Working Towards A Vision for Australia

The experience of the Corona Virus has prompted a number of articles seeking to envisage the future dimensions of Australian society, industry, education – to name just several key components of life in this country.

Choosing a year, or a health crisis, both for recollection and for foresight is an arbitrary choice. For example, back in 1988, there were fumbling efforts to work out what was to be the national public focus for the Bicentenary. Was it to be white settlement or invasion or expropriation or survival? And what lay behind 1988, both in the immediately preceding years and a century beforehand?

Academic George Shaw, [1] commenting on the historians who contributed to the publication of 1988 And All That – New views of Australia’s past, was speaking broadly when he wrote:

Australia enters its third century optimistic of humanist change much as it entered its second century hopeful of socialist change. That is one message written into Australian non-fiction Bicentennial writings. Another message is that Australian humanism, like Australian socialism before it, is without doctrines. It has a literary, social, political and racial agenda, but no systematic intellectual or philosophical agenda. It is founded on sentiment, and is best summed up by the acronym ASH: Australian Sentimental Humanism.

As background to his brief analysis, the period from the 1880s to the 1920s witnessed an un-paralleled growth in the trade union movement [2] and in reforms towards a more egalitarian society. [3]

In the decades leading up to 1988, humanist-egalitarian currents were also gathering momentum after the dormant 1940s and 1950s. Environmental concerns, epitomised in the person of trade union leader Jack Mundey, brought new vision to Australian building codes. The women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s was a largely humanist inspired surge, often in the face of religious obstructionism. [4]

The anti-Vietnam war rallies nationally, and the anti-Joh movements in Queensland, also were energetic movements in the Australian landscape. The ‘anti’ in them was fuelled by a grand array of groups with positive visions – both shared and varied – of what Australia could be and could become.

And in the theological scene, liberation theology seeped even into some quarters of the churches. More so amongst non-parochial clergy, those working closest to the more vulnerable in Australia, rather than being shared with Australia at the top. Feminist theology, too, needs to be more widely known in the Australian political and religious landscape. The prevailing abysmal pattern of violence against women may mean that APCVA needs to focus particularly on communicating with church leaders, and especially challenging those leaders who dogmatically assert male headship over women. Women’s full equality – in ecclesiastical as well as economic realms – is still to be realised in Australian society.

And what of the present time?
Speaking broadly, visionary reform has tended to come from the left side of politics. The starkest contrast in the present era probably was that between the static William McMahon and his successor as Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.

In the 75 years since the end of World War II, federally conservatives have been in government for 49 years and Labor for 26 years. So Australia has, it seems, an inbuilt tendency not to venture, but to be more of a gated country. Whether it was the creed of ‘white Australia’, or ‘anti-Chinese’ or ‘anti-Asian’ neuroses, our political genes come from a mixed pool with some muddy waters.

An Invitation to Members

I admit that what I have given is but a brief and fragmented overview. If the present time is to be an occasion for re-assessment and future visioning, then APCVA needs input from its members as regards those two tasks.

On the APCVA Webpage there are valuable starting points. I refer particularly to the articles entitled:
  Reflecting forward for the next three years – by Len Baglow.
  APCVA Agenda for [2019] election.

What is also needed is a contribution of depth as regards intellectual, theological, social and political bases and visioning. What role APCVA can play in making that contribution depends on we APCVA members.

This article thus ends with an invitation to our members. The Management Committee would welcome from you any deepening of vision, rationale and suggested action that we can contribute to the communal life and well-being of this nation and its international neighbours.

Ray Barraclough 3 May, 2020.

  1. In 1988, George was Reader in History and Director of the Australian Studies Centre at the University of Queensland. He lectured in Australian history. He was also an Anglican priest.   2. See in particular the 4 volume work of T.A. Coghlan, Labour and Industry in Australia, Oxford University Press, 1918. 3. For example, legislation was passed in various states as well as the Federal Parliament to enable women to vote. The list reads: S.A: 1895, W.A. 1899, NSW 1902, Tas 1903, Qld 1905, Vic 1908. The Australian parliament 1902. Through the 1880’s and 1890’s there were petitions, rallies, lobbying for this reform  4. The movement of women into the wider paid workforce from the 1960’s onwards has been a significant factor in the decline in church attendance witnessed over the last 50 years. That emancipation was generally opposed by conservative Christians and conservative churches. They considered that males were to be the head of the household and the paid worker (‘bread-winner’) in the family. Male headship is still tightly taught in conservative evangelical churches.