Australia Day is celebrated on January 26. Photo: iStock

Dear Australia, I wish I could say “Happy Australia Day,” but there are a few things about you which are really annoying me. Yes, you are beautiful and blessed with almost boundless natural resources and a fabulous climate. But that is not enough.

You remind me of a young member of a rich family who has inherited a vast fortune you don’t know how to manage, and so you are busily squandering it to the point that there will be nothing left.

Look at your natural resources. Sure, you are a commodity giant now, but what happens to all that wealth once it is dug out of the ground and exported?

Shareholders get dividends, miners get paid and governments get their royalties, but surely you are wasting a huge opportunity to build long-term wealth for your population.

I’m talking about a sovereign wealth fund, and it beggars belief that you don’t have one.

Look at countries like Norway, where the Oil Fund was created in 1990 and is now worth US$1 trillion. This is around $200,000 for every Norwegian citizen.

It’s not like the Norwegians are the only ones. Countries from Saudi Arabia to Singapore to East Timor realize that some long-term fund is in the national interest, but Australia continues to miss this opportunity.

Sure, there is the Australian government’s Future Fund, seeded with the sale of its stake in Telstra in the late 1990s and now worth around A$16 billion (US$13 billion), but that is simply to pay for the future pensions of public servants.

It worries me that you are being so shortsighted that you are not taking a clip of mining profits, or even rerouting existing royalties, to create a fund that can benefit the entire nation in the long term.

You export around A$130 billion in commodities every year, and even a small percentage of that routed into a wealth fund would build up to a significant figure pretty fast. It’s as if you think the good times will just go on forever.

Meanwhile, as commodity exports continue, you run down the quality of your universities and research organizations to the point that any serious scientific minds are forced to leave the country.

Educational institutions are forced into selling themselves and dumbing down because government funding has dried up. The result is a terrible brain drain, which is Australia’s other major export

You point out that your universities are now magnets for foreign students and their fees, but let’s be real about this: It’s at the expense of the quality of the education, and institutions are forced into selling themselves and dumbing down like this because government funding has dried up.

The result is a terrible brain drain, which is Australia’s other major export.

Another thing that annoys me is the way you lie to yourself about your history. You are marking Australia Day this Friday, January 26, “celebrating” the day on which the English First Fleet arrived in 1788, ships full of convicts expelled from their homeland to suit the colonial and imperial project.

In this collision of worlds, a near-genocide was unleashed on the indigenous Aboriginal population, and yet anyone who points this out is called unpatriotic and that worst of all tags: “un-Australian.”

When the English arrived they declared Australia empty and called it terra nullius, and it appears not much has changed.

One former Australian prime minister even claims that the English arrival was good for the indigenous population, a preposterous opinion you would expect of a drunken redneck in an Outback pub.

Also, you can’t work out whether you are a part of Asia or a bastion of Anglo-Saxon culture at the bottom of the world.

Your main trading relationship is with China, and yet your allegiance to the defense alliance with the US is putting that at risk.

It was great that the US came to Australia’s aid in World War II, but in every conflict ever since you have sent your forces in with the US, almost as a way of proving your gratitude.

But times have changed, and your foreign policy is several decades out of date. The Japanese are your friends now and will stay that way. The US is in retreat on the world stage.

It’s time to give the relationship with China the respect it deserves, and to acknowledge how geopolitics have changed.

And speaking of change, what’s with this “constitutional monarchy” thing with the British Royal Family? It is as if you are too scared to go it alone and be truly independent and become a republic. It’s just embarrassing.

So, while the political classes run terrified of change, Australia is changing fast, but the institutions are not evolving.

We Australians don’t have sharia law and there’s a movement to “ban the burqa,” but Catholic priests are allowed to hide behind canon law, and no one seems to get upset about that because that’s the way it’s always been.

It puts the lie to the idea that you are a multicultural society, but anyone who points that out is howled down for being “politically correct,” whatever that means.

But I think the main problem is that your leaders are just mediocrities who are too busy accumulating fat pensions to be serious about implementing any meaningful change.

Tens of thousands of young Australians will attend Australia Day concerts with the full intention of taking party drugs. Instead of being on hand with testing kits to make sure they are safe to take, the police will be there with drug dogs to make arrests

There is something about the Australian political class that is just so ineffectual, and has been for a long time. Society has moved so far past the politicians, and they are struggling to play catch-up to all the changes.

Gay marriage? It took them forever to make a decision and they had to outsource it to a costly plebiscite. And now that we have it, there’s a special committee to understand how it is impacting on religious freedom. You must be kidding me.

Renewable energy? Australia has enough wind, sunshine and tidal energy to be 100% powered by renewables, but instead the government is a prisoner of the coal lobby, and renewable energy is thus portrayed as a left-wing pipe dream. Try telling that to conservative figures like Angela Merkel and David Cameron.

Australia’s “war on drugs” has been a total failure, but there’s no serious talk about drug-law reform because of an assumption the electorate won’t like it, even though many people in the electorate are taking drugs quite safely and are functioning members of society.

Tens of thousands of young Australians will attend Australia Day concerts with the full intention of taking party drugs. Instead of being on hand with testing kits to make sure they are safe to take, the police will be there with drug dogs to make arrests.

Australia, it is 230 years since the First Fleet arrived in 1788. It’s time to be bold, imaginative, and embrace change before you drift, leaderless, into comfortable irrelevance. My worry is that you are so preoccupied with what to cook on the barbecue today that you don’t really care.

Happy Australia Day!

Lachlan Colquhoun

Lachlan Colquhoun has worked for some of the world's best-known mastheads in a four-decade career as a journalist.

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