In 1964, Donald Horne published The Lucky Country, observing “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 … so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.” That luck derived not only from our British-originated institutions, but also abundant natural resources, ‘fair go’ ethic and fervent belief in freedom.
Things have certainly changed. While we remain blessed by natural beauty and resources, on other fronts Australia has been seriously challenged by developments which continue to erode our basic rights. We have witnessed, among other things, the promotion of ‘climate change’ as a new anti-human religion, the enshrinement of divisive racial politics, and the disruptive delusions of transgenderism endorsed by legislation. Australians these days suffer relentless attacks on free speech as we witness the inexorable decline of our education system. When a charlatan such as fauxborigine Bruce Pascoe is honoured with prizes and professorships, his ahistorical confections taught as gospel in schools, we plunge faster down the scree slope of an alternate reality’s toxic absurdity. The lies of such historical revisionism replace the teaching of real history, the wonders and the warts alike, and leave us all the poorer.
It is thus time to reassess Horne’s confident assertion, which we explore in The Unlucky Country our recent book. This change of fortune we lay at the feet of unwise, often opportunistic, decisions by Australia’s political, academic, corporate and sporting leaders and their institutions actively or passively destroying the values this country once held sacred. For this ordinary Australians also bear responsibility, having become a compliant population valuing a presumed safety while looking to the State for “protection”. The frequent targets of indoctrination, many are keen to believe governments’ narratives and the slick corporate marketers whose interests lie not in best serving the people and nation, but in advancing environmental, social, and corporate governance (“ESG”) mandates.
Yet politicians persist in the pretense of presenting Australia as a shining liberal democracy. One example: on June 9, 2021, then-prime minister Scott Morrison, before jetting off to the G7 Plus Meeting in Cornwall to endorse Net Zero in the vain hope such a betrayal would save his doomed government, addressed the USAsia Centre in Perth and repeatedly described Australia as a “liberal democracy”. Those two words rolled easily off his tongue despite the sad reality of federal and state governments, even local councils, surrendering to the illiberal demands of forces and movements presenting themselves as progressive when the reality is that they are anything but. Consider as but one example the “safe access zones” around abortion clinics which limit both freedom of movement and the peaceful expression of dissent. Were any such sanctions enforced when gay activists harassed and abused mourners at Cardinal George Pell’s funeral? One law to advance the cause of the favoured few, but ignored when its equal application doesn’t suit.
The social engineers who would remake the country impose and enforce anti-vilification laws but do so selectively. In only the past few days we have seen a slather of political leaders on both sides of the aisle demand prosecutions and stiff sentences for parading neo-Nazi clowns. Who among these political grandstanders has also demanded similar treatment for Islamic hate preachers and their equally intolerant congregations? The political castes’ silence speaks volumes. Government agencies have encouraged extreme leftist protests, supported the politicisation of sporting events, promoted cancel culture generally and condoned the teaching of critical race theory in schools. In light of these developments, Morrison’s assertion that Australia is a ‘liberal democracy’ can only be seen as vacuous and delusional.
Too often we have seen the right to religious freedom challenged by the right not to be discriminated against. In a true liberal society religious people should have the right to live according to their own ethos and belief. They should have freedom to create their own institutions without undue government interference. Most important, they should be able to transmit their religious and ethical values to their children.
Another challenge relates to political correctness, which is destroying our cultural heritage. This is one of the most disturbing developments of our time, and yet it is embraced and extolled by our political overlords and the so-called ‘progressive’ elites.
The uncontrolled growth of the welfare state is another challenge. Such growth is problematic because it must inevitably make recipients entirely dependent on the State. Yet more and more Australians look to the government as the solution to all their problems. As Adlai Stevenson, the failed Democratic presidential candidate, reminded us long ago, freedom can only exist in a society where it is entirely safe to be unpopular and citizens are free to think for themselves.
These challenges require Australians to embrace limited government based on the principle of separation of powers. Under the Westminster system, however, there is no rigid separation between the legislative and executive branches of government. This is because the members of the executive are chosen from those who have a seat in the House of Representatives. Not even judges are completely independent, being directly appointed by the government of the day.
Freedom of speech, thought, movement, religion and association are the pillars of any free society. They cannot be allowed to exist in name alone, but must be protected and strengthened, never suppressed or curtailed. No government should ever have the right to coerce, obstruct, or illegally interfere with the life, liberty, and property of citizens. We are aware that this is a noble aspiration while also anxiously aware that the opposite often occurs in Australia. It is precisely this illiberal development that is addressed and documented in our book.
If this country wants to regain its luck, Australians should be very much involved in the culture wars, questioning the Left’s prevailing nostrums and ever-expanding edicts. The liberal tradition encourages individual entrepreneurship and small business as drivers of the economy and personal responsibility. This form of liberalism also acknowledges the importance of traditional Western principles, values, and culture in the development and preservation of democratic societies composed of free and responsible individuals.
In this context, our book details the many transgressions on freedom of speech in Australian universities. As academics ourselves, we have noted with great despair the sort of pseudo-intellectualism that has made its way into Australia’s universities. Of course, the academic elite will vehemently deny there is any such problem on our campuses. Yet, suppression of speech is a real thing, and the silencing of minority opinion has been systematic in faculty recruitment and academic promotions.
Many migrants who formerly lived under totalitarian regimes eerily recognise the similarities with their home countries. These migrants surely lament the rejection by politicians, policymakers, and trendsetters of Australia’s proud tradition of individual freedom and entrepreneurship, now replaced with a “progressive” creed that considers matters of justice and rights solely in terms of favoured identity groups and privilege.
The transformation from Horne’s lucky country to the unlucky country of today has occurred over a relatively short period. We hope that our book raises awareness of the values of our liberal tradition that have been neglected, even despised, by the ruling classes and community at large, but that once made this country a great place to live and thrive. It is time to get back to the basics. It is time to rediscover the benefits of living in a free, prosperous, and tolerant society. We hope that our book contributes to the achievement of this noble goal.
Augusto Zimmermann is professor and head of law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education and served as associate dean at Murdoch University. He is also a former commissioner with the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia.
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.
Moens and Zimmermann are the authors of ‘The Unlucky Country’ (Locke Press, 2024). To order your copy, click at https://lockepress.com/product/the-unlucky-country/