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The plight of the Right

John Edwards comments in Inside Story (5.12.16) that ‘reality fails to align with theory in a new conservative analysis of what makes Australia exceptional.’

His review continues: ‘In July 2014 a group of right-leaning academics and columnists from theAustralian gathered at the Fremantle campus of the University of Notre Dame to examine Australia’s “bent to collectivism.” Sponsored by a libertarian foundation run by Western Australian mining industry executive Ron Manners, a political ally of Gina Rinehart’s, and by the campus’s market-oriented Freedom to Choose program, the conference was to focus on Australian political peculiarities. Wide in scope, high in ambition, it would look at labour regulation, state enterprise and “façade federalism.” The result, two years later, is Only in Australia: The History, Politics and Economics of Australian Exceptionalism, a collection of essays edited by ANU economist William Coleman.

‘For contemporary Australian politics, and for thinking about Australia’s place in the world, an inquiry into Australian exceptionalism is timely and pertinent. Political rebellions in Britain and the United States have raised questions about the inevitability of growing trade, migration and globalisation. Growth in the major advanced economies has slowed. Is Australia, gliding tranquilly into its twenty-sixth year of uninterrupted economic expansion, merely behind the trend? Is it possible that this country’s exceptionalism is an “indulgence of simplicity and fancy, made possible only by lenient economic circumstances,” as Coleman darkly asks, and that the “hour of severe depression” is “nigh”? Or is there something about Australia’s exceptions that contributes to its unusual success and might shield it from the rebellions evident in otherwise similar economies?

‘… In coming decades Australia has an immense demographic advantage that can underpin stronger growth in living standards than is likely in most other advanced economies. Realising this advantages depend on a continuing large immigration program, which in turn depends on sustaining political consent through a reasonably fair spread of prosperity. In Australia today, there is plenty of distress, of rural annoyance with Chinese investment and widespread objection to rorting 457 visas, but no rebellion against the openness to trade and migration which has supported Australian development for well over 200 years. That is another aspect of the plight of the Right: what we have retained of Australian exceptionalism works.’

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