Fair go: a national character we can be proud of
Notwithstanding the political sensitivities around the day, January 26 should be a time to consider where we’ve come from, what we’ve been through and who we are today.
So what have we got?
You’ll hear about larrikinism, but no one is 100 per cent sure what it means. And just like mateship, let’s face it: it’s a little blokey.
We consider ourselves laid-back but, as I noted in my last article, no nation in the OECD works longer hours. Australians have fought with amazing bravery in war and endured national hardship stoically. But we are not alone there either.
Of course no single characteristic is going to set us apart uniquely from the rest of the world. Yet if we’re going to claim a value that defines us as a nation, I want to nominate egalitarianism.
Or, to embrace a worthy cliché (this is an Australia Day piece after all), the “fair go”.
Of course many other nations believe in the equality of human beings. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates it. But nowhere in the world is there a more intuitive belief that no single woman or man is worth inherently more than another.
We don’t need to look to our laws to understand this – Australians feel it in their bones.
The highest quality public health care should be available to all, because every person deserves to be fighting fit if our society has the capacity to keep them that way. Public schools should offer an education every bit as good as the private alternative because children deserve to start from a level playing field.
Minimum wages should be on the same planet as executive pay because no one’s work can be that much more worthy than another’s. These ideas are self-evident in Australia.
The privileged and the powerful can’t simply bandy the word “socialism” around to spook people off. Unions are a manifestation of this “fair go” belief.
They exist to fight for the view that the majority of people should get a decent cut of the good stuff life has to offer. Working for a better life. Leisure time and comfortable wages should not just be for the tip of society’s iceberg.
Old age pensions, forty hour weeks, annual leave, overtime on weekends, parental care leave, safe work places, superannuation, universal health care, free education, affordable higher education - these are all Australian social achievements, led by unions, stemming from a widely held national belief in the “fair go”.
Unlike other conceptions of egalitarianism, the Aussie version doesn’t ask for everyone to be the same. It simply requires that everyone gets a “fair go”.
It’s a national character we have the right to be proud of.
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