Much as we might to think that our concerns are highly insular, they’re not. “Sustainable Australia” has dominated what consideration there has been of foreign policy in this campaign, and the rest of the world has otherwise loomed on our horizon only insofar as there has been a bit of a stoush over the precise reasons why we escaped the most deleterious effects of the Global Financial Crisis.
But, in fact, if you think about it, what both these debates are doing is positioning Australia literally as an insular nation, one that seeks to insulate itself from its global environment; the latter being perceived as a source of fear and uncertainty.
Similarly, we’re doing our level best as a nation to pretend that climate change is something that can be somehow contained by very modest efforts towards emissions reduction – it’s as if we are solely in control of our own destiny, and it’s as if the global negotiations on climate change have disappeared down a rabbit hole.
All this might be one reason why John Quiggin, writing on this occasion for the largely American and British audience of the prominent academic group blog Crooked Timber, headlines his post – “Small election in Australia, not many interested”.
So how does our Antipodean effort to bury our heads in the sand look from afar?
John McTernan, a former advisor to Tony Blair and a thinker-in-residence for the Victorian Government, wrote a fascinating piece for the Financial Times [registration required]. “The west can see its future on planet Australia”, argues McTernan.
From his vantage point, although it’s not articulated clearly by any of the parties, the election campaign reveals an enormous amount of anxiety about climate change, living standards, and our place in the global economy, much of it displaced onto other themes and issues.
In the case of climate change, I’d add that we’ve moved – as a nation – from arguing over the science to a more profound form of denial. We’ve resolved, it would seem, not to even think about it. Climate change is not just the elephant in the room, that elephant is such an ominous beast, it would seem, that we feel the need to avert our eyes completely.
Whoever wins on Saturday, these issues at first seem very Australian pre-occupations. But they represent a toxic and introspective political mix. The desire to enjoy growth while defending our lifestyles against outsiders, accepting climate change intellectually while rejecting its implications for our behaviour, and a nagging concern about the rise of China – all are issues which will quickly move up the agenda in Europe and North America. Eventually what’s going on down under could turn our world upside down too.
We’ve had a campaign dominated by the dichotomy of fear and security.
But, on August 22, when we awake hungover from this self indulgent debate about the small, we’ll find that nothing has been resolved, and none of our problems have been solved.
We simply cannot insulate ourselves from a multitude of global forces, and we need to let go of the fantasy that we can control them, or wish them away. Only by doing that will we be able to successfully navigate the troubled seas of a disturbing world.
Sadly, and perhaps tragically, there’s no sign on the horizon of any leader who genuinely desires to take this necessary path.
Cross-posted at The Drumroll.