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Transcript 22751

Remarks at Book Launch for 'The Lucky Culture' - Brisbane

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 27/06/2013 to 07/09/2013

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/07/2013

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 22751

I don’t know about the rest of you, and I know I have no official capacity to this, but I think all Australians would like today to be declared Ashton Agar Day.

This is a young man who’s just given such absolute delight to every Australian overnight, whether you're a cricket fan or not.

The look of enthusiasm on this young man’s face was enough to put a spring in the step of everyone this morning right across the country.

So Ashton, well done mate, the country’s proud of you and there’s no pressure, but we expect this to be repeated every test match!

Thank you to the folk at Mary Ryan’s for hosting today’s launch.

It’s an old truism that a town isn’t a real town without a bookstore.

Certainly in my local community on Brisbane’s Southside, as a family we have spent a lot of time over a lot of years sipping coffees at our local bookstore Riverbend – in fact I’ll be there this evening.

I believe in books.

I believe in the power of ideas.

I believe in the importance of debating ideas.

The American novelist and essayist William Styron once said that “a good book should leave you ... slightly exhausted at the end”.

By that measure, Nick Cater’s The Lucky Culture is a very good book indeed.

Good enough, apparently, to warrant a launch in every capital city and quite a few regional population centres.

In fact, this launch is the literary equivalent of Dame Nellie Melba’s farewells – they never seem to stop.

I’m not sure what the statute of limitations on launches is.

Everyone will eventually have read his book because everyone - eventually - will have launched it somewhere.

But Nick, I don’t quite know how the locals will take to your description of the “parched nature strips of twenty-first century suburban Brisbane”, reflecting the “arid intellectual climate in which mankind [is] no longer master of its destiny”.

Sounds a little bit like southern intellectual snobbery to me Nick.

But then, Nick himself, in the prologue to The Lucky Culture, has encouraged robust feedback on his writing.

There’s even a blogspot for the purpose.

So here is my humble contribution to the blog.

There’s no denying that The Lucky Culture is an entertaining read.

By turns both amusing and provoking.

There is the occasional jolt of recognition.

A barb that wounds. A caught reflection that reveals one’s less photogenic side – Norman Gunston eat your heart out.

The Labor Party certainly does not escape criticism.

Nor should it.

But there are also many moments in the reading of The Lucky Culture when the author’s aggrieved tone and generalisations sit oddly with the facts.

It’s the kind of book that seems imbued with a sense of disappointment.

As if written by someone rudely woken from a dream.

Nick Cater arrived in Australia in 1989 to a land he perceived as free from class distinctions.

An egalitarian land free from bombast, where pretentions were sorted out quick-smart.

A place where you might be better off than someone else, without ever feeling you were therefore somehow better than someone else.

It’s an egalitarianism that the author glimpsed from his taxi window, driving from the airport to the city on his first day as a new chum.

An egalitarianism he traces back to the very foundations of the nation.

Or at least its colonial foundations, because in the book, Indigenous Australia seems curiously invisible, its influence on our national character almost negligible.

So much so that he announces in his prologue that when he uses the term “settled” Australia, it should be regarded as a “value-neutral” reference to the country post 1788.

Nick, much of the troubled part of our history since 1788 has been because we refused to come to terms with the fact that form most of our settled history, we have treated our Aboriginal brothers and sisters with contempt.

And through a painful national process of reconciliation, we are finally seeking to put wrongs to rights in this most elemental exercise of egalitarianism.

Nick Cater’s central grievance is that this sturdy, no-bulldust egalitarianism has given way, over recent years, to a new social class, a new elite.

A class of university-over-educated men and women who, for the first time in our history, don’t just feel better off than their fellows, but better full-stop.

And who think they are entitled to look down on those who do not share their world view.

For the first time, Nick asserts, snobbery has become part of our national character.

But I wonder if perhaps the Australia which Nick Cater glimpsed on that first taxi ride from the airport, back in 1989, a view obviously formed by his reading of D H Lawrence was in fact a realistic glimpse.

Yes, by world standards we have indeed always been a classless society.

More classless certainly than the England from which Nick Cater fled.

And the England from which my forebear was much less ceremoniously exported in 1790.

And unlike Nick, without having to pay his fare.

But this book’s rather romantic view of convicts working in harmony with their jailors and jolly migrants making their unimpeded way from fruit-picker to millionaire, must surely be tempered just a little by social and economic reality.

And by political movements such as our own which have sought to reform that reality for the betterment of those brought up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Ponder for a moment the following list.

Port Arthur.

Sarah Island.

Moreton Bay.

The Parramatta Female Factory.

Myall Creek.

Lambing Flat.

The Eureka Stockade.

Brisbane’s Bread and Blood riots.

The 1890 Maritime Strike.

The 1891 Shearer’s Strike.

The 1917 food riots.

The New Guard.

Wave Hill.

Chapters in the history of our egalitarian society that are surely worth at least a footnote on what Geoffrey Blainey, has called our national ‘balance sheet’.

Curiously, the author Nick Cater does invoke to support his thesis of a classless past is Henry Handel Richardson.

But surely if The Getting of Wisdom shows anything it is that snobbery was alive and well, and rolling its eyes in derision, in 1910 Australia.

Ladies and gentlemen, as a library-card-carrying member of the club Nick Cater despises in this book, I crave a moment for self-defence.

I’m a positive person. An optimist.

I believe this nation’s best days lie ahead not behind.

The reforms Nick excoriates in The Lucky Culture are ones that I believe have made us a more egalitarian place.

Certainly they have transformed my life and my prospects.

Foremost among these reforms, a fine education – first at a great government school.

Followed by a quality tertiary education at a great public university.

Both the beneficiaries of Labor Government reforms by the man Nick Cater seems to criticise the most – E.G Whitlam.

At high school our first proper library for my final year.

At university, free access and a living allowance for kids like me whose mothers had scrimped and saved with the remote hope that her youngest kid might one day benefit from a university education.

Nick, these were deeply egalitarian reforms.

And they replaced a system infinitely less accessible to rural working class kids like me.

Education reform.

Law reform.

Cultural reform.

By the time I left school it was barely a decade since the lifting of the marriage bar that required women public servants to resign their jobs if they married.

My school-leaving coincided with the passage of the Racial Discrimination Act.

With Gough Whitlam trickling a handful of sand into the palm of Vincent Lingiari.

Acts and moments that have strengthened our sense of egalitarianism, not weakened them.

I speak of our real, our lived, our flesh and blood, egalitarianism.

And Nick, one that gave this young Australian an example of equality of opportunity and its capacity to transform lives.

One that has a little less of Nick Cater’s beloved Mick Dundee about it, perhaps.

But one that may be truer to who we are as a people.

Whether we live in the bush or the city.

Whether we are a plumber or a paediatrician or a prime minister.

As for our national capacity to prick the balloon of self-importance of our political elites, we don’t need to look much further than the television series The Hollowmen.

I’ve wanted to go to Antarctica for ages.

But ever since the The Hollowmen episode that made a Prime Ministerial trip to Antarctica as a perfect media diversion, I’ve been too petrified to even think of it.

This is a remorseless satire on the very elites Nick Cater insists are taking over our nation, shutting down our debates and stifling our opinions.

Thankfully, we can apparently still openly mock these elites on prime-time television.

And write freely about them, in books like this one.

It’s a freedom I am glad of.

Whatever Nick Cater may suggest, none of us wants to have our world view indulged and endorsed by everything we read.

We need polemics like The Lucky Culture to prick us, to goad us.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a brave author who includes the word “Lucky” in his title.

The word instantly evokes, as I am sure it intends to, Donald Horne’s mid-60s clarion call, The Lucky Country.

A call to shake off the self-satisfied reverie Horne believed had held back Australia’s intellectual and artistic development.

A call to harness our great qualities, and make of these a great nation.

I’ve always been of the view that in this country we must make our own luck.

This in fact was the cultural point of my address to the National Press Club yesterday.

We once thought we were lucky to ride on the sheep’s back.

Then we thought we were lucky to be able to dig anything out of the ground that mother nature had fortunately put there.

The truth is this all took hard work.

As does out next challenge.

To manage the transition from our current economy and the end of the China resources boom, to our future economy which diversifies our economic base to build the new industries of tomorrow.

Implementing a new national competitiveness agenda for Australia is not about luck.

It is about hard work.

Hard work to tap new domestic gas fields to lower our energy prices.

Hard work to get the best productivity outcomes under the Fair Work Act.

Hard work to get the best entrepreneurial leadership to create the new businesses of the future, and the new global markets they will serve.

Hard work to protect the environment, but also, to streamline assessment processes so that we get the best outcomes for both the economy and the environment.

Hard work to create the best educated workforce in the world.

That’s why I'm catching up with Campbell Newman today.

I mean to ask Campbell Newman to sign on to the Better Schools Plan for Australia, to invest another $3.8 billion into the schools of Queensland and to Queensland schoolkids.

Hard work to build world-class infrastructure that reduces our tyranny of distance.

Again that’s why I'm meeting Premier Campbell Newman today.

Again I’ll be asking Premier Campbell Newman to sign onto, to honour his original agreement to co-fund and co-invest in the Brisbane Cross-River Rail infrastructure for the future.

And let me tell you, there is nothing more egalitarian than hard work.

It is not the stuff of elites.

It is the stuff that offers opportunity and reward for all.

We’ve come through economic challenges that have brought older, less agile nations to their knees.

We are engaging in our region as never before.

As one of the top dozen economies in the world and an active contributor to global affairs, we are seated at the important tables, for the big conversations.

Next year, this fair city hosts G20 – the world’s foremost economic collaboration forum.

Donald Horne wouldn’t recognise the Australia I see when I’m out and about every day.

My concern is that maybe Nick doesn’t either.

Maybe we just see and experience different realities within the same country which we both love.

So let’s keep the dialogue open, fresh and robust.

Nick has certainly done that in his book.

I’ve wanted to accord him the respect of doing the same today.

So thank you to Nick and to HarperCollins for the opportunity to be a part of what is turning into more of a festival of book launches rather than a single event.

But let us above all celebrate the power of ideas, and the debate of ideas in shaping our nation’s future.

[ENDS]

Transcript 22751