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Australia needs higher aspirations in order to unite, survive and thrive

Australians have never been more disconnected from the future direction of the nation across every metric, whether it is cost of living, educational outcomes, job opportunities or national security. Yet now more than ever, our collective and individual future requires a reversal of these fortunes.

Australians have never been more disconnected from the future direction of the nation across every metric, whether it is cost of living, educational outcomes, job opportunities or national security. Yet now more than ever, our collective and individual future requires a reversal of these fortunes.

As the nation prepares to celebrate our national day, we are seeing in real time the increasing polarisation, division, and disunity at the heart of contemporary Australia.

Whether you celebrate Australia Day and the ideals, values, and intent of our national day or view it as a commemoration of a historic invasion that is fundamentally no different to that of any that has occurred throughout history, it becomes clear that for the majority of Australians, there is no unifying vision for the future direction of our nation, our people, and our place in this increasingly volatile, dangerous, and divided world.


Starting a political fight in the comment section isn’t the point of this piece, so be warned.

The point of this piece is quite the opposite, in fact. It is equal parts a love letter to this nation from the son and grandson of migrants who came to this country and built a new life for themselves, and an impassioned plea for Australia and Australians to aspire to something greater than the complacent mediocrity we seem to be content with.

Acclaimed Australian author and journalist Donald Horne AO in his book, The Lucky Country, captures the feeling many find themselves grappling with in contemporary Australia: “Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.”

The culture that Horne speaks of has only become increasingly pervasive in Australian society since the release of the book in the mid-1960s, with both young and old Australians increasingly dejected and frustrated by the direction of the nation.

I haven’t been the only one to notice this. In fact, speaking to family and friends over Christmas, colleagues since returning to the office, and even just overhearing strangers while waiting in line for coffee has all served to reveal one thing: this feeling of frustration, coupled with a sense of abandonment by our leaders and pointless resistance against the rising tide of the modern world, is prevalent.

Many readers will remember a piece I did in late-2023 in which I quoted infamous television mobster Tony Soprano who opened the historic series with a rather poignant quote: “It’s good to be in something from the ground floor. And I came too late for that, I know. But lately, I’m getting the feeling that I came in at the end. The best is over.”

Indeed, The Australian Financial Review highlighted this very sentiment in a piece, titled, Australia can aspire to much greater things, with the introduction summarising all of these factors perfectly: “Aspiration, growth, security. These are the things that Australians want for their country. They aspire to get ahead in life, with the basics of well-paid jobs where bosses and workers share the benefits of co-operation, where they are not excessively penalised just for getting ahead, with safe neighbourhoods to live in, and children thriving in good schools.”

Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Well, apparently it is and if we don’t right the ship, the increasingly dangerous world will devour us slowly but surely while we continue to tread water as a nation.

A rising tide lifts all boats

At the core of most of the intergenerational report is the rapid decline of economic opportunity and indeed possibility in Australia, something many young Australians feel almost uniquely.

The inability to buy a home, let alone get what my dad would call a “good, steady” job in a labour market on fire, coupled with the rise of artificial intelligence, automation, and a WOEFUL lack of investment by the government, and more importantly, private sector further compounds these challenges.

Add on top a mounting and ever stifling tax burden faced by both employers and employees – is it any wonder that the latest Intergenerational Report and repeated independent reports have shown a shrinking lack of economic diversity?

Indeed, the Albanese government’s own intergenerational report summarised it best, stating, “Major forces will shape the economy in coming years, including population ageing; rising demand for care and support services; climate change and the net zero transformation; technology and digital adaptation; and geopolitical risk and fragmentation. These forces will change the structure of our economy and how Australians live, work and engage with the world.”

Yet rather than debating and creating innovative policy solutions that leverage the strengths of the nation, we have devolved into increasingly hostile name-calling and finger-pointing games, often spurred on by the media.

Something the Financial Review also articulated: “It is what a technologically advanced frontier continent blessed with natural resources, located at the foot of dynamic Asia, and built on European enlightenment foundations of enduring institutions and robust governance should aspire to. Australia should be a much bigger nation – in population, wealth, and influence. Yet it has not had a political narrative from either party for decades that harnesses aspiration, the drive to get ahead, that the great majority of Australians want.”

In contrast, Australia, like most of its Western counterparts, has devolved in the contemporary equivalent of Rome’s “bread and circuses” policies that so effectively won over the plebs urbana and given rise, in large part, to the state of political malaise and disaffected, disconnected public hanging out for the latest redistribution of their own tax dollars.

Adding further colour to this picture, the Financial Review stated, “The vacuum has been filled by short-term fixes, like the panicky handouts to households expected to be announced this week by a Labor government desperate to be seen doing something – anything – about the cost of living crisis consuming its re-election chances.

“Aspirational incentives-based politics has been replaced by stale culture wars and a political narrative that insists that governments are there to hand out money they have confiscated from others or borrowed from the future. Amid polarised tribal politics, the centre ground has weakened, undermining the political system’s capacity to represent the will of the majority,” the Financial Review further explained.

This has resulted in some ways in an Australian public and economy that have become conditioned to short term, “sugar hit” policy decisions, yet like a diabetic, the longer this has gone on, the more resistant the Australian economy and people have become, once again resulting in this political malaise, disconnection, and rising division.

In contrast, as the old saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.

If Australia is to survive, unify, and thrive in this era of renewed great power competition and multipolarity, we are going to require more ambitious, engaging, and inspirational policies for all ages. But what does that look like?

Hope, reward and opportunity

Yes, that it is the campaign slogan of one Australia’s most maligned prime ministers, Tony Abbott, but the core message, regardless of your personal politics, holds true.

Australia as a nation has long prided itself on being a beacon for hope, no matter what corner of the globe you come from.

We have rewarded those who have taken the initiative, embraced the risk, and worked hard with the opportunity to build a new life for themselves and their families. I am living proof of that. Yet today, we seem to have forgotten that, our policymakers especially.

In particular, our policymakers need to work with the Australian people to craft a set of goals that Australians can rally behind that will yield real outcomes for them and their families, which have seen steadily declining wages and rising cost of living for the better part of the last three decades at least.

This is something the Financial Review unpacked further, adding, “Letting this become the new normal would validate the low-aspiration, low-growth projections of last year’s official Intergenerational Report, where the 3.1 per cent real annual average GDP growth of the past 40 years shrinks to just 2.2 per cent for the next four decades. And even that compounded loss of opportunity and prosperity optimistically assumes that labour productivity recovers to the average 1.2 per cent growth of the last 20 years.”

In doing so, we need to avoid falling into the ever-present trap of “she’ll be right”, buoyed by the vast mineral wealth of our continent, something further highlighted by the Financial Review which added, “Yet what should be unacceptable simply extrapolates the flattening of per capita income since the peak of the China-induced resources boom more than a decade ago, and as productivity has slumped in absolute terms since the pandemic. Weak productivity may be a global phenomenon. But that is no excuse for the lucky country not to focus on where it is going wrong underneath another she’ll-be-right cyclical boom in the prices of high-carbon commodity export prices amplified by geopolitical conflict.”

I did pose a question at the end of the last section about what this could look like, so I did put some ideas together to serve as rallying objectives for all Australians to build around, for example:

  • Establish and maintain Australia’s position as a permanent member-state of the G7, G8, and G20 multilateral economic, political, and strategic organisations.
  • Establish Australia as the Indo-Pacific’s unrivalled democratic, economic, political, and strategic anchor nation by 2040.
  • Establish and maintain Australia’s position as a global top 5 ranked nation based on outcomes for public education (including vocational and trade training and tertiary education), healthcare and human development index by 2040.
  • Establish a sustainable rate of domestic economic and population growth – promoting unprecedented levels of sustainable individual and national wealth generation.
  • Level the playing field for young Australians – empower them financially to rebuild the “Great Australian Dream” to directly invest in Australia and build a home in Australia – if they have no ownership, they don’t value it.
  • A record-low cost of living – low cost of high-quality, sustainable housing, energy, food, education, and healthcare – empowering greater financial freedom, lifestyle choices, opportunities, and family growth.

Seems optimistic, but I think it is something that all generations of Australians can get behind with something for everyone, because ultimately, that is the point of ambition.

Final thoughts

Australians are going to be asked to accept a number of uncomfortable realities in coming years. First and foremost, we will have to accept that while the world is increasingly becoming “multipolar”, the Indo-Pacific, in particular, is rapidly becoming the most hotly contested region in the world.

Second, both the Australian public and our policymakers will have to accept that without a period of considered effort, investment and reform, or as I like to colloquially refer to it, our Rocky montage moment, current and future generations of Australians will be increasingly impoverished, living in a nation pushed around by the region’s now rising powers.

Recognising this array of challenges and opportunities, both the Australian public and its policymakers need to look beyond the myopic lens of short-termism that has traditionally dominated our diplomatic, strategic, and economic policy making since Federation.

Ultimately, we need to see Australia begin to play the long game to fully capitalise on the opportunities transforming the Indo-Pacific.

The most important questions now become, when will we see a more detailed analysis and response to the challenges and opportunities facing Australia and when will we see both a narrative and strategy that better helps industry and the Australian public understand the challenges faced and opportunities we have presented before us?

As events continue to unfold throughout the region and China continues to throw its economic, political, and strategic weight around, can Australia afford to remain a secondary power, or does it need to embrace a larger, more independent role in an era of increasing great power competition?

Finally, I would like to wish you all a very Happy Australia Day, for We are One and Free.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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