AT the risk of sounding unfair, I believe our political leaders have to share the blame for our desperately disappointing performance in the London Olympic Games.
And it’s not that they have starved our athletes of funds. Our elite sportspeople receive more than enough from the public purse to prepare themselves for top competition.
Rather, it’s a quality less tangible but no less real – a national sense of adventurous self-confidence and team spirit that has been lacking in Australia ever since the rise to leadership of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.
We are currently cursed with two people who find it quite impossible to tap into that well of community goodwill and reciprocal acceptance that allows the nation to become greater than the sum of its individual parts.
In its place there has arisen a national malaise that is sapping Australia’s heart, a sneering bitchiness that has spread to every part of the country and among all socio-economic groupings. And it defies the reality of our place in the world’s pecking order.
We have never been better off. We have never been more safe from external threat or economic stumble. Our neighbourhood is peaceful and friendly. The yellow hordes of yesteryear have become the eager customers of our agricultural and mineral wealth. And their endless supply of low-cost manufactures has kept our inflation rate in perfect control. We are healthier, longer living, and wealthier than any generation that went before us.
Yet we moan and snarl and bicker. And with a few notable exceptions this awful negativity takes its toll on our representatives in the international sporting arena.
We look back in wonder at that Australia under Bob Hawke, for example, when we wrested the America’s Cup from its plinth in Newport. We can barely remember that fine day in Canberra when Kevin Rudd and Brendan Nelson joined as one to say “Sorry” to the Aboriginal people.
It could never happen today when both sides are prepared to sacrifice human refugees at sea in pursuit of their political ends; and where the righteous battle against climate change brings denial on the one hand and petty bribery on the other.
In the American constitution they have a rule that says a candidate for president must have one qualification above all others – to be born in America. In that land of immigrants it is quite uncontroversial. It ensures that from her or his very first breath the candidate will be surrounded by all things American. I think it’s a good rule. And as it happens, neither Tony Abbott nor Julia Gillard would qualify if it were applied to our head of government here.
It’s not foolproof, of course. Wayne Swan was born here though his heart, he says, is with “The Boss”, the New Jersey singer Bruce Springsteen.
But it is significant perhaps that the two people the polls tell us who Australians really want as their political leaders – Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd – are native sons. Or is that just a coincidence?