Many Australians have long resented their dependence on America, which some see as more than a bit arrogant. They see the end of the Cold War as creating options, expanding the scope for independent action.
And they are right. Australians should not become mired in a debate over whether we are part of Asia or part of the Western world. We are Australians.
We have origins in Britain and Europe.
But we are increasingly a multicultural society, eager to welcome people of all origins who want to come to Australia to work and to prosper. There has been a reconceptualisation of the Australian national identity. Today nearly one in four of Australia's 19 million people was born overseas. Of these, about half have come from the UK, Ireland and Europe, and half from Asia, Oceania, the Middle East and North Africa. It is a pity to see immigrant numbers declining. Australia needs to recommit itself to the challenge and opportunity of large scale immigration. We should think of ourselves as a brilliant basketball team, eager to choose the first draft of human talent - intellectual and entrepreneurial talent, and what might be termed the talent of animal spirits - from anywhere in the world. Living next to Asia gives us an obvious source of highly talented immigrants.
We have so much to offer, including a distinct set of values that encompasses a heavy emphasis on individual freedom, individual responsibility, and generosity towards those beset by temporary tragedy or by forces beyond their own control. Capitalism with a human face.
In my view our greatest contribution to the region can be made by doing two things: Australia should set an example; and we must become a centre of educational excellence, increasing this nation's human capital as well as that of its neighbors. Let me touch briefly on each of those points.
Australia must set an example. It should show that a nation that embraces its values can be successful. Nations in this part of the world have before them two economic models. There is the Asian model, in which
- government plays a large role in directing the flow of capital;
- cronyism sometimes overwhelms market forces; and
- governments commonly shore up failed enterprises.