What's happening at the
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 06:44 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 06:44 | SYDNEY

That 'great national project' again

I see that I have raised some libertarian hackles at the Centre for Independent Studies.

This is perfectly understandable. When you lightly toss around phrases like 'great national project' to describe Australia's embrace of Asia you are bound to get sceptical glances from those committed to the idea of small government. I too am a dedicated supporter of limited government and open markets (convictions shaped in part by my youthful association with the CIS), so I should have known better than to use a phrase so redolent of socialism.

But I did not mean to suggest that the rise of Asia required 'a great nation-building response from Australia'. The examples I used to illustrate the kind of task Australia faces in aligning itself with the Asian Century — multiculturalism, Aboriginal reconciliation or the deregulation of the national economy — should have given that away.

Goodness knows each of these examples has been marked by the odd case of government over-reach, and I won't be the least surprised if the Gillard Government's response to Ken Henry's White Paper includes some folly or other, probably to promote Australia's image to the region. But none of the examples I cited are 'nation-building projects' in a conventional sense (think Darwin to Alice Springs railway).

They are more ambitious and a bit more ephemeral than that. What they have in common is that they are ongoing attempts to reshape the nation in some fundamental respect, not just economically or demographically but culturally and morally. And it seems difficult to deny that, in all three cases, governments have led the way.

Benjamin Herscovitch at CIS is right that, in many respects, Australian integration with Asia is already happening and has been for some decades. But what I suggested in my earlier post is that the global economic and strategic realignment toward Asia is so severe and so potentially disruptive for Australia that it requires an evolution of our national consciousness (or identity?) rather than just a realignment of our markets.

I'm not sure what this evolution should look like, or even if it is necessary. It may be that we can go along basically as we are, trading with the region but remaining culturally, politically and strategically quite separated. But the power shifts occurring in our region leave me with the nagging feeling that, if we don't make this shift on our own relatively favourable terms now, we may regret it.

Photo by Flickr user kitchener.lord.

You may also be interested in...