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Wednesday, 10 September 2003
Page: 19770

Mr SAWFORD (7:54 PM) —I first drafted some rough notes for this speech in March this year after reading an article by Paul Johnson in the Spectator which particularly struck a chord with me at that time. For some reason or other, the notes just went away in the bottom of my bag, but I think the speech is worth giving now. Too many influential people in our nation focus commentary on criticism, whingeing and spoiling. This is particularly too often true of politics, business, academia, community organisations and the media. There is a place for criticism, but not at the expense of creativity, imagination and some humour. Well-adjusted people oscillate between the poles of creativity and criticism with varying degrees of humour and good grace. But, if the truth be known, very few people are at home equally as critics or creators. There are, of course, some historical exceptions: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Hugo and Twain. All were effective critics as well as creators of pure fantasy. Unfortunately, the rest of us slide towards one or the other, with the critic being all too prominent and dominant over the creator.

It is important to note that too much whingeing, criticism and spoiling leads to hatred, bitterness and vindictiveness. Criticism can kill you. Nevertheless, the reverse is also true. Too much creativity and imagination leads to self-indulgence, delusion and decadence, and it can kill you also. Most people have great difficulty in transforming from critic to creator. And why not? Plenty of famous people could not achieve that transition. Leo Tolstoy was a wonderful creator but a hopeless critic. Charles Dickens seemed to manage to keep a balance. Evelyn Waugh went from creator to bitter, twisted and vindictive critic.

Creativity and imagination are essential for any society. So, too, is criticism, but not when it extends to whingeing, spoiling and the killing of humour. As Einstein said, `Imagination is more important than knowledge.' With imagination, everything is achievable. With knowledge, all that can be achieved is what already is. As the old Russian proverb says, `You do not drown in the sea; you drown in a puddle.' There are limitations and dangers in forever criticising, whingeing and spoiling as there can be a sense of unreality about creativity and imagination. The challenge for a successful life, whether it is in politics or anywhere else, is to attain a balance.

It is worth noting that some very infamous people in history got that balance horribly wrong. The far left's Karl Marx began his adult life as a gentle poet and academic. He ended up a foul critic and hater who was always prepared to engage in violent abuse. The fact is that Marx talked more about destruction and hatred than he did about building a good society. The far right's Adolf Hitler began life as an art student and developed a passionate hatred of Jews, Poles, Slavs and Russians. In the end, it destroyed him and the German nation. The states that embodied Marxism and fascism based themselves on fear and hate, murdered tens of millions of people and collapsed in ignominious ruin.

Hate also dominates the agenda of modern terrorism and is particularly aimed at the citizens of the United States and Western democracies, including Australia. The terrorists have fallen for the hate trap and, just like Stalin, Hitler and Marx, they too will eventually self-destruct. But it ought to be noted that, in the case of Stalin and Hitler, tens of millions of innocent civilians were murdered. If the free world is neither vigilant nor united, those past patterns of mass murder and destruction will continue in a contemporary context. Criticism, whingeing and spoiling that turn into hate are extremely dangerous. Failure to balance that with creativity and imagination can cost people in the future their lives.

However, Western democracies are being challenged. Many, including Australia, are exhibiting far too many negative values and ignoring positive ones. Too many people at a political, academic, media, business and community level simply cannot put together a positive story without self-interest, spin or bias determining the edge. There are far too many angry people in our community—on our sporting fields, in our media, on our roads, in our schools and in the governance of our nation. The anger is far too closely aligned to hate and far too distant from creativity and imagination. But that is what happens when criticism, whingeing and spoiling dominate the public agenda. There are plenty of examples at the international, national and local level. Resistance is required, and tough resistance too. The consequences, if not challenged, are too horrible to contemplate.

Question agreed to.