I don’t claim to have the answers to all our problems. And I recognise that Australia has a lot going for it: great climate; great natural resources; great people. Maybe our good fortune is the source of our complacency. We’re a bit like Middleton’s Rouseabout (see the poem by Henry Lawson here).
It’s hard to go to any public function in an Australian city these days without the MC intoning recognition of “…the traditional owners of the land we meet on. The people of the …Nation; their leaders past, present and emerging…”.
It is one-sided and self-indulgent. It does not recognise that our ancestors took the land from them, and caused them immense harm. And we don’t intend to give it back. Then we added to the harm by taking their children from them.
It is easy to overlook that Aboriginal settlement in Australia goes back about 65,000 years. Compare that with recent developments like ancient Egypt (about 4,000 years ago) and ancient Greece (about 3,000 years ago) and blow-ins like ancient Rome (a bit over 2,000 years ago).
Aboriginal people are about 2.8% of the Australian population. So how about this:
- A once-off tax of 2.8% of the capital value of the land we took. The proceeds would amount to billions of dollars. Use that money specifically to fund programmes designed – genuinely designed – to repair the damage we did to members of the oldest, longest-lasting civilization on earth.
The Arts struggle to get genuine, meaningful support from governments and big-Australia. Of course there are exceptions, but it is rare to see a head of government also holding the Arts portfolio. And most practising artists in Australia can’t make enough from their art to cover the cost of surviving, so they take a job as a teacher or as a waiter.
But in the long sweep of history, it’s artists who are remembered. Try this experiment:
Take a room of 50 or 60 people of fair intelligence and reasonable education. Give them a list of names from the past 6 centuries. They will recognise the names of painters, sculptors, composers and writers out of proportion to the number of practising artists from time to time. They will not recognise the names of lawyers, accountants, sporting heroes…They will recognise the names of a few politicians, but mainly the ones who were tyrants. By this experiment you will demonstrate the real, transcendent value of the Arts.
- So: when governments at any level (from local to Federal) put out a request for tender, they could include this question: “What does your company do to support the Arts?”. It’s a fair bet that a lot of companies would want to be able to give a good answer and might just start supporting the Arts creatively – and generously.
In 1974 the parliament passed the Trade Practices Act which, by section 52, decreed that a corporation should not “engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive”. It was new norm of conduct for companies in Australia. While it was resisted at first, it is, by now, a deeply ingrained idea of the way companies should behave.
But parliamentarians are not subject to similar restrictions. We accept without questioning that the norms of conduct, which parliamentarians set for commerce in 1974, do not apply to politicians.
Most people expect politicians to lie. Not many politicians have shown the capacity for dishonesty and hypocrisy which Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton have displayed in connection with people seeking asylum.
But should we expect better? I propose:
- Parliament should pass an Act which provides that “A politician, in his or her capacity as a politician, shall not engage in conduct which is misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive”.
Imagine how our politics would be transformed if politicians were expected to behave with the same honesty they demand of companies…