The first volume of David Kemp’s history of Australian liberalism told the surprising story of how, between 1788 and 1860, a penal colony became an early liberal democracy. In the second volume, covering 1861 to 1901, the new national constitution federating the six colonies gave Australian democracy deep legal foundations.
While democracy was strengthened, by 1901 liberalism was weakened. Liberal political movements were divided between protectionist and free trade versions. Both were challenged by utopian socialist ideas and a militant union movement. The unions acquired direct political influence as Labour MPs won seats in parliament (Labor does not drop the ‘u’ until 1912). Kemp’s third volume, A Democratic Nation: Identity, Freedom and Equality in Australia 1901-1925, chronicles further liberal troubles in the first quarter century of federation.
David Kemp’s The Land of Dreams: How Australians Won Their Freedom, 1788–1860, his first volume of an Australian political history seen from a liberal perspective, told a surprisingly positive story. The British settlers who arrived in 1788 established a penal colony; an inauspicious start for a liberal society. But by the book’s conclusion in 1860 Australia had, for its European residents, transformed itself into a largely free society. The Australian colonies were also early experiments in democracy. Self-described liberals, drawing on intellectual debates in England and elsewhere, played key roles in this transition.
In 1901, when this second volume in Kemp’s five-part series finishes, the liberals had enjoyed a recent triumph. The newly federated Commonwealth of Australia, which began that year, gave Australian democracy deep legal foundations. It was a limited government, with the national parliament restricted to legislating on a specific list of topics. Free trade between the states was guaranteed. Private property could be taken by government only on ‘just terms’. A national established church was a legal impossibility.
But in many other respects things had gone badly wrong. The new Constitution prohibited tariffs and other restrictions on interstate commerce, but protectionism lived on at the national level. The new Constitution included a power for the conciliation and arbitration of industrial disputes, the basis of non-market wage setting. The flow of people into Australia was more restricted, with racist ideas central to migration policy. Sectarian disputes within Australian society, especially between Catholics and Protestants, were entrenched. Class divisions, although less sharp than in Britain, were a serious problem.
The Light that Failed’s first sentence says ‘the future was better yesterday’. And so it was. Thirty years ago there were high hopes for the future of liberal democracy, especially in Central Europe, which had just peacefully ended communist rule. But that is yesterday’s future, replaced now with Central European governments dismantling liberal democracy, authoritarian regimes in Russia and China causing trouble around the world, and many established liberal democracies suffering from serious political dysfunction.
In trying to explain what is going on, The Light that Failed: A Reckoning, reads to me more like a pre-20th century political classic than contemporary political analysis (one of its authors, Stephen Holmes, has previously written excellent books on the historyof liberalismand its critics; I have ordered the English-language books of his Bulgarian co-author Ivan Krastev). The Light that Failed has evidence and examples, but not the relentless facts and data of recent journalistic or academic accounts. Instead, its contribution is the categories it uses to understand events and its psychological insight.
The book’s central concept is imitation. Individuals and societies are always copying each other, but this process can be experienced in very different ways. In Central Europe, the first post-communist political leaders and many of their people wanted to imitate the West: democracy, individual freedom, a market economy. And a triumphalist West wanted its model to be imitated; including in countries where the political elites and many of their people were not asking for advice. Continue reading “History gone wrong: liberal democracy’s failure to flourish in Central Europe and Russia”→
While conservative elements of the Australian Right are strongly opposed to unauthorised refugee boat arrivals, there has been a quirky argument from its more libertarian elements that we should prefer them to migrants plucked out of refugee camps. Chris Berg made a version of this argument in 2009:
Aren’t people who are willing to risk their lives on boats propelled by motorbike engines to get to a society with social and economic freedom exactly the sort of people we want in Australia?
In other words, making it to Australia by boat is a kind of screening process, demonstrating some economic success at home to pay people smugglers, organisational skills, and willingness to take risks, all of which could be helpful attributes once they arrive. The people sitting passively in refugee camps may have shown some survival skills, but not much else.
Yesterday’s Essential Research poll asked about the fastest growing religion between 1996 and 2006. I would have guessed Buddhism, most people thought Islam, but Essential says the correct answer is Hinduism. Actually I think I am right – Hinduism grew more quickly than Buddhism in percentage terms, but Buddhism grew more in absolute terms.
Questions in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2009 show that Buddhists are the second most popular religious group in the country, after Christians. Consistent with comments on today’s thread, not many people have negative views of Hindu people, with the largest number having neither positive nor negative views. Predictably, Muslims are the least popular group.
As is often the case with soft opinion, polling methods rather than opinion shifts probably explain the difference. Essential does its surveys online, so people can see the ‘Don’t know’ option and easily choose it, while with telephone polls there is a stronger pressure to give an answer. When pressed, it seems people tend to go to negative on this issue.
In response to my claims that over-qualification is significant among graduates, Bob Birrell has said that the figures are distorted by the large number of over-qualified migrants. The numbers in this figure shows that this is a factor for migrants from non-English speaking countries. Continue reading “Over-qualification and migrants”→
Previous posts have suggested that though most people want strong border protection against refugees who arrive by boat, attitudes to refugees coming to Australia by official means are more positive.
A couple of surveys I am just catching up on confirm this finding. In an ANU Poll question assuming that Australia’s population was to grow via migration, respondents were asked about ‘humanitarian migrants, that is refugees’. About 60% of respondents in this context support more such migrants.
There has always been majority public opposition to refugee boat arrivals. But what should we do with them once they have arrived? A couple of pollsters today released surveys on the government’s plan to house refugees with kids in the community.
The SMH found 50% opposition and 47% support, much more evenly divided opinion than on arrivals as such.
Essential Research found 53% disapproval and 33% approval, with 13% don’t know. The difference seems to be that with the SMH/ACNielsen phone poll the ‘don’t know’ option is not offered but recorded if given, while with Essential’s online poll
‘don’t know’ is there as an option. Continue reading “What to do with refugees after they arrive?”→
Andrew Carr asks if I can compare the skills mismatch of international and local students. To re-cap, a study of former overseas student migrants in 2006 found that:
18 months after their arrival found the skills match for former overseas students at the following levels: accounting 35%, business/commerce 5%, education 31%, engineering 23%, IT 35%, law 50%, nursing 90%.
I can’t get a direct matching comparison but there are surveys relating to this issue.
The Graduate Destinations Survey (summary results are free), which surveys graduates about four months after completion, now has a question which asks about the link between the graduate’s qualification and their main paid job (it’s only asked of those in full-time work, so I will put in brackets the percentage still looking for full-time work). The answers combine those who answered either a ‘formal requirement’ or ‘important’: Continue reading “Skills matching for recent graduates”→