The Megalogenis thesis

Last night I watched the third and final episode of Making Australia Great: Inside Our Longest Boom (ABC1, 7.30pm).

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George Megalogenis and Kevin Rudd (SMH)

As with the previous two episodes, I found the presentation interesting. Certainly the account of how we got through the Global Financial Crisis, illuminated by a choice set of talking heads, was a necessary corrective to the endlessly repeated propaganda about “Labor’s mess” that we now here from Tony Abbott and company.

But I am really not sure I buy George Megalogenis’s final thesis, summarised thus in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We have a brilliant story to tell ourselves and the world,” Megalogenis declares. “But we don’t tell it to ourselves.

“I really wanted to show people how to have a big conversation again.

“It would be a shame to blow our chances as a country because we’re afraid of success.”

And so he managed to persuade all the prime ministers since Whitlam – excluding the serving Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, judging it too soon to place either Abbott or Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in the big picture  – and many of the key economic figures, including former Reserve Bank governors, treasurers Peter Costello and Wayne Swan, former Treasury chief Ken Henry and even the former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, to tell their own stories from the times of bust and boom…

Australia, Megalogenis proposes, prospers when it opens itself to the world.

He delves back to the 1880s for evidence, when the gold and wool-rich Australia gave its citizens by far the best standard of living in the world, and had opened its doors to people from across the globe and the region. In Melbourne, Chinese were the third largest ethnic group after Britons and Irish.

Then came a backlash against Chinese arrivals, the embracing of a White Australia and an isolationism that sent the nation backwards, decade upon decade until, post-war, Australia began opening again, prompted by the cry of “populate or perish”…

The position Australia occupied compared with the rest of the world in the 1880s was indeed remarkable; it is good to have been reminded of that. But Megalogenis’s reading of what happened next seems to me a bit daring to say the least; it may well be confusing cause and effect. The moral drawn from that to the present thus fails quite to convince me.

But I confess I haven’t read The Australian Moment (2012) on which the TV series was based.

See also Remy Davison in The Conversation.

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