstable politics. You’ve had four Prime Ministers
in the last five years, Malcom Turnbull, Julia
Bishop take over by the end of the year, you’ll
have had five in five. Now that is worse
than Italy [laughter]. Canberra has become
the coup capital of the democratic
world [laughter]. It sounds like hyperbole,
but it’s not. You are! The state level too. Last 13 years, there’ve been
64 changes of leadership. Again, that’s Italianite. And you’ve had this
great reform period, followed by a period of revenge. And the blood letting, and the
cannibalistic fury that you get on the party rooms in Canberra,
you see it on the floor of the House of Representatives
as well. It’s a very ugly spectacle. Many Brits have come
over to Canberra, professing to be great fans
of your adversarial system, and they watch question
time, oh my God, this is unbelievable
what’s happening here. I remember the first night
I was ever in Canberra, I was sitting next to a
labour parliamentarian, and throughout the dinner
people were coming up to him and saying what a great job he’d
done, slapping him on the back, saying good on you mate, and
I asked him what he’d done, did he give a great
speech to Parliament? Did you ask a great question? He said, “No, I got
ejected from Parliament.” This is a system that rewards
bad behaviour, [laughs] and that’s deeply problematic. Politics has become
excessively oppositional. Nowadays, elections are won
in a barrage of negativity. And sometimes, oppositions
don’t even have to come up with any policies, they
just wait for the government of the day to self-destruct,
which is what happens to labour, and what happens
to a certain extent with the Abbott government
as well. Your politics has
become very patsy. The first thing the Abbott
government did when it came to power was stop Steve Bracks to become the [inaudible]
in New York. That seems to be a
pretty petty thing to do as his first act of government. What you tend to
get now is rather than new governments coming
in with positive programmes, they tend to offer correctives. For Abbott, it was
trying to stop the boats. It was getting rid of
the [inaudible] tax, it was getting rid
of the mining tax, for Kevin Rod it was
signing up Kyoto, apologising for indigenous
Australia, and fixing work choices. But after they’d done that, you kind of think
well what comes next? And there isn’t much there. You’ve got a real political
talent problem in this country. I was often struck by, and
I’ve compiled a mental list over the years of the
impressive Australians I’ve met, and when you compared it
with the Parliamentarians, if that was representative
of the then diagram, it would be a very, very
narrow bit that was shaded, and you have this
problem now, also, of the emergence of
a political class. For the first time in 2010,
the Parliament that assembled in Canberra was over 50% made
up of professional politicians. This is part of a global
malaise, no doubt about it. But in Britain next week, of the
700 candidates who are standing for election, 30% are
professional politicians, and in Australia you’ve
got over 50%, and I suggest that is hugely problematic, because these people
think politically they are overly politicised. You have this real crisis now,
in the quality of your politics. So what do you do about it? Well, far be it from
me to suggest in a prescriptive
way what to do, but here’s some ideas you
might want to think about. If you want to know the
temperature of Parliament, well perhaps you
reduce the level of Prime Minister
participation in question time. The Brits did this in the 1950s, in deference to Winston
Churchill. They didn’t think you should
face the daily exertions of the dispatch box, and
when Tony Blair became Prime Minister, he decided
to limit question time to just once a week. Ministers would take
questions on other days, but the Prime Minister just
faced questions once a week. Because he thought it was
ludicrous, this Punch and Judy, and so much time
was being devoted to this Parliamentary theatre. Now, unfortunately it hasn’t had
much of an impact on the Punch and Judy at question
time, that still happens. But the good thing is, it
only happens once a week. It’s a short boxing match. At the moment in Australia, you’ve got this week-long
pavement brawl that starts on Monday and continues
until Thursday. One of the things you might want
to look at is Senate reform. It seems to be crazy that
some people who emerge as Senators were quite
influential power, I’m thinking of people like Steven Fielding,
another guy from Family First, people like Ricky Muir,
these guys got to Canberra on a sliver of a vote. Steven Fielding got 2% of
Primary votes in Victoria. Ricky Muir got a
record-breaking .5%. I mean, that’s hugely
problematic. These people end up
having so much power. I’d also argue that you actually
need more Parliament than that, which I know sounds paradoxical. But your sitting times
are so short in Canberra. The British Parliament sits
through about 120 days. And I’m not saying
Westminster has got it sorted. Far from it. They go for about 120 days. You go for about 60. And what this means
is that there’s a kind of pressure cooker effect. Everything gets concertina. Legislation gets rushed. You have political
deadlines that are set by the Departure Board at Canberra Airport
on a Thursday night. And what it also means, these short sessions become
this kind of make or break. They’re always portrayed
as showdowns, they’re always billed as,
you know, so and so going to survive this session? It’s a crazy politics. And it might be improved
by lengthening it, actually increasing the time in Canberra might encourage
more people of talent to get involved as well. One thing that British
Parliamentarians are able to do is live in London
with their families. It gives them a hinterland, cameras become this political
dormitory town that people go down to do politics in, and there isn’t much
of a hinterland. And the final thing
I’d say is that, and this I think is
the biggest reform that you could think about, is extending the
length of Parliament. Parliamentary terms. You have three years at
the moment, you really need to make it four or five,
because short-termism is built into every single
political decision, and when Prime Ministers
inevitably run into mid-term doldrums, they automatically face
leadership speculation and leadership challenges, because people fear they haven’t
got enough time to recover. And that has created
this awful cyclic effect in Australian politics
right now, and a real crisis in politics. And I think this is not
just a personnel problem, it is systemic, and
it needs to be part of a bigger constitutional
overhaul. Because if Australians
think that yet another leadership change
is going to dramatically alter and improve the quality
of politics, I think they’re fooling
themselves.>>Thank you, Nick. Rebecca.>>I’ve written some notes, but
as a researcher, you’d be lucky that I don’t have a 100
page PowerPoint [laughs], I can give you that,
though if you’re interested. Look, I want to address a
topic, and then I want to do as my fellow speakers have,
talk about that greater success and greatest failure in
my idea for Australia. The theme for today is that
you know we can’t decide which Australia we live in. And I think that’s true. I saw that particularly in
that immediate post-[inaudible] environment in Australia. There was this sense of we’ve
survived this, aren’t we lucky? We remain lucky, but to
what extent will we continue to remain lucky. And this brought on this
kind of perverse scenario of consumer sentiment in
2009, 10 and 11 and so on, where economically
things look rosy. We kept having politicians
saying look this is a beautiful set of numbers. But Australians didn’t
believe it. They were pessimistic, they were
careful, they were cautious. And I mean, look, it’s one of those things economists
always say, if people are spending, they
feel good about the future. Now I always questioned a
straightforward link on spending on shoes and optimism
about the future, I’ve got to say [laughter], I think that they weren’t
spending, they were worried about the future, but that
wasn’t the only reason they weren’t spending. And look, it continues
to be the case. And economists say
this is irrational. And particularly
overseas visitors. And I spend a lot of time
with overseas visitors of big corporations coming here, asking me to explain
Australians to them. The look on their face when
I say, well, we’re worried about asylum seekers, they
go how many do you get? We’re from Italy [laughs],
you know, we’re from Turkey, we’re from Pakistan, you’re
worried about asylum seekers? Look, Australians are
worried, what is our economy and society going to look
like when we’re done digging up everything from the ground,
selling everything that grows on the ground, what
are we going to do? They’re looking for leadership, not just from the political
class, but from business, and they’re not getting it. And hence, we have this kind of
raft of worries about what seems to be unrelated things,
but they’re not unrelated. Cuts to education, health care,
immigration, asylum seekers, housing prices, sale of
land to foreign companies, global warming, investment
inversion and coal [inaudible] gas. So I’ve been asked to pick one
prime example of our success, and prime example
of our failure, and essentially they’re
two sides of the same coin. And I want to talk about
how we see ourselves as a migrant nation. I’ve been very lucky in the
last 10 years of listening to Australians and doing
broad social research, but I’ve also done very
specific research for SBS. And I want to thank
Georgie McLean, and SBS. Georgie is here today. For allowing me to do that work. And so what I’ve done, is
you know, my team has sat down with first, second,
third generation migrants, and particularly asylum seekers, and talked to them
about how they feel. And two things have come,
become very clear to me. It is our greatest success
that we have managed to be, that we are a migrant nation and this has created an
incredibly strong, resilient, dynamic and interesting
place to live. But at a high cost to
those migrants themselves, because essentially, to be
allowed in to everything that Australia offers, they
have had to swallow the racism that they’ve accepted,
particularly that first generation. They’ve had to knuckle down
and educate their kids, and they’ve often pushed
their kids to become as Aussie as possible, as quickly
as possible. And sometimes, being
Aussie means being racist to the next generation
of migrants, and also to indigenous
Australians. When I do these groups,
particularly asylum seekers, what strikes me is the
extraordinary patriotic and intensely positive outlook
they have about this country. If you ever want to feel
good about Australia, do a group with migrants, first generation migrants
and asylum seekers. Now, of course, there’s
a pressure for them to say this is a great
nation because, you know, woe be it that they would
criticise this country because a tonne of bricks
would come down on them about being ungrateful. So they are, you know, definitely extremely
popular and, extremely positive
about Australia. If you dig a bit more,
there’s incidence of extraordinary racism that
they face, but you walk away from these groups
feeling incredibly proud to be Australian. I’ll give you a short
quote from a group, a piece of research
we conducted for SBS. A group of Somali
men in their 40s. So asylum seekers. He said, “I’m working
five days a week, I have a family,
I have three kids. My next thing is to buy a house. I love Australia. Peace above everything. If you’re working it’s good. You have money. I’m very happy to
be in Australia.” Now, this is the
same group of men, part of this research was
also asking them to talk about what they– the
media they consume. Newspapers and television. And not this particular
man, but another man said, “The only thing I don’t
understand is home and away, why are those blonde good
looking people that live by the sea so unhappy?” [Laughter] And to me,
that explains Australia. Why are these blonde good
looking people who live by the sea always complaining? [Laughter] It’s a
great question. It’s one that I’ve made a career
trying to explain to people. Look, the other thing that
was incredibly positive coming out of this research we
did for SBS is we asked, we did a big quantitative study, quantitative research is not
my forte, but we did a big, quantitative study on, and one of the questions we
asked everybody was about their sense of belonging. To what extent do they feel
that they belong to Australia, that they feel comfortable here. Second generation migrants were
as likely as long-term residents to feel a sense of belonging,
so within one generation, we had created a migrant
class that were as committed to this country as
people that had been here for seven or eight generations. Now, our failure is our
inability for our leaders to sell this to the
Australian population. I’ve conducted 10 years of
research with Australians, and whenever you ask them what
do you think the benefits are to multiculturalism,
they will say “Oh we’ve got really good food
now,” [laughter], you know, and you know, and…oh… [laughs] they really struggle. Now, if after everything that
we have done as a nation, and we are all migrants,
except for the First People, if the only thing we can come
up with is a better quality of food court, then if
that’s the perception, then this is a dramatic failure. Donald Horn wrote in The Lucky
Country, “Australia has managed to be an immigrant country
for most of its history without even thinking about
it, and it’s the inability to really think about
it that is a problem.” It’s a huge failure
of our leadership, our corporate leadership, our
business leadership, media, everybody really, that we cannot
think much beyond this food court multiculturalism. And we think too that the other
thing that’s very clear is in the research that
I’ve conducted, is people question the link
between increased immigration and increased prosperity. That we will be a better,
more interesting nation if more people come here. And before I talk about
my idea, I want to share with you an off the
record comment by– I did a big piece of research
on the future of Australia with the demographer, Bernard
Salt, and as part of that, we conducted a range of
off the record interviews with corporate leaders who frankly said extraordinary
things off the record. I wish they’d say it more on
the record, but they don’t. That’s another problem. Anyway, this one CEO of a very,
very large property company said to me, “I look around the
board rooms of Australia, we talk about the lack
of diversity of women, but really the women that there
are almost always white women, it is incredibly white. The brightest kids coming through our schools
are not white. A lot of them are first, second
generation Indian, Asian kids. They will look around our
Parliaments and our boardrooms, and they will not say that
there is a place for them. And we will educate them,
and they will wave goodbye, leave us with their
[inaudible] and they will go and join a gold-collar
class of workers that will generate prosperity for other countries
and not ours. So we have– forget
about the values, forget about the ideology. We have an economic imperative to retain the most talented
people and hardworking people in our country, and many of them
are from that migrant class. We do not want to create
an entrenched migrant class of workers in factories,
the ones that still exist, but particularly in that
casualized service industry, hugely exploited. I’ve done groups, particularly
of women, from Thailand, and from Vietnam that
fall into that class. And we also don’t want to
create a second generation of angry young men and women who
live in a continued environment of hostility toward their
religion or toward their colour. Muslim men and women from
Africa in particular, that will reverse trends of
the past, the second generation that works hard, gets the
education, becomes integrated, has that sense of belonging–
we are in danger of reversing that trend with these groups. So what should we do about it? Certainly we need
to combat racism at an institutional level. We’re good at it at school and
then the moment kids graduate from school we think we
don’t need to talk about it in any other institutions
that we’re part of. We need to think, and
political parties need to think about who they pre-select. You know, there’s
always been a push to address the gender inequality
in Parliament, but if it’s just about putting more white
women in Parliament, I question how far we
need to go with that. My single compelling idea,
it sounds like a small idea, but I do think we need to increase our asylum
seeker quotas, and I say that because we
have a very small number of asylum seekers, and we
have this massive panic. So if we’re going
to have a panic, we might as well increase
the number [laughter], like there are people who would
rather have if there’s three or four people coming
on boats, they’re going to panic, that’s a reality. But I think what we
need to match with that, and we need to listen to asylum
seeker communities is they say the way to belonging
to Australia is to learn English and have a job. And one of the things
that I think that we should see more
funding and more support for is social enterprise
businesses. Some of them quite small that are [inaudible] here,
so today I’m a model. For this today I’m
wearing a dress that’s made by the social outfit. They have a shop in
Melbourne, and a shop in Sydney. They take fabric that’s
been designed or rejected from all kinds of, you
know, remnants of fabric from the fashion industry,
and they train and employ on permanent contracts rather than casualized contracts,
asylum seekers. Not only to sew those
clothes, but to design them. There’s another organisation
called the Bread and Butter Project, which
is run by the people that started Burke
Street Bakery, they too take asylum seekers,
and train them to make, kind of, you know, the other thing
that Australians love, coffee and sourdough
bread, you know, god forbid that we would have a
normal bread [laughs], you know, but the reality is that one way to really convince the
Australian population that we shouldn’t keep freaking
out about migrants that come to this country,
however they come, is to recognise they
play an essential part, and to show in innovative ways,
through these social enterprises that they can, and that is
a challenge for all of us to think beyond, you know,
a better class of Thai food, as the greatest contribution that migrants make
to our country. Well that’s it.>>Fantastic, thank
you [applause] Rebecca. Thank you [applause continues]. So we’ve got an absolute
mass of material to think about and talk about there. And fortunately we
have a good solid chunk of time to talk about it. And I’d like to take
questions from the audience. I don’t want to be too
prescriptive in limiting you to simple short questions,
but I’m, by saying that, I’m not encouraging long
didactic statements, and I may have to be
ruthless if that happens. But you know, by all
means, ask questions. But I’d like to get
some dialogue going. So if you have ideas, I’m not
ruling out that you put ideas, but see if you can put them in
the form of questions as well. So I don’t know who
wants to start? Any hands up? Mm-hmm? There was one,
right in the front.>>Nick if you ever decide the
Australian citizen [inaudible] for election, I’ve
got one [inaudible].>>[Laughter] That was
rather enticing to be honest, but [laughs] and
Canberra is very enticing [multiple speakers].>>Do we have a question? We might need to
repeat the question?>>The question was suggesting that if Nick should become
an Australian citizen, he might like to
stand for Parliament because he’s got a vote
right here [laughter].>>There’s a lady in wait–>>There’s a lady
with a question? Stand up and, I don’t know
if there are mics, or? [ Inaudible Comments ]>>I think you’re right. There has been kind of a
rightward trend in a lot of the major– [multiple
speakers]. Oh sorry, the question has
there been a rightward trend in global politics? Are conservative parties
becoming more conservative and more near-conservative? And I think that’s true
to a certain extent. You certainly said in
the Republican party in America right now, the rise
of the Tea Party, the shrinkage of the moderate wing of
the republican party, what’s sometimes
called the sensible wing of the Republican party, the
way that the political centre of gravity in the Australian– in the American Republican
Party has shifted from the north to the south, and that’s had
a very conservatizing effect on politics. You know, and in
Britain as well, I mean, the Torrey party has moved
to the right on issues like immigration, because
they’re worried about the threat from [inaudible] and the United
Kingdom Independence Party. So there are pressures from
the right, which have led a lot of conservative parties
around the world to move further toward
the right. But I mean, picking up on
what we were saying earlier, about a global democratic
malaise, I think it’s evident in all sorts of countries at
the moment, and as a rejection of the political class, whether
they’re left wing or right wing. There is a very strong mood of
anti-incumbency at the moment. You’re seeing examples of this in the fragmentation
of politics. The big story, the British
election next week is just that, the rise of these
smaller parties. And you’re seeing that
in Australia as well. The fragmentation is
produced in degrees, the fragmentation
has produced people like the Parma United Party. It’s a very strong
public disaffection. Spring has brought
with it a cloud burst of electric politics
around the world. Harry Clinton’s roll out. The start of the Republican
Presidential Primary process, the British election. There’s been a cloud burst of
electro politics, but voters, it seems to me, are
in hibernation. There’s no great enthusiasm
in America right now, for a dynastic showdown between
Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, there’s no great
enthusiasm in Britain, other than the grand swallow
of support for Nicola Sturgeon, the National– Scottish
Nationalist leader, in Britain, there’s a kind of rejection
of politics as usual. And it’s usually problematic. Here in Australia, it is
particularly pronounced. There was a study from the Lowe
Institute conducted last year, and indeed the year
before that showed that 42% of Australians aged between 18 and 39 said democracy is not
the greatest form of government. You’ve got over 40% of
young people in Australia who are not convinced anymore that democracy is the
right model of government. And that is hugely problematic,
and it represents something that is happening
globally at the moment.>>I’ll get Rebecca and Marcia
to talk about that in a second. But just first, I’ve been told that there is a microphone
behind the camera over there, and there’s a microphone
upstairs over in that corner. So if you’d like to ask, if
you’d like to be the next to ask a question, if you
wouldn’t mind just wandering over that way to
the microphones. One there, and one there. Rebecca?>>I’d be a bit careful about
characterising having kind of sweeping statements about
the world’s politics moving to the right, and to look
at Tony Abbott’s election as the electorate
moving to the right. The electorate, I’ve
never seen the electorate, not just in 10 years, but of the
work that [inaudible] before me, who elected a Prime
Minister they hated more than Tony Abbott, this was not
an endorsement, particularly, of Tony Abbott, and this
is “we need to get rid of the [inaudible] party
and we need to punish them.” So that kind of reaction to
incumbency was more about that. And then, of course, if the
electorate had moved sharply to the right, you would not have
had the reaction, for example, to the budget that you had. You wouldn’t have
had the reaction to Prince Philip
becoming a Knight. So to characterise
our politics as moving to the right, questionable. But to characterise
the electorate moving to the right is not
correct either. It’s very, very hard to
characterise the mood. It’s a weird mix of what we’d
normally describe as left and right on a range of issues. What Nick has said, which
is absolutely right, is a rejection not so much of
left or right, but of politics as done usually, by the
usual people, communicated in the usual way, which
is why you’ve got those– why those rise of small parties. That will come up, that
will kind of, you know, be in one moment
and out the next. You know? So that’s, I
think, the bigger issue, and perhaps the more
destabilising issue than let’s say just a
simple move to the right.>>Marcia?>>Yeah, I think that’s right. And you have to remember
that the Gillard government and the Abbott government
got in on a deal. They didn’t have the numbers to form government
in their own right. So they did deals with
the Greens, and you know, with independents, and the real
problem in Australian politics, I think, is that we talk
about the left and the right, but we don’t know what sits
behind those two categories. So you know, I want to ask the
question, what is the left now? So you know, we talk about the
right, but what is the left? I mean, the left
now looks nothing like what I understood the left
to be when I was just, you know, starting out as an
adult in Australia. And you know, we– I
think the whole idea of what unions were supposed
to achieve for, you know, working people, has
been perverted. And now the, you know,
the unions have all kinds of strange power, gripping
control power, over our politics in this country that
actually suppresses the wishes of the larger electorate. So you know, I can say
with great certainty that the unions have gone against some very important
aboriginal initiatives, like aboriginal employment. Because you know, they, many of those unions have
a father son rule, and they don’t want
us in the work force. And they have all kinds of
sneaky ways of keeping us out of the work force. And we’ve had to, you
know, spend a lot of money on lawyers, to break their hold. So what is the left is
a very good question that we need to ask ourselves. How left are some of these
later party politicians who purport to represent people. They’re not left at all. They’re not left-wing at all. And actually, I find a
far more decent, you know, take on what we need to
do in aboriginal affairs, from something people
on the so-called right. Simply because they
live in towns where there are large
aboriginal populations and they talk to
aboriginal people. They don’t have the imaginary
aborigine of the big cities as you know the standard
bearer of, you know, what should happen
to aboriginal people. I’m talking about people
from country areas, with large aboriginal
populations. You know that aboriginal moms and dads want their kids
off the streets and in jobs. And you know, that’s
pretty much a universal wish in aboriginal Australia. But you know, how often do
we hear that in the media, or from the, you know, inside
the labour party policy on indigenous affairs? These discussions are not
taking place on the left. The left talks about
us as if we’re– well, I say it again,
native mendicants. In many ways, the left
has become quite racist. In an odd way, that’s difficult
to explain, and yes, you know, we have problems on
the right as well. I’m not party political,
haven’t been for a long time. My attitude is, you know, if
we’re going to get the job done, we’ll have to deal
with every government. Noel wrote an article in the
recent monthly in which–>>Noel Pearson.>>Noel Pearson, sorry. Noel Pearson wrote an article
in the 10th Anniversary Monthly, in which he said that, you know, he met Galleroy [phonetic
spelling], in fact, I introduced them. Galleroy and [inaudible]. And he said he’s never met
a more outstanding leader, and then Galleroy proceeded
to tell him the names of every Prime Minister and
Minister for indigenous affairs that he dealt with over
the course of his life, and how little had
come of it all. And so Noel said in
response, well, you know, I really hope that, you know,
once we deal with these issues of empowered communities and
constitutional recognition, this will be my last Prime
Minister that I deal with. And of course, that’s
not going to be the case. You know, he’s dreaming
if he thinks that going to happen [laughs]. So…you know, the ineffectual,
the ineffectual politics on both sides, I can say the
same thing, being, you know, a good deal older than Noel, I can name quite a few more
Prime Ministers and Ministers for indigenous affairs that I’ve
had to deal with, and you know, it’s worse than two steps
forward, one step back. It’s– in many ways, it was
easier for an aboriginal person to get a job back in
the 60s, than it is now. Because it has become so– the work force is so
split between unionised and non-unionised, for instance. It would have been easier,
I’m pretty sure of it, to set up an aboriginal business
in the 1960s than to set up an aboriginal business now. You know, we have a desperate
need to get some policies right. To get some legislation amended. To enable indigenous
economic development through business development. And there are blockages
everywhere. I lobby politicians
on this regularly. Do you know I had to explain
in great detail why we had to amend the taxation
act on a very minor point to achieve fairness, so indigenous people weren’t
discriminated against? And you know, they
weren’t interested. They didn’t understand
the problem. They hadn’t bothered to read
the materials before them on the legislation, and yet, you
know, it made a huge difference to indigenous people, but
they just weren’t interested.>>So–>>It would have gone through,
I mean, I just got on the phones and got other people
as well on the phones, and we nagged them
until they did it.>>In a sense, left and
right are irrelevant in quite a lot of cases.>>Pretty much. I got no joy on our
taxation issues with labour, and didn’t get treated much
better by the other side, and it’s now a lottery as to whether we get
anything practical done.>>All right. We go upstairs first, and
then to this lady here.>>All right, thank you. In relation to what
Nick was saying before, about the frequency
of our elections, seems to be every three years. To what extent has
there been discussion about say expanding these terms,
maybe to four or five years, like say in Canada,
the states or the U.K., so we have less short-term
political solutions and maybe some more
long-term planning?>>Well just the United States
and the U.K. by the way, I mean we have four year terms
in all the states, it’s very odd that we have different terms for
federal and state governments.>>You put this to a referendum
in 1988, and it got rejected, and one of the reasons was
it got enmeshed in a debate about Senate terms, and whether
they should be staggered, and a double dissolution, they
had a lot of advice on this kind of stuff, it kind
of– but back then, I suggest that politics
was far more stable, and far more sensible. I mean, there wasn’t
perhaps a need, an urgent need, to change it? One of the things I’ve been
really struck by recently in Australia is this
wave of nostalgia, for the former Prime Minister
who have died, you know, the huge groundswell around
the death of Guff Whitlam, and the huge ground swell around
the deaths of Malcom Frazier, and the same will happen
when Bob Holt dies, when Paul Keating dies, and when
John Heard dies, on the right. The right will venerate
John Heard in the same way that the left venerates
Guff Whitlam. And You know, you can’t imagine
the same kind of ground swell with [inaudible], or Julia
Gillard, you just can’t. And you know, why
the discrepancy? Well, you know–>>To be fair, in 1978, I
would never have predicted that ground swell–>>Right. But I think now–>>We really do like
our politicians to be [overlapping speakers].>>Much larger, because this
politics looks so small. And I think, you
know, another reason that explains the discrepancies,
look at Whitlam, you can look at Howard, and you kind of
know what they believe in. When you look at these
politicians now, it’s hard. But [inaudible] all the time,
they make political plays. What’s going to work
politically. And I think that’s a big
difference between the past of Australian politics, which did produce this
great reform model. That was a very successful
period in national life, and now, when you’ve had
this political recession in this country that’s
lasted nine years. I mean, you can date
it from 2006.>>If I can put in my own
brief five cents worth here, as an interviewer, I find it
increasingly frustrating to work in this country in the political
sphere, because it’s so hard to get anybody to
engage intellectually. I think people are
addicted to the doorstep, the Canberra doorstop
or doorstep interview, where they can just
control the situation, give two answers,
and go straight in. They’re– they are insistent
on staying on message. It’s very difficult to get
them to outline the ideological or intellectual underpinnings
of what they have to say. And it was really
interesting to me to watch that series inside the commons.>>Yes.>>Nobody would say that the
British system is perfect, and there were chaotic
aspects to it. It was the chaotic aspects
that I really liked. It was the fact that
individual members of major parties were able to
work behind the scenes to put up private members’ bills,
which were much more important than they are here, and
there was not the punishment that you get here, for costing
the floor, or even for coming out and making what journalists
to their shame call a gaffe, which means saying something a
bit loose, which is not exactly in line with the party’s policy.>>That was the point
I was going to make. Far be it for me to defend
the nature or the quality of all politicians, but
there is this pressure cooker environment. If I say slightly the wrong
thing, or if I say something that I might believe in, like,
I mean even if it’s silly like poor people don’t drive,
or climate change is crap. At least, you know, the moments of real candour are quite
difficult to squeeze out, not only of the current
Parliament, so your point Nick, that it’s every session is
a question time, you know, kind of gladiatorial fight,
where is the opportunity to have the real
discussion, sometimes that’s in the select committee,
or the committee structure. But even increasingly
that’s becoming scrutinised by the media, like
maybe that’s a story and this person said
slightly the wrong thing. So how do you, you know, ease
that pressure of everything that politicians say, and of
course, the next generation of politicians will all be
coming up with Facebook pages that were formed before [laughs]
they became politicians, so it will be increasingly
difficult to go back, oh, you know, when you were 19. I mean, who doesn’t
say stupid things, date stupid people
when they were 19? We’ll all have to keep
our receipts of our, you know, bathroom renovations. If we ever, ever want to be
Prime Minister, heaven forbid that we didn’t get the
bathroom renovation right. So I think it is a really
difficult environment.>>And Marcia, from
what you were saying, it sounds as though
there are politicians who aren’t even really
thinking for themselves, they’re very much play things
of their own public servants.>>Well you know, you have
all the media babes who go after the gotcha moment, which is what you’re
talking about, right? You know, the scalp hunters.>>Yeah.>>You know–>>Behind the scenes, in
terms of when you’re lobbying, it sounds as though there are
people who aren’t doing a lot of their own thinking.>>Well you know, the
same kind of, you know, babes are in the political
offices aren’t they? And they uh…you
know, you have to troll through such sludge, you know? The 24-year-olds who sit
there writing, you know, a summary of a political science
essay, and you’re trying to get through to the Minister,
you know?>>Yeah.>>The amendment to the tax
act minister, and you know that there is a briefing note on
his title, and he’s reading it, and trying to figure
out the relationship between what I’m saying
and the briefing note from the 24-year-old in
the back office, you know?>>Yeah.>>And you know, it’s
hard enough to get into that office
in the first place?>>So the thick of it is–>>God help you that
you have to, you know, go through three meetings
with the youngster who is–>>So the thick of
it is basically a documentary [laughter]?>>It’s– I don’t think, you know most ordinary citizens
comprehend how dysfunctional our political system
really has become.>>Yeah. Can I just say,
I think another problem is that the Australian
political class misrepresents and mischaracterizes
the Australian people, and especially on a subject
like multiculturalism, where you can have a completely
different conversation in this country about
immigration and boat people if politicians are
brave enough to have it. I’ll give you a little
example of that. One day I was reporting
on the boat people issue. It was kind of purist
thing to cover for the BBC, because when I used to
ring up the desk in London and say a boatload of
37 Sri Lankans arrived, they say why are you calling? [Laughter] You know, the
Rome Correspondent has been on the phone with hundreds. And I say, well I’m not
calling because it’s the number, I am calling because of the
paranoid political reaction. The craziness that has come
with the arrival of one boat. The kind of attitude that
makes the Daily Telegraph call that kind of thing an invasion. That was the word they
used on the front page, and that was even in the days when the numbers
were very small. But I remember one day going
out to the western suburbs of Sydney, an area which increasingly defines
the national politics, and doing a story about boat
people and I was looking for your kind of classic
battler who would say “I don’t want boat people because they’re wrecking
my life,” you know? And what struck me
was the difficulty of finding people
who would say that. And I was going up to people
in a stereotyping of myself, going up to people, go
about the white youths that had the southern cross
tattooed on their shoulders, and I thought you
will surely say that, and they didn’t [laughter],
but the one person who said it was the biggest
community concern was the guy, the labour politician that
was running for re-election. He’s the only guy that when you
asked him what is the biggest concern that you have,
he would say boat people. And it was ridiculous. And it spoke of this disconnect. You can have a completely
different conversation about that if you were
brave enough to do it. And even at the height of
his political popularity, Kevin Rudd was willing
to do that.>>Be patient.>>They probably would have
much preferred boat people than a stupid pom
like you [laughter]. Questioning them like
that, now we’re trying to go and get a pie…god!>>Maybe. Maybe. Maybe [laughter].>>He’s a pom, but he’s not–>>Wait, wait…>>I was paraphrasing
[laughter].>>Come on [laughter].>>Thank you very much. We’ve heard some very
good ideas this morning. I’m very keen to
hear from the panel about how we harness the latent
talent, and build, I guess, even more strength
within our communities, whether it’s our indigenous
communities, whether it’s in our political systems,
whether it’s amongst our refugee and migrant communities, to
actually take and build capacity and take these ideas forward.>>Who wants to start?>>I think what I notice
is that there is, you know, and they’re often very, very
small, people are just going out and doing some of that stuff on
their own, and at all levels, and that they, you know,
at a corporate level, it can be through small
communities, not for profit, so some people– but the problem about that is increasingly the
attitude is formal politics cannot help us, you
know, it is irrelevant to engage the local member,
or it’s irrelevant to think about that we might go
round to the local branches of the liberal party or
the labour party and talk about what we’re doing. And interestingly, a couple
of years ago, I was involved in a kind of a strategic
planning meeting with a large bank that
does lots of work with, on the environment, and other
stuff, and it was interesting, everybody in that room, they’re
all saying maybe we just need to ignore Canberra, like we go
down to Canberra all the time and say this is important to
us, we need to think about this. We’re so sick of waiting for
them on [inaudible] change, we’re big enough, and
forward thinking enough for us to do it ourselves. So I think a lot of
stuff is happening. I think the problem is
increasingly you think what– increasingly the people that are
doing this stuff, just going out and doing it, and have
the talent and the desire, are feeling like
there’s no point in engaging politics
unless it is through, for example, a grant process. And that is really
worrying, that disconnect.>>Massive. That essentially was your
theme to start off with. Give us the chance
to do it ourselves.>>Well, you know, look, I’m
in awe of the people who worked so hard on the empowered
communities report, that have done, I think,
you know, the best piece of policy work I’ve seen in
decades, so that’s better. The job’s done. So I recommend that you
have a look at that. The other bit of the job,
from our point of view, is constitutional recognition. A lot of people say oh, this
is racist, this is giving, you know, one group a special
standing in the constitution that nobody else
has, or you know, where are the practical
outcomes from this? Well, there are very
powerful arguments to completely dismiss
the first proposition, and also very powerful arguments to dismiss the second
proposition that there are no
practical outcomes. And I, I don’t know
how much time I have to go into it here, but–>>Not much.>>Yeah [laughter].>>It’s running down.>>Uh, you know…if
you have a look at the constitutional history
and how it’s all worked, basically though you have some–
our constitution is racist. It has two racist clauses
in it, in that you know, the clauses are based on
the proposition of race. I think, you know,
most Australians want to get rid of all that nonsense. So if you go with us, with our
proposition, you’ll get rid of the racism from the
constitution, and moreover, what you need to understand is that aborigines have
been treated, you know, as a kind of constitutional
default setting as the only race in Australia. You know, when you talk to people what race
do you belong to? And they go through all of
their ancestry, you know, but you know how white
people don’t have a race? It’s everybody else
who has a race? Well, the only race legally
in Australia is aborigine. Nobody else is actually
treated as a race. And now why should that be? Well it’s just utter rubbish. It’s 19th Century racism. It’s social Darwinism. Let’s get rid of it. The wonderful practical
outcome from that immediately is that if– let me go to this. A lot of people don’t like
to hear this argument. If aborigines no longer think of
themselves as that special race, and no longer have that
sense of special entitlement, then you know, they have to get
on with it like everybody else, and the only thing that remains, that makes them distinctly
aboriginal, and I’m not excluding the
tourist trade islanders, but is all of our cultural
heritage that comes from the pre-70 and 88
civilisation that we had here, and our native title and
other property interests that we inherit, you
know, have inherited through our aboriginal
ancestors from that time, so that means cultural heritage,
native title, and languages. Our kinship systems. You know? Special
cultural practices that we want to retain. And so all the rest of it,
all the economic engagement, you know, in time, you
know, will reach parity and we’ll get there faster if
we get rid of the race concept, and if people stop
treating us as, you know, that special class of idiots.>>Have to wind down.>>That’s the practical outcome.>>Marcia Langton, we’ve only
got about 45 seconds left, we’ve run down the clock. But I think we’ve
done it productively. Let’s put it that way. I think there’s been
an enormous amount to think about, out
of this morning. I wish we had more time
for questions, if anything. We’re going to take a half
hour break now before the next session, and I’ve been asked
to remind you that Rebecca and Nick will be signing
their books during that break. There’s coffee and
tea downstairs for full day passholders. And all that remains for me
is to thank you all very, very much for coming, to thank
Rebecca [applause begins], Nick, Marcia [applause continues].>>Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *