My vision for Australia – a Fair Go for all

| May 4, 2015

Do we need constitutional change? Max Thomas says the existing arrangements that served us well in the past are not well suited to our position in the contemporary world.

Apart from the conceit, writing a short blog on a ‘Vision for Australia’ is like taking a long walk on a short pier; without due care it would be easy to end up in the drink.

If we think of great ‘bloggers’ of the past, they were remarkable for their economy with words. In 1953, Watson and Crick described the structure of DNA in fewer than 900 words. Their Nobel Prize-winning article changed our understanding of life itself.

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address consists of just 272 words beginning with: “Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” The impact of those few words needs no explanation except to say that Lincoln saw the relation between the past and the future. We in the present are the means by which those who went before communicate with the, as yet, unborn.

In his great speech, Martin Luther King said: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

The founders of our nation would have been keenly aware of the great tragedy of the American civil war which, at the time of our federation, would have still resonated strongly. The possibility of colonial armies facing each other across the Murray over trade, taxation, migration or some other dispute must have been an unthinkable nightmare. So our Australian constitution can be seen as a compromise, well suited to its time, which served us well if it averted the catastrophe of civil war.

We’ve just commemorated the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. Without recalling the great words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it was encouraging to at last hear acknowledgement of the facts so that those brave soldiers of both sides can truly rest together at peace.

Conflating those immortal principles, I can think of no better ideal to guide a vision for Australia than the “Fair Go”. I make sense of the awful sacrifice made by the men and women we have lost in war by reference to a wide definition of the Fair Go. I hope most people would agree those lives were not lost in vain and that at least some of the following are worth fighting for:  the rule of law; parliamentary democracy; the right to vote; the separation of powers; the presumption of innocence; trial by a jury of peers; free speech; the right to assemble and protest peacefully; and independent media. I think these things boil down to what we call a Fair Go. But we tend to take our hard-won liberty for granted. History shows that liberty is vastly more difficult to win back than it is to lose. I’m afraid we are too easily letting it slip away. Previous generations had the guts to get through without being ”spooked” into giving up the very things they struggled to protect.

To an extent it is implied in our constitution, but why should a Fair Go be inferred and interpreted by judges and not be explicit? One High Court view has been that freedom of expression is implied by the freedom of political communication in the Constitution, basing their decision on the representative nature of our democracy. However, certain decisions have rendered implied freedom of expression, to put it ambiguously, clearly uncertain.

Constitutional change in Australia is a formidable task but it is clear that the existing arrangements that served us well in the past are clumsy, expensive and not well suited to our position in the contemporary world. The founders wisely ensured that change would require careful thought and advocates would need to work very hard at convincing the majority.

One group of citizens calling themselves “Beyond Federation” have set out to ‘have a go’ at initiating constitutional change. They have produced a book setting out the issues much better than I could do here. I found the following quote:

“Beyond Federation is not a blueprint for a particular other constitutional model. Instead, it could be described as a multifaceted examination of Australia’s structural and governance problems together with options to create a new democratic constitution and political system. The prime objective here is to stimulate public debate on alternatives.”

Many would properly argue that a vision for Australia must embrace equality and justice for all, including indigenous people, children and refugees. A new or amended constitution would also include defence, industry, trade and commerce; transport, taxation, employment and the environment; education, health and aged care; housing, responsible citizenship and welfare etc.

The cost generated by interstate rivalry, self-serving political parties and other vested interests is becoming prohibitive. The current political paradigm in Australia is bound to a narrow, formulaic and managerial version of economics. A technocratic vision for Australia might look like this: μ([0,1])>∑x∈[0,1]μ({x}). But I think we’ll readily agree it would be far better to say that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ or at least it could be so.

We punch well above our weight in sport and science but more of Australia’s great potential remains to be liberated from its historic inhibition. A Fair Go, as we know it and as defined above, could be the guiding principle for progress generally. When a Fair Go is enshrined in the constitution by the people, Australia can achieve almost anything we might envisage.

Max Thomas
Max Thomas, Dip. Agric. (retired) worked in the public sector and in private consulting on a range of land, water and waste management projects. He prepared guidelines for irrigation with recycled water for EPA Victoria and developed a number of Environmental Management Systems in the water industry.

0 Comments

  1. vrahul1984

    November 4, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    thanks !

    Thanks for the sharing your views! I do agree with you & we should take the appropriate steps to make the things placed right. Regards

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