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Cheer up, Australia, we're not Britain or France or the US or ...

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18.01.2019

After another year of high drama in Australian politics, there are massive anxieties about the state of the nation. Those looking for sound public policy have been left sorely disappointed. Politicians seem incapable of making a positive argument for anything. We decry the revolving door to the prime minister’s office.

It is difficult to overestimate the public’s declining respect for our institutions. The banking royal commission badly damaged trust in the corporate sector. Add to this the poor form of the Wallabies and the Australian cricket team, and it’s perhaps no surprise the public is enveloped in a dank pessimism.

Illustration: Jim PavlidisCredit:

All these concerns are understandable and we are right to focus on our problems.
However, if Australians enter the election year in a fit of self-doubt, we should at least recognise we are experiencing far less instability and turmoil than most Western nations.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates the crisis of confidence abroad more than this week’s Brexit debate. A sample of quotes from leading British commentators following the parliamentary vote against Theresa May’s withdrawal plan highlights the sense of angst gripping Westminster: “the gravest political crisis of our lifetimes” (Peter Oborne), “dark, uncertain and dangerous waters” (Dominic Sandbrook), “a disgraceful shambles” (Allison Pearson), “a country lost and adrift” (Jonathan Freedland), and so on.

Things are nearly as bad in Washington. Donald Trump is able to say and do the most appalling things and yet still command significant support in middle America. Democrats are more interested in damaging — perhaps impeaching — their nemesis than in checking Trump’s un-presidential habits.

The Washington-Westminster kind of polarisation and partisanship that has culminated in the now record-breaking government shutdown and Brexit paralysis is not evident in Canberra. Nor does the right-wing xenophobia that is becoming more powerful across Europe resonate in Australia.

An anti-Brexit demonstrator cries outside Parliament in London this week.Credit:AP

According to The New York Times: “The Czech President has called Muslim immigrants criminals. The head of Poland’s........

© Brisbane Times