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Australia has much to celebrate - and to fear

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An acquaintance was walking his dog along the promenade at Sydney's Manly beach one beautiful morning recently. He describes the golden sun sparkling on the waves, the mild breeze, the grace of the surfers, the people strolling and jogging, enjoying the early calm under the soaring Norfolk pines. He happened to pass one of the many park benches overlooking the ocean, where three older blokes sat contemplating the scene, pudgy hands clasped across substantial bellies. "Yeah," he overheard one of the sitters confirm to his companions, "this country's f---ed."

Australia is one of the most successful and attractive countries on earth. It also has a fair bit to worry about. A British magazine, The Economist, published a cover in October featuring a bounding kangaroo leaping into a clear, blue sky under the heading: "What the world can learn from Australia: It is perhaps the most successful rich economy."

Illustration: John ShakespeareCredit:

In the same month, the eminent policy thinker Ross Garnaut, former economic adviser to Bob Hawke, gave a speech to the Melbourne Institute where he began by dissenting from the theme he'd been invited to address, "Politicians delivering change." Garnaut's opening line: "I am not comfortable with the title of our session today. Australia is in trouble."

Could they be talking about the same country? Like the people in the scene on the beachfront promenade, they seem to be inhabiting parallel universe. Which is giving a true picture? The Western world broadly speaking, after the shock of the financial crisis of 2008, lost itself in self-loathing, inflicting self-harm, heedless of the cost. The polite name for this derangement is populism. A phenomenon with many definitions, the one I prefer is that populism is a belief in unworkably simplistic solutions to complex problems.

The UK is consumed in the project of making Little Britain even littler, otherwise known as Brexit. The US is so lost that its national leaders threaten each other with a "government shutdown", as we saw in this week's televised Oval Office standoff. Each side holding a gun to the head of a hostage nation. Once unheard of, this has become normal in Washington, government that agrees to fund itself for just a few months at a time, contingent on outlandish political demands.

Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:

In the major powers of Europe, the political parties that dominated the postwar era are collapsing as voters move to the fringes in a frustrated search for elusive solutions.........

© Brisbane Times