Australia Under Construction

Australia Under Construction: Nation-building past, present and future

Edited by John Butcher
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
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  • Book Info
    Australia Under Construction
    Book Description:

    The Australian nation is a work in progress. So conclude the authors whose views are represented in this most recent offering in the ANZSOG monograph series, Australia Under Construction: Nation-building past, present and future. From its beginnings as a settler society through to present day concerns about 'broadbanding the nation', the nation-building narrative has resonated with Australians. The very idea of nation-building has both excited the popular imagination about what we might achieve as a society and a nation, and has occasioned despair about missed opportunities. The eleven authors contributing to this monograph reflect on these, and other themes from a variety of perspectives. They challenge our understanding of the term 'nation-building', reflect on its contemporary relevance as a framework for public policy and even re-appraise the contribution of past 'iconic' nation-building endeavours. To this subject the authors bring intelligence, wit and a healthy disdain for sacred cows. A stimulating read for anyone interested in the history, challenges and prospects of nation-building in Australia.

    eISBN: 978-1-921313-78-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    John Butcher
  5. 1. Nation-building in Australia: a discourse, iconic project or tradition of resonance?
    (pp. 1-6)
    John Wanna

    Canada’s national cultural museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilisation, located on the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec, looking back over the capital Ottawa, is a national tribute to the history of Canada — or at least to the way modern Canadians would like their past to be remembered. It is perhaps one of the most ‘politically correct’ places in the world — with no hint of oppression of First Nation peoples, and nothing but cordial relations between the Anglo and French settlers. The curators can afford to upset no one. It is myth founded on myth. Two main themes stand out in...

  6. 2. The unfinished business of nation-building
    (pp. 7-16)
    John Butcher

    In the months leading to the 2007 Australian general election, ‘nation-building’ re-entered the national political debate in spectacular fashion. The major political parties vied with one another to prove their nation-building credentials. The then Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, former Opposition Leader, Kim Beasley, then Prime Minister John Howard and then Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, Mark Vaile — among others — invoked the term at various times during the federal election campaign. Even State Premiers like the former Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, weighed in on the nation-building angle. In so doing, each evoked a paradigm of nation-building...

  7. 3. In the wake of economic reform … new prospects for nation-building?
    (pp. 17-32)
    Michael Pusey

    I am best known for a book sub-titled ‘A Nation-building State Changes its Mind’ in which I argued that the state apparatus had given up on the nation and decided to build the economy instead.¹ In the wake of a quarter century of root and branch neo-liberal economic re-engineering of a whole society it is useful to now reflect on the prospects for a renewal of nation-building.

    A few comments at the outset will save time. We Australians do have a somewhat unique charter myth. Australia is a Benthamite society with a very secular, unromantic and down-to-earth utilitarian idea of...

  8. 4. The challenge of teaching Australian history
    (pp. 33-48)
    Anna Clark

    On the eve of Australia Day in 2006, then Prime Minister John Howard spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra with a ‘state of the nation’ style address celebrating Australia’s democracy, economy and national identity — the ‘Australian Achievement’, in his words. The speech was also a call to protect that achievement: more than ever, Howard maintained, Australia required greater national cohesion and identification.

    One of the keys to that cohesion would come from a more consistent national history education. Howard lamented the state of historical knowledge and national connection among Australian schoolchildren. Australian history had become lost in a...

  9. 5. A passion for white elephants: some lessons from Australia’s experience of nation building
    (pp. 49-56)
    Richard Evans

    In the dark days that followed the tragic and unnecessary death of Humpty Dumpty, a crisis meeting was held at the Royal Palace. Surrounded by his most senior counsellors, the King thumped the desk in exasperation. ‘What this shows,’ he thundered, ‘is that I need more horses and more men!’ This joke hinges on a remarkable aspect of human nature. We are smart creatures, and a vital aspect of human intelligence is the ability to learn from experience. But we also fail to learn from experience: as individuals, as communities, and as nations.

    Perhaps the bleakest example of the human...

  10. 6. Populate, parch and panic: two centuries of dreaming about nation-building in inland Australia
    (pp. 57-70)
    Robert Wooding

    This chapter represents one facet of a more extensive research project on the historical development and future prospects of the Australian inland, especially the area that lies between the Great Dividing Range and the deserts of Central Australia. The question I will attempt to answer here is that of why a grandiose ‘nation-building’ solution to the perceived problems of the inland has retained a significant presence in public debate for more than seven decades, even though it has repeatedly and convincingly proved to be impractical and financially unviable.

    My broader research project focuses principally on perceptions and understandings of the...

  11. 7. Australia’s fiscal straitjacket
    (pp. 71-82)
    Fred Argy

    As John Butcher reminds us in Chapter 2, nation-building is about: (a) taming (or should we say working constructively with) nature; (b) building economic infrastructure (such as roads and railways) to remove physical bottlenecks to economic growth; and (c) investing in human capital such as public health, education, housing, employment programs, among others, in order to minimise the risk of skills bottlenecks and, more importantly, to ensure a fair society with genuine equality of opportunity).

    If a government is interested in nation-building, the last thing it should be doing is tying itself up in a fiscal straitjacket. Yet this is...

  12. 8. The ‘Building Better Cities’ program 1991-96: a nation-building initiative of the Commonwealth Government
    (pp. 83-118)
    Lyndsay Neilson

    The ‘Building Better Cities’ program (BBC) was a major initiative of the Hawke Labor Government. It was initiated by the Honourable Brian Howe MP, first in his role as Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services then later as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Housing and Regional Development.

    It was the first Commonwealth engagement in urban Australia since the Whitlam Government in the 1970s, with Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Tom Uren, led a major shake-up of thinking about managing Australia’s cities and towns.

    The shock of the 1970s initiatives and the acrimony they created with the States...

  13. 9. Stumbling towards nation-building: impediments to progress
    (pp. 119-126)
    Anthony F. Shepherd

    On the fiftieth anniversary of the Snowy in 1999, at a forum not too far from here, I called for unwavering political support for desperately needed major infrastructure projects. I said at that time:

    In the last 50 years, it is difficult to think of a major development which has successfully harnessed not just the support of the Australian people but an overwhelming sense of their pride and goodwill … Development has become an unpopular word; a necessary, if somewhat unfortunate incident of everyday life. A bit boring, a bit inconvenient and definitely bad if it happens anywhere near where...

  14. 10. Broadbanding the nation: lessons from Canada or shortcomings in Australian federalism?
    (pp. 127-146)
    Michael de Percy

    This chapter reflects on the implications for nation-building of Australia’s centrally-controlled federal broadband policy, and its long history of government-controlled, one-size-fits-all infrastructure solutions. Drawing on early qualitative findings from a series of interviews with telecommunications industry elites conducted in Canada and Australia during 2006 and 2007, this chapter posits that Australia’s nation-building future rests on a reinvigoration of federalism to enable local and regional communications solutions to address local and regional communications problems. The reasons for this are twofold. First, research on the social uses of broadband technologies indicates that improving the infrastructure is not, as some would believe, about...

  15. 11. Re-imagining the Australian state: political structures and policy strategies
    (pp. 147-172)
    Ian Marsh

    Building a nation requires the establishment of civil and legal institutions as well as a political culture within which some sort of collective vision of national destiny might be forged. These are the essential prerequisites for nation-building as they provide both the forum and the instruments for the articulation of public policy and the pursuit of policy goals through implementation. In this chapter, I examine those features of Australia’s political culture and institutions that diminish deliberative processes and thereby compromise the capacity of the Australian polity to collectively determine any future nation-building agenda. Australia’s present political system was formed in...