A Few Thoughts: Australia Day

On Australia Day, our national day of celebration, it is important to take time to reflect on just what makes Australia the great country it is. By most metrics, particularly socio economic ones, Australia is among the leading countries in the world. Australians enjoy one of the highest average life expectancies, averaging a life expectancy of over 82 years. In terms of average GDP, Australia also stacks up well in comparison to the rest of the world, at a figure of approximately $43,000 per person. From this standpoint, Australians enjoy a standard of living which is among the best in the world. Unlike Europe and to a lesser extent the United States, Australia has for the most part a positive economic outlook going forward, despite challenges such as the transition away from the mining boom.

Australian society enjoys a level of stability and cohesion which is the envy of virtually every other nation on the planet. An individual in Australia has the opportunity and freedom to live however they wish to do so. Our egalitarian national character emphasises equality among people, regardless of status or economic standing. Thanks to this egalitarianism, Australia is less vulnerable to the radical class divides of nations such as the United States or the United Kingdom. The stability of Australian society is no more evident than when Australia’s political system and institutions are compared to many European nations or America. Our constitutional monarchy, for example, ensures that our political system does not concentrate power in the hands of an individual leader in the manner of the American republican system or other equivalent systems throughout Europe. Extreme far-left and far-right parties have virtually no representation in the Australian parliamentary system, unlike in many democracies throughout Europe, where these elements are becoming more and more influential, often to the detriment of their overall politics.

To be sure, there are challenges which Australian society still needs to contend with. For example, racial relations within Australian society, though improving all the time, can still improve further. Stan Grant, reporter for Sky News and Guardian Australia columnist, eloquently pointed out these issues recently during a debate at the Ethics Centre. Debates such as these are of course necessary and important. However, in my opinion, Australia Day should be, primarily, a day of celebration, of acknowledging all that is great about Australia. Calls to rename Australia Day to ‘Invasion Day’, for example, as a means of acknowledging the nation’s troubled past in relation to its indigenous population, while well-intentioned, are misguided and ultimately counter-productive and divisive. Rather than creating a sense of cohesion and community toward solving the genuine issues of the present, initiatives such as these would do little apart from create a fixation on the past. Acknowledging history is of course important. However, concrete actions in the present by government and civil society to address issues such as the gaps in Indigenous life expectancy and education are more useful in the long run than symbolic actions such as changing the name of Australia Day to Invasion Day.

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