Changes

We have a new government. I use the term “new” advisedly. I hope it will be filled with zeal and ready to kick the place back into shape.
I should be relieved but I am strangely furious.
John Howard was shown the door by the electorate in no uncertain fashion, and I spent some hours on election night hanging out waiting to see him concede defeat on the TV.
But I’m not entirely sure that he did.
He agreed that the election had been won by the Opposition, but he didn’t concede anything much.
And I woke up the next morning in a fury, because one of his major claims in the concession speech was that his legacy was an Australia that is “prouder”.
I have rarely been ashamed of my country until the last few years, and I know many others who feel the same. I’ve been living overseas and been called to account many times for “my” country’s attitude to refugees, its own indigenous peoples, Kyoto, and the war in Iraq. (And the rugby scores, but that’s another matter.)
I know exactly what Howard means because his version of national pride is completely transparent and God knows we’ve been beaten around the collective head with it often enough. Howard’s pride has to do with installing flagpoles in every school and keeping out anyone different and narrowing the study of history so that it only tells the “good bits”.
But pride is not about flagpoles or packaging history.
Nor is history about pride – it’s much more interesting than that, and much more important. History has light and shade, shame, regret, humour, anger and innovation.
Only a simplistic nationalist pride is less complicated than history – and that, as we know, can have disastrous consequences.
Howard makes much of Anzac Day and the Gallipoli spirit – that’s a central motif in his version of pride.
Well, I’ve stood on the beach at Gallipoli, and pride had nothing to do with it. What I felt was horror, humility, sorrow, awe and anger. I felt loss. I felt the savage edge of hypocrisy and stupidity, and I felt that nationalism had an awful lot to answer for.
Australia after eleven years of Howard’s “history” is not prouder: it’s going to take an awful lot to overcome the shame, and the scorn of much of the rest of the world, and to return to the country a decent ethical framework, a deep sense of justice and, above all, vision.
I hope the new government is up to it.
Good luck.

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