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(generated from captions) This Program is Captioned Live. # Theme music I'm Waleed Aly. Hi and welcome to Big Ideas, In this edition of Short Cuts, as declared by George Megalogenis. the war on hinging dilemmas some writers face It's hard being good - the ethical and for good measure racism. of young, feisty Australians It's an extract from a panel issue, 'I'm not racist but...' reflecting on the on the chronic Aussie whinger. First up George Megalogenis taking

past time of whingeing Megalogenis got tired of the national

on his blog Meganomics and fired up a counter attack back in May this year. The OECD has declared people in the world that Australians were the happiest but evidence of this is hard to find, we're not Spain, Portugal or Greece is that the mood here but what George observed in Europe or the US. is as angry as anything Why are we such a bunch of whingers? on the national mood. Megalogenis takes a reality check George your war on whinging blog about May this year. which I think you launched on your a few other voices And there have been 'stop whinging.' who have raised the cry of What is it all about? Why does it matter, their relative economic prosperity? that Australians should appreciate that has happened this year The most interesting nothing of the great escape is we are in the fourth year is starting to pay attention and the rest of the world

is still winning, to the fact that Australia recession in the UK, while you're getting double-dip the Americans can't problem solve, you've got 25% unemployment in Spain, 20% unemployment in Greece. the rest of the world. Catastrophe around But every time somebody has a look - public mood - a deep look at the Australian in Europe or as it is in America. it is as angry as it is a war on whinging Now, when I declare fact when I wrote the book I was always conscious of the that it was a bit counter-intuitive. at a time It was talking the country up a lot of people were a bit glum. when I knew I've got a firm thesis on this point. I wasn't being contrary,

about the war on whinging But the specific point of discussing the book. came in the aftermath The reaction from a lot of people was understand the story 'Oh yeah, I actually I could see the glass half full now.' But a lot of my colleagues at colleagues and this is not personally aimed certainly everyone in parliament.

certainly the trade unions, A lot of the business community,

that isn't there. are all looking for the minus sign is going backwards. The idea that Australia Australia is not going backwards. is primarily is to get So the war on whinging a little more seriously people to take themselves

at our position and to have a good look relative to the rest of the world. that people can ask afterwards - There are a trillion questions based on reality?' 'But hang on isn't this feeling Well it is based in reality

self-defeating but the whinge itself is

I want to address. and that's the thing whinging sentiment? How wide spread is this to the minority government. The sentiment is firstly linked up is working for them at the moment. So people don't think the parliament about the both sides of politics But they've felt this way when they were in the majority. the minority government. So the whinging is not just about

building up for a number of years. It is the thing that has been cost of living pressure, They talk about so the cost of living thing is real increase in your electricity bill. to the extent you notice the 20% in Melbourne or Sydney or Brisbane It's real if you're living from A to B anymore. and you can't get If a full train passes your platform stations service it's supposed to be stopping all those things are real. and it leaves you on the platform, They're tangible signs.

that still got growth. But tangible signs of a country for this level of whinging. The rest of the world would kill Whinging about prosperity of prosperity. and some of the pitfalls Most of the world would love a job. would love Most of the rest of the world the budget is going to be in surplus a government that could tell you in a couple of years time. that some of the stuff is real. I don't discount the fact

in the long run I just don't think it's productive for public policy. in the long run. And also for the national psyche If a politician asked the electorate about today?' 'Well what are you complaining And they say, 'Well, it's this.' 'Well, OK, you're right.' and the politician says, a prophecy that's not necessary. Your country ends up fulfilling house prices or flat market Where does pessimism over falling people are caught up in that? Would you acknowledge a lot of fit into all of this?

Yes, yes. Are they not authentic? that got us out of the GFC One of the funny things that happened things that happened in 2009 one of the smaller but important had one last boom. was that the property market for new houses, Trebled the First Home Owner Grant doubled it for established houses of 10,15, 25 per cent in Melbourne and prices went up in the order across the country. but 10 -15 per cent falling about 5 or 10 per cent. The last two years prices have been you look at. Depending on which capital city it's much worse than that, In the regions of course it's 20-30 per cent in some areas, to sell and even if you did have a property so this thing is real. you probably couldn't find a buyer, The last couple of years is real. that has come after the GFC The belt tightening and the funny thing about the GFC, have a recession- we had - even though we didn't but a very grumpy recovery. we actually had quite a cheery crisis in people's lived experience And I think that stuff is sourced

which is -

in 2009 I probably paid too much for this now I got to tighten my belt,

of the mortgage. I've got to get on top 'I don't see you much any more' Local shop says, and you go 'Yeah I've got to get on top of the mortgage.' They've got to let go of some staff and suddenly even though you're not going into a recession, you're not having the sorts of things that used to happen after the economy contracted or slowed a thing called a recovery.

It's not a recovery that's felt at the moment it's real because we're growing when the rest of the world is still going backwards but its not in the order of 4 percent it's more like 2 percent. But do you think that concern about the house prices, particularly if you've come in on top of the market you might have gone very far backwards you're sitting on a lot of debt and you are still jittery about what is happening overseas. Exactly. I know you're right on this point. I don't discount how real the sentiment is, I just think the sentiment itself is counter productive. if your politicians keep echoing it back to you. They're not going to problem solve for you if they're going to keep saying, 'Yeah, you're right.'

OK, so people have got a right to feel jittery and perhaps a bit pessimistic. But they're missing the half of the picture which is about the great escape which is very fortunate. And that's our glass half full. The glass half full can obviously be countered by someone who says 'I have just taken a 20% or 30% hit on my Super, I can't sell my house, I've been reduced from full-time to part-time hours.' I understand all that and in fact the other side of me, the journalist that is always doing the social policy is always going to empathise at that level. But this is not Australia's future. Australia's future isn't everybody going back to the government and saying, 'I'm a little uncomfortable about this,

I want you to fix this particular problem at the kitchen table for me.'

One of the reasons why people are not confident in their politics and haven't been on both sides of politics for a little while now

is because from around 2001, 2002, 2003 - and John Howard started this unfortunately - Kevin Rudd said he'd stop it but he didn't stop it. Somebody complained, he gave you a cheque. You complained again, he gave you another cheque. and it worked maybe one election - it worked in the 2004 election. Then he started to double the gesture because he couldn't get the same return at the ballot box. So the Reserve Bank said, 'Hang on a minute mate, what are you doing?' And so the interest rate started going up. So remember we had this thing just before the GFC hit we had tax cuts, interest rates. Hand outs, interest rates. Property, property, property rise. And of course at the top of the boom, you think 'Hello, something is about to burst.'

But this is where I come back to the problem here. Fundamentally, it's not that Australians are wrong to think

there's something unsettling about the world that we live in.

The mistake they make is thinking that we don't have an opportunity. And part of this relies on leaders recognising this first because they need to be called out. And the electorate has to be called out, in a sense. Even if the electorate has a genuine grievance, the grievance itself is counter-productive if it's appeased with the same sort of formula that we had during the Howard hand-out machine. During the Kevin Rudd reckless spending phase. During Julia Gillard's over-compensate for carbon tax,

during Tony Abbot's big paid parental leave thing.

I mean, at the moment all I hear from people I cover is, 'Yes, I hear the electorate is hurting I have no idea how to appease it.' OK, we have to stop your whinging there. Oh, I'm whinging about them, and you're right too! (Laughter) You got me there. Look you also argue that the electorate has actually got the knowledge to understand that we're in a good or a sweet place, as some market people say.

Because you say we are one of the most economically literate nations in the developed world. And that we understand now that we are global citizens, that we embrace that to an extent that other nations don't. What's your evidence for the economic literacy because the people I hang out with haven't got a clue. (Audience laughter) He does say on his blog actually, on the War Against Whinging, if you go and have a look at that, there's a very funny spot where George says that most of his colleagues haven't a clue about economics. Yes, in fact there's a few things in economics I don't get either. They should read your book. I don't get the exchange rate. I have no idea what drives that. Oil prices - don't ask me about oil prices. Couple of things that a lot of economists pretend to know about but they don't really. Look, the thing about this at the moment is - Australia demonstrated literacy, and it's a gut literacy in 2008/2009.

When we didn't hit the panic button as a society when the rest of the world did. And the thing to bear in mind about the Global Financial Crisis, is that it was a test of temperament. There are two tests of temperament in the lead up to it - when the Subprime thing blew up and people where getting in over their heads. Australians started to save again in 2006. One of the responses to Howard's extravagant gestures and the rising interest rates,

was that people started to tighten their belts in anticipation of something going wrong in the rest of the world - so I call that and it's quite a big call now, there's a lot of data now to be able to demonstrate

that Australians households moved from borrowers to savers before the rest of the world did. Now this is something that only global minded people that have been living deregulation for the last 20-25 years

can sense ahead of the Americans and certainly ahead of the Brits.

Certainly ahead of the Spanish or the Greeks. With obvious deference to my blood line,

you wouldn't want to be them at the moment. So that's the first one and the second one is just the way everyone hung together in the GFC in 2008/9. In the last 30 or so years I could give you a trillion examples

of where business has been pretty ordinary and pretty self-centred but business did a fantastic thing in 2008/9. They looked at their books and said 'Hello, this feels like a recession about to come but if I let these people go, I'm finished anyway.' So they didn't sack people, they reduced their hours. So they cut costs without letting people go. Now that is almost McKinsey material

in terms as how you advise a corporation in a downturn, hire, don't fire. Change the mix, hours this, hours that, unpaid leave whatever. They did a terrific thing. In fact, no other country in the world

can show something quite that precise. And the fact that it was so well timed. It may be a unique circumstance you'll never get an opportunity again in a society to watch it on your TV.

Lehman Brothers goes down and three months later, you're shopping as an act of national patriotism for that Christmas 2008 period. But still we did it. I call the literacy on that one but there is another part to the literacy and this is partly where you sort of go get back to the whinge and you can and you can allow yourself a little chuckle. Australians are over familiar with things like interest rates. For every movement in interest rates in the US or Britain,

there as about eight or ten times as many stories for the equivalent move in the British or the American media. The Reserve Bank did a little study on this a little while ago. You could barely mention on the front page where every time there would be a front page article even if nothing happened. So in one respect, part of that literacy is lowest common denominator stuff which is mortgage built stuff,

but the other part of that literacy I do say - and I'm prosecuting the case in a sense, it's the case for the defense. We pulled it off when the rest of the world went 'I don't know what's going on.' Now... excuse me - the counter view to your argument that we've earnt our great escape from the financial crisis, is that it was China's appetite for our coal and our iron ore

that actually saved us. Now you're quite impatient with that view, why?

The sequence of the GFC - people's memories need to be re-jogged on this. Lehmens went down in September and in October the Government announced the first big cash splash, and the Reserve Bank was doing the first dramatic interest rate cuts. The first cut was a full percentage point.

And at that point it looked like we were going to go into recession,

they were still forecasting recession. China went into a very sharp slow down as soon as the GFC hit. In fact, what happened in that last three months is that exports fell across the world by about a third. Now how do you measure a China affect in real economic sense in Australia? You divide the states up between mining states and non-mining states. In that 2008/9 period, Queensland the second of the two mining states

was the state that went closest to recession.

So, if your argument is that China bailed us out, Queensland was the one that went closest to recession in 2008/9. So that can't be China in that year. The China stimulus did start to help us in the second half of 2009 but the big transaction and the thing that affected the public mood,

i.e. appeased it, calmed us down, was that we didn't have those two quarters of so-called negative growth. We didn't go backwards in December - we did go backwards, everyone went backwards in December 2008, we just didn't fall off a cliff like the rest of the world did. And then we grew again in the March quarter of 2009 and I remember when that statistic came out in June of that year, China hadn't come back in at that point,

it was basically retail and a bit of property and a couple of other things. Exports did come back a little faster here than they did anywhere else but the China thing didn't come until the second half of the year.

Now how do we know that China's part in the sequences later not earlier - i.e. they weren't principal reason why we survived in the first instance. No-one was talking about China in June 2009, because people were still worried about Queensland. The other thing is there's a guy called Peter Costello -

some of you might remember - he resigned from politics that day, because he thought, 'I'll never be Prime Minister because look Labor have got them out of the GFC.' The sort of thing that every Treasurer understands in their bones that if you are able to pull off a soft landing you're in the history books for life. And he quit as soon as that number came through, as I said the China search came later, but of course when the China search came

this isn't the great escape this is the grumpy recovery. China's in the grumpy recovery. Suddenly electricity prices are going up again, suddenly people are worried about the cost of living. Suddenly WA is pulling all the labour back across the continent. In the first six months, mining actually was the one sector that had the sharpest decline in jobs. But in the second half of 2009, it was like the boom was back on again

and all the things that were making people grumpy around the time they threw John Howard out, was starting to be visited on Kevin Rudd. So that's my longish answer on China. I don't buy it simply because you go look for the data and you think it will tell you something dramatic in that early period. No, the most dramatic thing that happened in the early period was that $1 billion cash was put on the kitchen table and people took it to the shops.

I think we were first called an economic miracle by a noted American economist back in 1998. So this notion of this being the last rich nation standing - Western nation standing - it's no overnight success, is it? No, no, no. It goes back, it's based on a lot of work over a number of years. The thing is - and a couple of people have had a crack at me about the sequencing.

I make a point that a country that dodged the Asian financial crisis may or may not put that down to good luck. A country that dodges the tech wreck

put that down to good luck.

but when you don't get the GFC as well -

these are the three super shocks of globalisation of the last 10-15 years and we've missed every one of them. We're the only country in the world that has missed every one of them. Luck is no longer the first thing you'd look for as an explanation.

You have to think there is something different about this place compared to the rest of the world. There is a number of things that we do better, certainly than the Americans and certainly the Brits - we used to look up to them and we used to take a lot of our cues from them,

but we went on a different path through the 80s and 90s.

So by the time these character tests in the 21st Century started hitting the rich world we were already in a different headspace. And I think we're a little more nimble we don't ourselves enough credit,

but of course the funny thing about the Australian psyche is under pressure we will stick together. We are not the only country that can say that In that respect our human instinct is a little more collegiate under pressure.

What we can't get right at the moment with our thinking is the fact that we've dodged these huge, huge missiles - they're not bullets, these are missiles that can destroy entire nations. Again, look at Greece, look at Spain. Because Spain, by the way, dodged the tech wreck in 2001, but it clearly is exhibit A for what the GFC is doing in the long run with 25 per cent unemployment.

But the fact that we can do these things means that there's something else going on in Australia and you know, when I declare war on whinging, it's in essence to remind people that something else might happen in the future if you understand what drove the success in bad times. Can you then translate that into success in good times? To understand how all that has unfolded, you know the great economic reforms of the past decades, you took the 1970s as your starting point. And I have to say that Gough Whitlam is remembered for many things -

Chaos. But economic management - well he's remembered for some extraordinary social reforms as well, but economic management is not something he's remembered for. But he was the first to kick off with the reforms. This is a pleasant surprise for me, when I was last here in 2008, Mungo said 'Oh Bud, did you remember Gough?' And of course I didn't remember,

I was only a nine-year-old at the time. And he said 'Do you remember that Gough did this?' Oh yeah, he did, didn't he? So I went back to the record and had a good read of the Cabinet papers because the Cabinet papers were all out by then. The first time the order of regulation was the tariff shock of 1973. Now those tariff cuts came around just before the oil shock of '73. Now the reason why I started the book, literally in '73, is the oil shock.

Oil shock's one and two were essentially GFC repeated 30 years later. But completely different things, but essentially the same thing. You know, you've got Watergate, you've got Vietnam, you've got stagflation.

Now you've got Iraq and Afghanistan.

OK, you've got this thing in Britain with the News of the World, which is a version of Watergate in a funny way.

And you've got America on it's knees again. But the Australia that greeted the seventies and was ill equipped to handle any of those shocks was already starting to bizarrely starting to sink it's way out of the trap that it set itself in the seventies behind the tariff wall. Gough cuts tariff by 25 per cent. Two years later the budget that the Senate tried to block and then brought down the government on was actually the first economically rational budget of either side of politics, was Bill Haven's '75 budget. And in fact changing government when Australia did meant we delayed the restructure of our national finances, because Fraser came in and then reverted tp pre-Hayden type. So two reforms in particular, I mean we talk about things with the social stuff if you want, but the two economic reforms that began to open

the Australian economy up was the tariff shock and then the idea that your budget had to be in surplus. They are Whitlam era things. Most people look at you and say 'Nah, you can't say that.' Well, maybe he didn't get to do the victory dance around it, and of course there was a government in between that did nothing more for eight years, but that was the first thought. And funnily enough he didn't know the first thing about economics, but he was a bit of a brainiac, and intuitively he grasped there was something about the Australian project that was wrong and he needed to open it up to the rest of the world. Just as he intuitively realised that a trip to China was somehow stepping into the future. Yes. Yes. Even though he was advised by his own people not to do it. Not to go, not only don't you go, of course the Chinese didn't say yes immediately and he's Opposition Leader at the time, and Billy McMahon at the time thought 'One more red card to play against Labor. They're finished.' 'I'm going to get another term.' And he was making merry hell with that story for about two days until the Chinese not only said yes, he went over, McMahon was still bagging him for a couple of days afterwards. And then Kissinger was already there a week after Gough and Richard Nixon says 'Yeah, I'm going too.' Almost end of story. And isn't the argument that in fact that visit has actually paid dividends for decades to come.

Yeah, yeah. And if you think about - Can you say why that is? 'cause I didn't know that, that actually in China, party cadres remembered that for decades after. They love him. He was the first western leader that gave them respect,

because they'd been closed off from the diplomatic community for basically the duration of the fifties and sixties. And they were coming out of their cultural revolution and they basically wanted to be a global citizen again. And here's this white Australian brainiac says

'I want to be your friend'. And his timing was exquisite. It was almost supernatural,

because it took them another 20 or 30 years to come good in an economic sense. But most Chinese Communist Party officials have a special place for Gough. And I actually witnessed this in person a few years back in APEC. This is the night before Kevin Rudd spoke in Mandarin to Hu Jintao.

The night before there was a State reception which Morris Iemma hosted, and Hu Jintao wanted to meet Gough. And the media were sort of ushered off to the side and we got to watch this thing but without listening in. And I've never seen Hawke and Keating take a backward step, this is the only time I ever saw them take a backward step. Because the two of them hung back and let Hu have his one-on-one with Gough, because Gough was the man. And this was 2007, a good 35 years after its time. 36 years after the first visit as opposition leader and 34 years after the normalisation of relations. So this is quite an extraordinary thing that hung in their memory for a long, long time, and Australia is a good place in their mind. But I'll follow up your question in a way because the interesting thing is you watch a lot of politics today and they want to get past the next news poll. Most of them couldn't tell you that they're placing bets that are 10, 20, 30 year bets. It's only after the fact that you look at Gough. But most people - I mean, I was a kid at the time that Whitlam was Prime Minister. I mean it was a good time for me as a little boy because my footy team won back to back grand finals during the Whitlam era. In '73 and '74 for those of you who know their AFL and who I'm talking about. But there was a sense then as I reread the material, there was a sense of prospect for the future. It didn't turn out at the time the way people imagined it, but you do know, decades later, you're still talking about - it's now Medicare, but it was Medibank. You're talking about the end of White Australia, you're talking about the China relationship,

we can talk about now that we look back on it with a historians eyes, the tariff reform. And you can say 'Well, maybe it wasn't a brilliant government, but they were thinking ahead.' And it would be nice to be able to turn the dial back a bit and maybe remind this group, and by this group I do mean Prime Minister, Opposition Leader,

Treasurer, Shadow Treasurer, Finance Minister, Shadow Finance Minister,

all of them right. And State premiers and State opposition leaders. It would be nice for them to just bear in mind that some of the stuff that you're doing has to last beyond your political career, because that's really what the business is, you're in the future business, not in the day-to-day business. (Applause) That was George Megalogenis was Petria Wallace at the Byron Bay Writers' Festival. And you can find the extended interview on our website. Next up, three writers on negotiating moral and ethical minefields in their writings and in their lives. The panel's called 'It's not easy being good' and it features Ailsa Piper, Charlotte Wood and Hannie Rayson. Caroline Baum is moderator, and she digs and pries into their lives and writings for how and why they write. The panel works well because there are no slick answers here, it's a good conversation about the moral quandries that most of us can relate to. I don't know about you, but for me the richest writing comes from stories where characters are faced with moral dilemmas

that the reader can either relate to or which prompt the reader to ask 'What would I do in that situation?' I'm thinking of writers like Anna Funder, Malcolm Knox, Steve Toltz.

Richard Flannagan, Elliot Perlman. Helen Garner, Thomas Kennealy. We've got a fantastic culture of writers who grapple with moral issues, including of course the three distinguished guests we have here today. And these writers are writers who are unafraid to show us the many ways in which being human means moments of folly and weakness that we pull back from the edge from

and hopefully in which we discover our better nature. So, when I talk about 50 shades of grey, I don't mean the erotic bestseller of course, I mean all the nuances of the ethical minefield we navigate in our every day choices. The subtleties of what we do knowingly and unknowingly that define our moral compass. And what I'm hoping that we're going to be able to do

in the time we've got today

is to sort of explore with these three writers how that affects their writing and what they write about, but also how they navigate that personally in the public sphere. We're going to explore that in three genres, in memoir with Ailsa Piper, in drama with Hannie Rayson and in fiction and non-fiction with Charlotte Wood. In Sinning Across Spain, Ailsa walks a traditional pilgrim route

to Santiago de Compostela, funded by friends who pay her to carry their sins for them. And along the way she has to face a few of her own. In her new play, Extinction, which we're about to get a sneak preview scene reading of, Hannie Rayson writes about the choices facing scientific researchers when they're offered money to save an endangered species by a mining magnate whose motives are complex. That sounds good. In Love and Hunger, Charlotte Wood makes conscience an ingredient in her cooking, while in her novel Animal People, she makes an unforgettable non-conformist character, Stephen, who looks at life through a different lens,

questioning values, opinions and the role sentiment plays in our attitude to animals, our workplace and our social interactions. So please welcome Charlotte, Ailsa and Hannie. (Applause) I'd like to start by asking each of you to tell us who the writers are who have helped shape your sort of moral world as readers.

So Hannie, can we start with you? Oh, gosh, that was one thing I didn't think about first. Um, I've... ..I think I started early with a sense of the writers who showed me an Australian-ness to myself, actually,

was when I began really tuning in to these sorts of questions. I felt that I needed to have a sense that my own culture was valid material for art and so people like Helen Garner, she was a very significant writer for me, and because I'm a dramatist, the Australian writers too - Williamson, who's a great moralist, he was pretty significant to me, and, um, I've just fallen madly in love with Wallace Stegner. Everyone on this panel loves Wallace Stegner. Yeah, OK. Ailsa, what about you? Um, my moral compass is absolutely formed from poetry. If I could be anything on the planet I'd be a poet, but because I can't I've grown up reading them. I was given poetry as a child always by my mother and I feel like poets distill things, kind of in the way that religious texts do, but with a much more humanist look at the world. And the great thing about a poem is you can memorise a poem. You can't, well, I can't memorise a novel, so I can get those bits that have meant something to me and carry them with me very close. What about you Charlotte? I'm so glad you asked Hannie first. Quick, quick, quick. I think any writers that I admire are moralists in some sense, in that they enter - I'm talking about fiction writers particularly - enter fully into their character's full humanity,

which means exploring the failures and flaws and inconsistencies and sort of moral quandries they exist in.

And at the moment I've just started reading Richard Ford's new novel and he's brilliant at that. But you know, Patrick White, when you were talking about Australians showing you...

You know, initially a dreadful character who you can then become incredibly sympathetic towards. I'm thinking of - God, of course his name's gone out of my head - but the Solid Mandala - Walter, I think is the character - a dreadful man, who by the end of it you are devastated for, because in the end the way he's lived his life. So I think all good writing has that kind of moral shimmer around it maybe. Mmm. Shimmer's a lovely word to use. And I'm glad that you mentioned Richard Ford, because I was lucky enough to interview him a couple of weeks ago about 'Canada' and like you, I think of him as a sort of master of the genre and he infuses this writing about morality with tremendous insight and compassion for his characters, however flawed they may be and I was asking him where he got his values from and he seemed slightly surprised by the question and said, 'I got them from my parents. My parents were really, really good people.' So we've talked a little bit about the books, the writers that may have influenced and shaped you in terms of your work,

but where do you get your values from Hannie, do you think? Before I say that,

I was just thinking about this idea about the moralist. I mean that's what one is attempting to avoid in a way - being the finger-wagging person. And before I forget, I was just thinking that the kind of theatre I absolutely loathe most is what I call corridor theatre. And you could probably apply that to a novel as well. And that is the kind of theatre where you arrive and you look down a vast corridor which is that next two and a half hours of your life and at the back of the theatre is a sign that says, 'Ban Uranium Mining' and you know when you've arrived and looking down the barrel at that

that you've got the answer already and that two and a half hours of your life will never be retrieved. Um, so, it is absolutely not about a kind of sense of message at all, it's about trying to find and define something, for me anyway,

the process of trying to articulate something that I don't understand

and that has enough moral quandry in it to make the dynamics and tension between people rich and as perplexing as we all find them. So in fact, you're writing to find out what you think about something. You don't necessarily know when you start, do you? Well, I sometimes do. I know and I think, 'Boy, am I going to ram this bloody home.' And yet then I'm wary of that, because I know that bludgeoning kind of writing is tedious and actually it is trying to make things much more dimensionalised. So where do you get your values from? I often say this, it's quite good to be a good cook, to be a writer to be a good cook is useful, because...

I mean daren't say I'm a good cook in comparison with these two at the end. I think the dinner party is a very good source for collecting information from people, especially plying them with alcohol and prying their secrets out of them and often I get my ideas there, but, no, I read, obviously.

I read newspapers, keep my ear to the ground, 'cause the key thing for me is to actually try and really nail what is in the zeitgeist and not, I hope, in a trivial way, but in a way that's trying to chronicle what are the essential kind of tensions of the age that we live in.

Which is one of the great skills that you have, you are always so topical and we'll come to that in a moment with the reading of the play, but it's interesting that you actually answered a different question there. You answered a question about ideas, whereas I was asking about values, so just to go back to what Richard Ford said, would your parents have been the people who shaped your sense of right and wrongness, your sense of fairness, which I think is very important to your work? Ah, not entirely.

I think my mother did too, but I'm very aware that I was shaping myself

in a kind of opposition in some ways to my father and one of the things that I feel acutely is I remember a Christmas. I remember all Christmases, every Christmas, there would be the opening of the 1960s Porphyry Pearl and then we sort of became more sophisticated and then my father moved into German Rieslings.

Mmm. Liebfrau wine. We started out with bottles of brown beer on the table, I have to tell you, and then we sort of moved gradually to a sort of much more classy Christmas. And my father used to do this thing every Christmas where he said - it's just popped into my head - he used to say, 'I wonder what the poor people are doing today.' (Laughter)

And everyone laughed. My mother tittered away, my brothers tittered away

and I just thought it was grotesque. I hate to sort of diss my dad in front of you all here in this sort of mean way but I think that somehow or other those kinds of - a sense of aspirational, lower middle class aspirational life that was about 'we're better, that's why we can pull the cork on the Porphyry Pearl and what the other poor people are doing,

well, bugger them.' That was very deeply ingrained in me and anxiety about that. Charlotte? My parents really did drill us in a moral kind of way of living, I suppose. I mean not that I or any of my siblings have particularly lived up to that but I grew up in a very Catholic household

that was really very concerned with social justice. And it was - we were always thinking of the poor people but not in - in the kind of opposite way.

And in a way that, 'Yeah, yeah, I know. Africa, everybody's -' So as a child it was sort of tedious but it did somehow sink in to all five of us, I think. And it - yeah, it sunk in

and I continually fail to live the life that my parents probably would've liked me to live. What about you, Ailsa? I think two things, I suppose. My parents obviously, but early on my parents divorced when I was very small and back then people didn't divorce much and so I got a solid taste of what an institution like the Catholic Church does,

how punishing it can be to people if they want to live a life that feels good but doesn't fit a construct. And I suppose the other thing I would say about this is very early on I started losing people. A lot of my friends say it's dangerous territory to get in too close because a lot of people around me died at quite an early age and I do think that that is very instructive

and I know Charlotte has experiences of this too, that it forces you to think about what you're going to do with the life you're given and it doesn't have to be dictated from outside when you have a sense that it can be taken and that it's precious. And if you really - for me knowing deeply that this moment could be the moment that I drop in front of you, and hopefully it won't because it wouldn't be pretty -

Subsequently called the Simon Sheikh moment. But it's kind of like that's the thing that we push away and in fact that's the truth. This breath could be the last one. Then that makes every breath count. And you live that as much as you can and of course you can't live that every second. That would be much too intense a way to live. But before we turn to your work and how you fold all of these notions and ideas and values into your work, I wanted to ask you about the way you act this out as citizens because all three of you are people that I think of as being very much engaged with the world around you, with the community around you, with your neighbourhood, with issues that are on the street around you every day. And I was just wondering whether you could, maybe each of you, take a particular issue that has caused you to be a campaigner, be an activist, whether it's writing a letter or joining a demonstration or doing something to stand up for a set of beliefs that you have. So, Charlotte, would you like to pick one? This is tricky because it's very easy just to become a sort of - and I feel this is probably what I am - a box-ticking, petition-signing, tweet-passing-on activist - slactivist is what the term is, I believe. And there's an element of fashion that goes on with that that I'm really uncomfortable with.

So I don't know. I...I... I do as much as anyone in this room does but - Well, I don't think that's - I don't know everyone in this room so I can't assume anything but I think there are several things where I've noticed on Twitter, for example, you going a community meeting about your concern about a development of - Yeah, but that's self-interest, isn't it? I live near there. Alright, OK, what about meat? I mean, I was involved with PEN for a while. I was involved in the PEN organisation because I'm a writer and I feel - but, you know, I'm not so involved now. But I was on the committee because I felt that as a writer I should be standing up for the rights of writers who don't have the freedoms I have who are also voices for their countrymen and women so, you know, I wrote letters in support - which has reminded me that I must go home and write some more. But also there's the issue of eating meat - not wanting to give up meat, in your case, which we talked about yesterday on the food panel

but trying again to bring that word awareness or conscience to the kind of meat that you eat or the circumstances in which it's been raised and killed.

Yeah, I do - having become more and more

in cooking and food politics, I suppose, I'm interested - I do eat meat, I'm very conflicted about the fact that I eat meat, I feel guilty about eating meat but I still want to eat meat. So I - the meat that I cook I buy - my kind of golden rule is pork and chicken I will not buy from anyone apart from the particular supplier that I know who has free-range pork and anyone who saw the ABC news last night about the conditions that pigs - and pigs are extremely intelligent animals, more intelligent than most dogs - the conditions that they're raised in

are almost universally barbaric and awful. But, you know, I know any vegan could shoot me down in a second for that. I mean, I find the whole - this is a really interesting panel because it's about trying to be good and mostly failing. But at least the trying is the thing, isn't it? But I do think an awareness, some kind of mindfulness of the way you live your life, is not only, um, you know, trying to be good but it's also an interesting way to live your life. Exactly. Ailsa, what about you? I've been involved a bit on the sidelines with various things but they change with age too. I think the thing that's happened to me as I've got older

is I have a really strong sense of wanting to leave something behind for the children I didn't have. I don't have kids and so, in a weird way, what's left is what's left. But I actually feel really strongly, you know, when you talk to Anna Rose, you just think, 'This girl - we have to make this girl the future so what can I do?' But that said, my sister, I would just like to tell you briefly, she took to -

she feels very strongly about capital punishment and she took to writing to people on death row in America and she did it for a long time and it was a very interesting thing

to watch someone do something absolutely out of passion and then find the reality of people to be not what she wanted. You know, insofar as they wanted her to write porn to them, they wanted - I mean it was interesting, they were humans, they weren't a cause. So it's that thing

that in trying to think that one can shape what it is to be good we're all flawed, we're all human, and the person who's on the receiving end,

you kind of have to be careful that you don't go, 'Oh, well, I'll give you this world I want.'

It might not be the world they want at all. 50 Shades of Death Row. Hannie, what about you? Well, I'm of the school a bit of 'let a thousand flowers bloom' and that everybody does their little bit and I'm hoping that by being a person who is engaged in the public conversation

that that is making a contribution. And I run a small boutique festival in Aireys Inlet in Victoria, which you're all so welcome to come to next April. It's absolutely beautiful. It's really good. I'm the only one here who hasn't been yet. But um, the thing that really, that I felt enraged by and continue to feel enraged by is about the treatment of asylum seekers and that's something that's fed my work. And also I found myself going on Thursday mornings

to a resource centre where I was handing out sugar and flour to African and Iraqi women and Sudanese women who were on visas that basically did not allow them to have any government handout at all and were relying on the community for food and for everything. They weren't even allowed to access the health services and had no money. We were getting people to donate tram cards. So there is also that self-interest too because the actual drama of their lives is story and everything that I'm so interested in but, yeah, I did that for a while and I found that amazing. That was the It's Not Easy Being Good session from the Byron Bay Writers Festival. You can find the extended panel on our website. Last up in this edition, Benson Saulo, a United Nations Youth Ambassador, delivering his take on the 'I'm Not Racist, But...' panel. The group on the panel provided very different perspectives in serious and comic mode. While I was travelling around - I've been quite lucky over the last couple of years actually, firstly with that position

as the Australian youth representative to the United Nations. I completed a road trip from Alice Springs up to Darwin and I was lucky enough to be able to stop off at a number of towns.

And one of the towns that I stopped at was a little town called Eliot and I was walking around with the principal and he said that no-one had actually graduated Year 12 from this school in seven years. And unfortunately that's a very common story when you go up through the Northern Territory across through the Kimberleys and Pilbara and from Mount Isa right across North Queensland. And we kept walking around and there was this sense of hopelessness that really kind of gripped this town and it was really thick, it kind of hung in the air. And the principal continued to walk us around and he pointed out one young boy and two young girls and they were about Year 7 or Year 8. And he said these three young people, they have potential to be the first in their families, the first in their communities, to graduate Year 12 and break that cycle of disadvantage which has gripped their town, that cycle of low expectation which has gripped their town.

And right then, I felt a sense of hope that was coming out, that there was support out there, that there was people out there that were willing to put their hand up and say, 'No, this isn't good enough in Australia. We have our problems but this, right now, this is not good enough.' I continued the road trip up to Katherine. I was speaking at a school up there

and we were running a bit of a workshop around the impact that young people can actually have on the future of Australia. And following the workshop I was pulled aside by this young girl - she was about 16. And she said to me, 'The Stolen Generation should have worked, it's just that we didn't push it hard enough.' And it was just - you know when things like that kind of happen you don't know how to react? You just - it hits you. You know something's happening but you can't put your finger on it. It's so in your face, so adverse, overt, that it can't be real, it can't be happening. But it was. And this was this young girl's belief, that the Stolen Generation - that's even a funny term, saying the Stolen Generation. These were children. These were someone's children. These were stolen kids. And these are still people that are trying to get home, trying to find their families, trying to reconnect with culture, trying to reconnect with country. This was a generation of young people, this was a generation of children, that were taken away from their parents. And she had that firm belief that it should have worked, it really should have worked. But, you know,

it just wasn't supported, it wasn't pushed hard enough. And so I took her aside and had a -

I wouldn't say a stern talking to but I definitely had a couple of words just to say, 'OK, well, how do you come about to have this kind of belief, this kind of understanding?'

And it turns out it was from her parents and her parents would've been about, I guess, 45, if she's about 16 or so. And I said, 'What do you learn at school?' And she said, 'We learn about Indigenous issues, we learn a lot about them.

We learn about the Dreamtime. We learned about that in primary school. We learned a bit on the Stolen Generation, about the schools, the boarding schools. A bit about the 1967 referendum. Something about the Flora and Fauna Act. Didn't really stick in my mind.' It didn't stick in her mind. 'About the 2000 Olympics with Cathy Freeman. We all saw that, we all thought that was a great symbol,

a symbol of reconciliation. We know about the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generation.' And I said, 'Do you know about the 1965 freedom rides that went through country NSW, do you know the stories of our great champions that really pushed the civil rights movement, our William Coopers, our William Baraks, from Coranderk down in Victoria. And of course she didn't. And it dawned on me that it's our education that these young people are learning that aren't changing the perceptions around racism or what is acceptable in Australia and it's understand that we're not challenging what young people should be learning should be proud about or what young people should feel a connection to because it's very important that we understand that this is a shared history, this is a shared past. But more importantly to that as well, it's a shared future that we have going forward. And that's why schools really should be the places where these young people come to learn but more than learn - understand, be connected, feel a sense of identity. A sense of identity in the Australian culture,

a sense of identity in the Indigenous culture as well. Because ultimately it's our culture to share.

It's all of our cultures. In 1966, Robert Kennedy was addressing the youth of South Africa. It was actually on the Day of Affirmation. And he said that we can perhaps remember that those who live with us are our brothers and that we share the same short moment in life and they seek nothing but the chance to live out our lives in purpose and in happiness. And it's this purpose and happiness that kind of brings us here today. It's our understanding that we want to challenge ourselves, we want to put ourselves in these situations where we can be challenged - we can have our thoughts pulled apart and analysed and can think about life and our connection to each other. It's this fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, that I am my sister's keeper. It's a belief that isn't the foundation, though. It's not the foundation of our society and I feel that's a very sad thing. It's a very sad thing to understand that rolling back the Racial Discrimination Act of '74

of communities up through the Northern Territory doesn't just affect those It affects all of our communities. That one person's human rights being taken away in a detention centre doesn't just affect that person's It affects all of our human rights. It's that missing element -

that idea that we are our brother's keeper is the missing element in what should be and what can be a reconciled nation. In 2010, Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, gave a speech to the National Press Club in Canberra and it was entitled 'Towards a reconciled Australia', towards a reconciled nation. And within that there was themes around sharing, mutual respect, identity, pride. And it's elements that I'm not getting, I'm not getting when I'm travelling around. I'm not - I don't sense or I don't see that sense of pride that we do have such a rich culture here. A rich culture coming out of the ground, a rich culture around us, a rich culture connecting us to the heavens. But we don't see that. I don't feel that. I don't feel that people are proud of that. But it is this element that we need to understand, a connection that we have with each other, that responsibility that we have to each other, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our family. It's this element that enables us to declare that 'I'm not racist but I have much to learn. I'm not racist but I don't know about our shared history

but I want to know more about our shared futures. I'm not racist but I feel a sense of disconnection. with my fellow man. I feel a sense of disconnection with the country, with the land around me. But I'm willing to learn.'

And that's what we're all here to do. And that's what our journey is about. And it's towards that reconciliation but it's also towards that recognition of the past injustices but also the recognition of a shared future going forward that we do all leave a mark on each other. There's also a great quote by Pericles.

He was a general during the Peloponnesian wars, those around 400-500BC. And he said, 'What we leave behind is not what's carved into stone monuments but what's woven in the hearts of others.' And it's such a powerful quote and such a powerful line because it really is those small interactions that we have with each other, those small marks that we leave on each other, that we can say, 'No, we were here. We did share the same time. We did share the same sense of purpose and sense of happiness.' And, ultimately, that's what we want, we want to share. (Applause) That was Benson Saulo on a Reconciliation Week panel.

You can find the full range of views on our website. It's good viewing. That's all in this edition of Short Cuts. You can always comment on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. I'm Waleed Aly.

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