Robert Manne on the New Australian Complacency
In his first Lunchbox/Soapbox, public intellectual Robert Manne speaks of his disappointment in observing the arrival of a cultural and especially political complacency in contemporary Australia.
Manne applauds the manner in which Australia’s shift to a non-discriminatory migration policy was “not really a contentious matter”, but argues that we are yet to come to terms with the racism inherent in the (White Australia) policy that preceded the era of multiculturalism.
Referring to a quarter century of cultural nationalism and quirky, exciting and unique popular artworks which came to a close around the time of the Sydney Olympic Games, Manne contends that the values which made this period creatively robust — namely a culture of self criticism and a sense of “hoping to reinvent the nation” — are, in the present, painfully absent.
Instead, he argues, the Howard epoch saw Australia taking membership in the “triumphalism” of the anglophone West. Militarised nationalism grew alongside the rise of a “right-wing commentariat” (in which he includes Bolt, Akerman and Albrechtson and others) who backed the common sense of ordinary people.
Manne laments our failure to act despite our knowledge that climate change exists; a challenge he describes as “in some ways the simplest public issue I’ve ever had to think about”, whilst also one of the most complex from a political and international relations perspective.
In fact, Manne believes that climate change will not be solved on an international level, but rather by individual nation states taking independent steps to ensure their own longevity, creating a “benign domino effect” of shaming the largest carbon producers into action.
In closing, he offers the following as a testament to the importance of the challenge at hand:
“For the rest of my life — and for the rest of my children’s lives — the issue will be whether humans have the capacity to act on climate change, it seems to me. I don’t think any other issue is even remotely as significant now.”
Robert Manne’s many books include Making Trouble and The Words That Made Australia (as co-editor). He is the author of three Quarterly Essays, In Denial, Sending Them Home and Bad News. He is a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow at La Trobe University.