Australia: The Unlucky Country?

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Commentary

In 1964, Donald Horne published his iconic book “The Lucky Country.” Horne controversially wrote that “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

In 1976, in his follow-up book “Death of the Lucky Country,” Horne explained that the phrase “The Lucky Country” came from “the luck of its historical origins … In the lucky style, we have never ‘earned’ our democracy. Instead, we simply went along with some British habits.”

In the light of recent shenanigans in the parliament, people might want to consider whether Horne’s view that Australia is “run mainly by second rate people” is still a proper assessment of Australian politics.

It is fair to say that the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, must, by any standard, be one of the unluckiest prime ministers of Australia. Yet, his journey as this country’s leader started in an auspicious way.

On Aug. 24, 2018, he became prime minister when Malcolm Turnbull was deposed by his parliamentary colleagues. Initially, it looked like the Gods approved of his accession to the prime ministership because he won the general election, held on May 18, 2019—an election that Labor could not lose.

At that time, Morrison famously said that he believed in miracles. However, since then, he has endured many challenges, for example, the disastrous bush fires of 2019/20, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the calamitous floodings of early 2022, burgeoning inflation and catastrophically high house prices, as well as unexpected international political challenges, including the emergence of the Chinese Communist Party as a substantial player in the Asia Pacific, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Epoch Times Photo
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Aug. 23, 2021. (Rohan Thomson/Getty Images)

Some of these challenges originated outside Australia and could not be avoided by Australia’s political class. However, it is possible to assess the government’s overall response to these challenges.

Responding to international challenges, the government insisted that an international commission be established to ascertain the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic—a request bitterly opposed by China.

Australia also facilitated the conclusion of the AUKUS Pact and Quad Alliance to restrict the aggressiveness of China in Asia somehow.

But Australia’s appropriate responses to international challenges are often overshadowed by its failures at home.

From time to time, Members of Parliament, especially those making their valedictory farewell speeches, even deliver a negative assessment of the government’s activities. Their willingness to speak up does not rely on courage and a concern for the truth, but on the fact that their statements read in Parliament are protected by parliamentary privilege.

This privilege, the scope of which is essentially the same as the individual privileges existing in the House of Commons in 1901, “is based upon the idea that only if members are immune from the possibility of suit for defamation for their statements in Parliament will they be able to speak their minds freely regarding public affairs.”

A good example was on display on March 30, when Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells savagely assessed the character of Morrison and his fitness to be prime minister and the Immigration Minister Alex Hawke.

Protected by parliamentary privilege, she described the prime minister as an autocratic leader and a bully who lacks a “moral compass.”

Of course, the prime minister’s office suggested that the senator was merely miffed because she had been relegated to an unwinnable position on the Liberal Senate ticket in New South Wales—a case of very sour grapes. But Fierravanti-Wells’s allegations were supported in the Senate by Pauline Hanson, the leader of the One Nation Party.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is congratulated by Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove in Canberra, Australia, on Sept. 21, 2015. (Stefan Postles – Pool/Getty Images)

These allegations somehow overshadowed the delivery of the fourth budget by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on March 29 and the opposition’s reply on March 31. Frydenberg’s budget was a pre-election big-spending budget that increased the obscene levels of debt, already burdening Australia to fight the pandemic.

Since the days of Prime Minister John Howard, the debt level has dramatically increased under Labor and Coalition governments and has now nearly reached a trillion dollars.

Indeed, basic economics predicts that future generations will have to pay for this profligacy, with reduced living standards due to rampant inflation.

The opposition, of course, characterised the budget as an election budget, a sweetener adopted to induce the electorate to return the Coalition government to power in the upcoming election. It claims that the government’s largesse constitutes a bribe.

In contrast, the prime minister believes that his big-spending government has saved the Australian economy. However, considering the unscalable mountain of debt that will constrain future generations, it may turn out to be a house of cards.

Undoubtedly, it must be difficult to govern in uncertain and unsafe times. But it is precisely these challenges that bring the best and—unfortunately—the worst out of people.

As the interminable lockdowns, border closures, restrictions, mask and vaccine mandates, and social distancing rules have proven, Australia, without strong leadership committed to individual freedom, can easily become an illiberal society.

One could thus conclude that Australia, using the language of Horne, is still a country “run mainly by second-rate people.” The only difference between now and 1964, when Horne’s book was published, is that we may no longer be the “lucky country.”

Since 1964, Australia has often been described nationally and internationally as “The Lucky Country” because of its British-derived institutions, pleasant climatic conditions, spectacular landscapes, resources richness, commitment to a fair go, and support for personal freedom, which is often unheard of in the countries where many migrants come from, its respect for freedom of speech, religion, association, and equality under the law.

For decades, these freedoms were guarded by Australia’s political class, more through luck than design, and protected by an independent judiciary guided by the rule of law.

However, this blissful image of Australia has now been seriously challenged in the 21st century, not only by the apathetic attitudes of its political class but also because of external threats and an inability or unwillingness to respond forcefully to them.

Horne, if he were alive, would surely write a bestseller about “The Unlucky Country.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël Moens

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Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).



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