Reflections on a blessed land
ll around this great land, today presents an opportunity to pause, reflect and, hopefully, appreciate.
The national day is a good time to pat ourselves on the back for what we've got right and to examine the areas where we could do better.
Even a cursory look over the horizon confirms we are blessed - with peace, democracy and wealth. This island nation is the preferred destination for those seeking to escape war or poverty. Indeed, the horror of urban warfare in foreign lands, with tanks rumbling along streets and jets strafing buildings, is unimaginable in our cities.
Australia has enjoyed an unbroken run of democracy marked by robust, adversarial debates but no military coups. When an elected government was summarily dismissed by the stroke of a pen, the citizens reacted by marching and chanting, not with handguns or assault rifles.
It is important to reflect on what's good to counter the constant barrage of gloom that emerges from some quarters. Debate is essential, of course. Carping criticism is not.
As the nation enters an election year, it is to be hoped our elected representatives will put the national interest first and desist from ugly vitriol and grubby politics. Unfortunately, the political leaders are likely to live down to our worst expectations. But even as they continue to jostle like schoolyard foes, we expect Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to manage the economy and the environment and safeguard our national security. But more than that, in order to lead us they must inspire us with a vision that extends beyond winning or losing an election in 2013.
It's a big year for Canberra, celebrating its centenary. It's a rare opportunity for the national capital to show the rest of the country just how good it is. It is a modern, vibrant multicultural city that its citizens and visitors can be proud of. Sure, Northbourne Avenue is a car park on school mornings but the city is blessed with smooth thoroughfares, beautiful lakes and clean air.
Today will be marked by barbecues and citizenship ceremonies. While Australians like to ponder the meaning of mateship and our identity as a people, we generally see no need to wrap ourselves ostentatiously in patriotism or the national flag. And yet Australia Day is the most popular day of the year for people to become Australian citizens. And who wouldn't want to be part of this young and free land so far from strife? Today a record 17,059 people from 145 countries will be welcomed as new Australians. Their presence builds on the diversity of this truly multicultural nation. Today they acknowledge the privileges and responsibilities of Australian citizenship while helping to celebrate the common bond that unites us.
As you take time to relax with family and friends, the north of the nation is deluged while the ACT and the south-east remain on bushfire alert. So spare a thought for the firies and workers such as nurses and police who do not have the luxury of hanging up their uniform to throw a snag on the barbie.
This day is always going to be contentious given it marks the arrival of European settlement. We should pause to reflect on how the First Australians have been treated. Their grief for loss of culture is encapsulated in the nation of today as ''invasion day''. But their loss is our loss. That said, little is gained by engaging in endless self-flagellation about the sins of our fathers. Clearly the apology to the Stolen Generations should have been delivered decades ago. What's more important now is delivering genuine improvements in the welfare of indigenous communities. The indigenous people pose a conundrum for this nation - Australia is blessed with reservoirs of resources but the benefits do not flow evenly to all citizens. Stronger pressure should be put on federal, state and territory governments to improve the appalling living conditions endured in remote areas by so many indigenous communities. While the intervention in the Northern Territory has been met with mixed feelings, it provides hope that welfare money will be better spent on children.
The Australian nation has a short but rich history, and a promising future. We should feel inspired to consider how we can make a greater contribution to society, and focus on the betterment of the nation.
Many challenges lie ahead, from living within our means, to protecting the environment and providing adequate care for the flood of people expecting a decent retirement after years of work. But today, Australians should take the time to celebrate, feel proud and give thanks.