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Essays for Australia: A Book Review

Picture of Nathan Cuthbertson

Nathan Cuthbertson

Research Analyst & 2021 Mannkal Scholar

What is the Australian way of life? Can you boil the ideas, customs and social behaviour of 25 million different inhabitants of a vast and geographically diverse country down to one culture? The Institute of Public Affairs’ (IPA) latest program, The Centre for the Australian Way of Life (CAWL) has debuted a new publication, Essays for Australia, to shape the discussion around changes in modern Australian culture. The anthology covers various topics relevant to the national debate including the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Australian culture and political discussions. In this review I will briefly discuss a few of the most prominent essays.

The first essay in the collection, “What’s Happening to Australia?” by the director of CAWL Daniel Wild, is perhaps the most contentious of the entire publication. Written from a strong socially conservative standpoint, Wild glorifies the Australian past. His views towards marriage enforced by social pressure appear to be in conflict with his claims of freedom and individual dignity. Wild’s divisive othering of two classes he dubs “anywheres” and “somewheres” is questionable. Wild appears to make the case that the “anywheres” who value self-autonomy and are free moving are to be frowned upon, which is in conflict with his own stated values. If freedom and individual responsibility are part of the Australian way of life would not the “anywheres” be the “true” Australians? But Wild curiously makes the case that the “somewheres”, who value security over freedom, and identify in groups rather than as individuals, are the true patriots. Finally, Wild claims that our culture is “degenerating”. To that I respond that change is not degeneration. Western Civilisation has been so successful not because it is inert, but because it is flexible. It changes with the economy, technology and the world around us. Just because men don’t work in a Holden factory to provide for their wife and three kids doesn’t mean we are worse off. We have changed for the better.

“Refounding Democracy” by Lorraine Finlay provides an excellent discourse into the growth of bureaucracy in Australia. Finlay outlines the destruction caused to ordinary lives through the unquantifiable amount of legislation that governs our everyday actions. Quoting Kerry Packer (“Since I was a boy there must be 10,000 new laws passed but I don’t think Australia is that much a better place. Every time you pass a new law, you take someone’s privileges away from him”) Finlay argues that the growth of the size of the government has not reasonably provided any additional benefit to society but instead has deprived us of our liberty by its expansion. Furthermore, Finlay states that the increase in our reliance on government “experts” has diminished our democracy. By allowing unelected officials to call the shots, we are all worse off. Finlay’s essay finishes off with a call to action, being that each Australian must work to take back our liberty from the ever-expanding government.

Tony Abbott’s essay “Maintaining our Perspective” is succinct and outlines the government’s response, both in the health and economics realms, to the COVID-19 pandemic. Abbott claims that both continual lockdowns and the use of expert “health advice” as a form of legitimising government health orders have been monumentally destructive. He makes the point that we as a nation have lost our way, citing the Queensland and Western Australian state elections as examples of the popularity of the absurd response. However, quite unlike Wild, Abbott concludes with a surprisingly optimistic outlook for the future of the Australian way of life stating that our “best years are still ahead”.

Essays for Australia, presents a range of views on some of the most pressing and important issues facing our nation. The content has been curated to evoke outrage at the changes in society from a clearly more conservative base. It is well worth a read purely for the attempts to explain how we have allowed encroachments on our liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although I do not necessarily agree with all the messages, Essays for Australia is thought-provoking reading from some of the country’s brightest minds.

Essays for Australia is a publication of The Centre for the Australian Way of Life at the Institute of Public Affairs and is available here.

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