When Sir Tim Rice penned “A whole new world” for Disney’s Aladdin back in 1992, the world was indee a very different place. A Clinton, Bill, was running for the White House. The Middle East, devastated by war, remained on knife edge, with a murderous dictator, Saddam, allowed to stay in power when Bush the Elder called off the drive to Baghdad. In Finland, an exciting new (2G) mobile telephone network had just been installed. In Australia, almost everyone was humming along to “Weather with you” by Crowded House.
Twenty-five years later, Rice’s magic lamp may finally be starting to shine. Castro is dead. Britain is leaving Europe, or at least getting ready to unhitch her moorings. The US has a new leader unlikely to bow to the King of Saudi Arabia, as Obama infamously did. And some of the political millstone-round-the-neck issues of the last two decades — infantile political correctness in the media, intent to destroy the enormous benefits of the global industrial economy in a vain attempt to reverse non-existent global warming, and obeisance to primitive cultures in place of civilization — look set to be rejected at last.
As Julie Andrews sang in Oscar and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, “somewhere in (our) wicked miserable past, (we) must have had a moment of truth”. A majority of the US Electoral College is poise to confirm Donald Trump, a dis-inhibited braggart and billionaire, age 70, as the popular choice of voters in the states that matter as the more likely of the two contenders likely to propel America back to greatness. When America gets over a cold, the rest of the world recovers from influenza, malaria, dysentery and the Zika virus combined.
Post-communist Russia is now led by an ex-KGB agent — plus ca change! — while China’s still-Communist leader is married to a baby boomer pop star. Britain’s leader, for the third time since Boadicea, is “a bloody difficult woman”, as veteran Tory Ken Clarke was heard to opine when he thought the microphone had been turned off. And Japan, of recent years one of the most peaceful countries, is led by the grandson of a member of General Tojo’s WW2 cabinet.
We are told the 21st century belongs to the “agile and innovative” citizens of Asia upon whose coat-tails we hang in the quarry Down Under, otherwise known as Australia. If China ever stops buying our iron, coal, wheat, beef, lamb, wool, wine and milk it will be time to call the national taxidermist. Our former heavy manufacturing centres in Victoria and South Australia are already stuffed, so no hope of alternate sustenance there.
At home, the safer/surfer/sofa generation seems to have emerged as a new and sullen demographic band, faced with the twin evils of boring work, often unproductive, and the rising cost of living (especially of housing). But the now-realised decline in home ownership has been a long time coming.
When Gough Whitlam’s teetering government amended the Conciliation and Arbitration Act way back in 1974, its purpose was to ensure that women — especially married women — could gain and retain employment that paid as well as men. This is still officially a work in progress, with a 23% gender pay gap persisting. Much of the remaining difference is due to women taking 90% of the jobs in childcare, teaching and nursing. Yet these professions provide the care that enables other mothers of young children (and daughters of elderly parents) to work in more highly-paying jobs. Unless men are suddenly accepted in child/elderly care jobs in large numbers, the continuing gender pay gap is unlikely to narrow.
A long-term consequence of large numbers of married women being in the workforce was that house prices would effectively double, as two incomes, rather than one, became available to pay the mortgage and competition for properties inevitably increased. I don’t recall Whitlam outlining this downside of gender equality at the time.
We may not want to turn back the clock (even if we could), but we should at least recognise why it is ticking so loudly. The hands are at five minutes to midnight (if you swing Left) or a quarter past three (on the Right). The only sensible way forward for Australia is to develop new cities, new towns, and new industries to power them. We should look and learn from the industrial wastelands across many of the northern US states and much of Europe. We might also ponder the mining heydays of ghost towns such as Hill End, Mt Morgan and Coolgardie because the same future awaits much larger urban centres if we are not careful. Geelong, Wollongong, Newcastle, Gladstone and many others spring immediately to mind.
We must seek an Australia where enterprise, groundbreaking developments and employing others are what we do freely — rather than that from which we resile due to lack of funding, red tape, activist protesters and hand-tying industrial legislation.
A whole new world and available for the taking, just with many of the same and familiar manifestations of the human tendency to make the worst of a promising situation.