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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1079


Mr LEESER (Berowra) (16:35): In one of his first speeches as Prime Minister, Scott Morrison reflected on what he wanted to achieve. He said:

My ambition is for an even stronger Australia—to keep our economy strong, to keep Australians safe and to keep Australians together.

I want to reflect on his third aim of keeping Australians together. Nations are at their strongest when they're united, when they believe they have more in common than in difference, when they see special significance in their shared identity and when they feel bonds of kinship that extend to the past, present and the future. The nation is important because, as Aristotle wrote, men are not self-sufficient. Our political community is necessary for us to flourish as people. Furthermore, a united nation is more confident and a confident nation is more creative, resilient and prosperous. As Kenneth Clark said in 1969:

It is lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation. We can destroy ourselves by cynicism and disillusion, just as effectively as by bombs.

One of the most powerful forces of division in recent years has been the rise of identity politics. Identity politics is the idea that people should be defined not by the national identity but by other personal attributes, such as gender, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, disability, cultural background or the experience of being a migrant.

In a bewildering world where people are struggling to find meaning in their lives, a sense of identity can foster a sense of meaning, community and connection with other people. We are social creatures. As Frances Fukuyama observed, we crave dignity and respect from those around us. The rise in identity politics has accelerated with the decline of mass media and the rise of highly personalised news feeds and on-demand services, but the problem is not when people identify with others. It is when, in the context of public debate, the appeal to identity claims special standing for certain people based on their personal characteristics and experiences. These individual claims of identity threaten to eclipse our shared identity as Australians.

In the context of political debate, identity claims to elevate the speaker beyond criticism, because no other speaker can access the speaker's lived experience so they can't be in a position to judge if the speaker is right or wrong. Identity politics encourages us to talk past one another rather than engaging with one another to find common ground. Identity politics encourages groups to look inwards to their struggles and backwards to past injustices instead of outwards and forwards to cooperation. It is pessimistic and not constructive; it focuses on circumstances over capacities. It is the pursuit of emotional validation over a program for change. It is a dead end, especially for the most vulnerable. Ultimately, it is a recipe for more tribalism, loss of faith in our institutions and for abandoning those bonds that unite us as Australians.

Many people have rightly criticised identity politics, but few have sought to acknowledge that the rise of identity politics reveals a need to bolster a greater sense of the national identity. How then should we bolster our national identity? We can start by reminding people of the things that we share in common and by making more opportunities to bring Australians together. I think we can do this in three ways, through education, national commemoration and the broader culture.

First, we should amplify what young people are learning from Australia's civic and political history so that they can take their full place as active citizens in this nation. They should understand the context of today, anchored in the traditions of our past. They should have an understanding that our democratic system of government is designed to serve them. They should believe they have a stake—indeed, the largest stake—in Australia's future.

Second, we must make more of occasions of national commemoration. In recent years, the commemorations of the Centenary of Anzac were a great example. Australians remembered and reflected on the stories of heroism and sacrifice of Australia's citizen soldiers in World War I, which did much to shape our character. These events were bolstered by public commemorations in every town and suburb—indeed, in every ethnic community—across Australia. The next major opportunity for national commemoration is 2020, when we will commemorate the 250th anniversary of the arrival of Captain Cook in Australia. This is not only another chance for us to reflect on Cook's achievements and on where Australia sits within the history of the West, but it's also a chance for all Australians to reflect on their own beginnings in this land.

Third, we can make more of the national identity through its reflection in the broader culture. We can start this by making more of Australia Day. Other than citizenship ceremonies, most Australians use Australia Day to enjoy the sunshine; but we need to use Australia Day as a day to gather as a family, to tell stories, to learn more about our Indigenous heritage—which is the heritage of all Australians—and to see the day for what it really is: a day to reflect on our beginnings. Those are not only our national beginnings but also the story of how each of our families came to Australia and how this narrow story fits into the broader shared national story. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but they are a few steps we can take to help achieve the Prime Minister's aims of bringing Australians together.