Why Australia is a great country

There isn’t much about living in Australia to complain about. This is, I think, the reason why I haven’t written much about Australia. I realise though that my long silence about life in Australia is a bit disturbing. Maybe it is just me getting a bit uncomfortable with being too comfortable. Indeed, when things simply work most days, it is easy to take that they do so for granted. So I thought perhaps it’s about time I reflect a bit on my life here in the Lucky Country.

* * *

A society of respect

From the minute we stepped into their embassy in Manila to lodge an application for independent migration to Australia, I already felt like I was home. Despite at the time being geographically and culturally located miles away from my personal experience living in the Philippines, Australia made me feel valued right there and then. The way the clerk who served us patiently explained the relevant options available to us, the way the premises provided a comfortable waiting area for its visitors, the way the migrant’s services queueing system ensured we were kept informed of our place in the queue… that whole first experience of dealing with an Australian government agency left a deep impression on me. It was an experience that was to remain consistent over the many years that was to follow in my life here in Australia — in the way both the Government (through its agencies) and the larger society touched our lives.

Respect pretty much encapsulates the experience of Australia.

Indeed, the consistency of the quality of this experience makes it hard not to remind myself not to take it all for granted. For a native Filipino, living in Australia turns the notion of respect from a textbook social theory you learn in school to a practical everyday reality.

At some point one is even tempted to see respect as a given. But then, I personally believe that the key underlying advantage Third World migrants have over home-grown Australians is that we possess an outsider’s perspective; one that allows us to consciously maintain a constant state of awe at the excellent society that hosts us. This is an awe inspired by an appreciation of the bigger reality that respect is, in fact, NOT a universal given. Nor is being respected an entitlement, or a right; and by no means is it an absolute. Countries like the Philippines where a sorry deficit in mutual respect for one another prevails are a testament to that fact. A society where being respected is a local given and extending respect to others is a reasonable expectation is a rare and exceptional one in today’s world. Unfortunately, countries like the Philippines constitute the bigger norm.

The ordinariness of mutual respect in a society like Australia’s is something that the people of a backward society such as that of the Philippines can only begin to comprehend much less aspire to. Respect in Australia is so ingrained that it exhibits itself both at the macro collective level and at a micro individual level. Deep in their psyche each Australian harbours a robust shared sense of belonging and, as such, see themselves as stakeholders in the well-being of their society and its functioning as a harmonious whole even at the lowest levels…

At the coffee shop where I routinely get my morning fix, customers mill around the counter in a way that often makes it difficult to distinguish those who are (a) in the process of ordering and paying, or (2) waiting for a concluded order to be served. So it is a normal and routine courtesy to politely ask: “Where do I get in line?”. The remarkable thing here is that even where a queue is not readily apparent, one actually exists. Each person just makes a mental note of who came first — and the collective outcome simply comes together in a natural way.

Even where there is a physically obvious queue, such as in a supermarket with multiple checkout counters, the kind of decency that is all but alien to the Filipino mind routinely manifests itself here. Once while waiting in line for my turn to pay for a trolley full of groceries, a cashier showed up and opened a previously closed checkout counter adjacent to the one I was lined up in. The person behind me politely told me he was jumping onto that counter and invited me to go ahead of him seeing that I was, in fact and quite obviously, ahead of him in the queue we were presently in. I thanked him and we both went for the newly-opened counter. In the broader scheme of things, both of us saved a bit of time — in a way that was fair to both of us.

The conclusion I make is quite self-evident:

…courteous behaviour individually applied by the system participants clearly resulted in a harmonious or orderly outcome overall.

Australia is by no means the only country in the advanced world where such observations can be made. But taken relative to a country like the Philippines where people routinely clamber over one another like crabs to get their hands on what their enormous numbers had made so scarce, the banal courtesy and respect inherent in Australian society is a standout. It is, absolutely remarkable that a country founded as a penal colony after first coming in contact with Europeans and, as such, initially populated (i.e. as its first European settlers) by British convicts is now one of the most prosperous in the world offering one of the highest-rated quality-of-life standards to its residents. This is a country where rich and poor can share the same public facilities, go to the same quality schools, picnic on the same beaches, eat the same meat, and get treated at the same hospitals.

An egalitarian society

Any less than that level of egalitarianism constitutes an outrage here. Perhaps, to be fair, much of that relative economic equality is enforced by a tax system that heavily penalises wealth and, in many cases, is seen to be a disincentive to working longer hours. It is a system that can even be criticised as leaning much too closely to socialism for some people’s tastes, perhaps — not because the state owns much of the means of production here (as the strict definition of socialism goes), but because there is a state-enforced re-distribution of wealth that hits poor little rich folk (and high income earners) here quite hard. But then I see the relative social harmony we enjoy that is an outcome of an economically egalitarian society as a form of non-financial wealth that sufficiently justifies every cent of the tax we pay. After all, what’s the point in having a lot of personal wealth if you don’t feel safe doing simple things like walking in public parks and streets?

When degree of access to life’s nice things does not vary much between the working class and the leisure class, there is none of the covetous relationship amongst a society’s people that we see in inherently unjust and unequal societies such as that in the Philippines. In such environments where wealth is more fairly distributed trust flourishes. And as I pointed out a while back, in societies where trust is more the rule than the exception, there is less corruption.

A system that works

Perhaps too, a very mature parliamentary form of government makes the flavour of democratic practice in Australia a very local affair, with us, the constituents, focusing on local issues and trusting our elected representatives and the collective dynamic of the parliament they form part of to distill the local perspective and local goals to the state perspective and national interests. As such, like the example of the coffee shop queue I cited, we all do our individual thing properly and the system facilitates the emergence of a working outcome. As such, a useless pre-occupation with macro matters need not burden the average citizen. Here is blogger Orion Pérez Dumdum being a bit more specific in his seminal article The Parliamentary System Fits the Philippines

[…] in a Parliamentary System, it is much harder for unscrupulous vested interests, such as rent-seeking monopolistic members of the oligarchy to influence public policy through special deals and bribes because they will have to influence a majority of members of parliament just to influence policy. Such unscrupulous vested interests, as much as they may try, cannot easily influence the Prime Minister, because a Prime Minister cannot make decisions alone and instead can only propose courses of action which need to be confirmed through a deliberative assembly. In a Presidential System, unscrupulous vested interests need only to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe one person: the President. In a Parliamentary System, vested interests will find it difficult (and far too expensive) to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe a majority of members of parliament because there are too many of them.

Fair deal when it works. The elements conduct their affairs to ensure good outcomes within their individual spheres of influence and the encompassing system ensures that the agglomeration of these individual behaviours results in a fair emergent outcome. So under a parliamentary system, individuals get to focus on electing officials who are most relevant to them rather than on an official who represents a mere abstraction of their aspirations.

* * *

Respect, the egalitarian ideal, stuff that works. It’s all here in Australia in bucketloads. Much of what makes a great society are things that are relevant to individuals at their personal Ground Zeroes. Contrasting that is the Philippines, where what prevails in the National “Debate” are politicians’ quaint platitudes that rouse naive idealist sentiment in a population tragically idled by a flaccid economy. It needs to work that way there because, anything more detailed or specific than slogans and platitudes brings Filipinos face-to-face with what to them is the unfathomable reality that their leaders simply cannot influence their fortunes directly. In Australia, issues are local and specific. That is because we live in a society where our future fortunes lie squarely in our own hands and not in our politicians’.

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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27 Comments on "Why Australia is a great country"

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Joe America
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Ah, you made me homesick for the courtesies that also exist in the US. Maybe not always as consistently so as in Australia, but markedly different than the lack of interpersonal kindness here.

I lost my wallet down by the Opera House in 2004 when I visited Daintree Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, Brisbane, Kakadu and Darwin. The wallet was turned into the police department, money and credit cards intact. The police department called me by telephone to let me know they had it, and they delivered it to me by international express. No charge.

Frank
Guest
I have expressed doubt at this passage: “In a Presidential System, unscrupulous vested interests need only to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe one person: the President. In a Parliamentary System, vested interests will find it difficult (and far too expensive) to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe a majority of members of parliament because there are too many of them.” …mainly because something very similar has been going on in the federalist quasi-parliamentary American system for quite a long time. Any vested interest with enough resources won’t mind operating on federal and state levels, across constituencies. The vested interests donate heavily… Read more »
Hyden Toro
Guest

I have lived too long in foreign lands. I have compared the cultures, and behaviors of different people, in different countries. I found out Filipinos, as undiciplined, as ever, in comparison.
Filipinos want to be first: in lines; in anything, that requires waiting. They break infront of the lines, to be served first…if you work with them…they use “intriga”, to put you down…
All I know is: it reflects our values, as people… the leaders move..with “wang-wang”, with “bodygaurds”, etc…to show thier self-importance. WHERE THE LEADERS GO…THE PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW…Good article, Mate…

boinks
Guest

sad to see what i was thinking put into writing. the me first attitude is ingrained even in our daily ordinary lives =(

Linda
Guest

Totally agree with your point on Australia being truly egalitarian and a society of respect. I live in Sydney and much as I have family, friends and 36 years of memories that I love from the Philippines I can no longer live in a place where my “Ground Zeroes” are irrelevant at both micro and macro levels. Your article, as usual, is excellent. With fist pounding on my chest, respect.

theoloniousfunk
Guest

You love Australia so much…are you Jim Paredes?

Joe Bob
Guest

Even Jim Paredes loves Australia…

Tessa Borja
Guest

Tell that to the Australian Aborigines. They’ll be thrilled (to death!) to know how much you love their country.

genki
Guest
I’m currently in Australia but if only there was a good job waiting for me in the Philippines, I would prefer to go back. I miss my friends and relatives. Iba parin ang tawanan at biruan ng Pilipino. Iba parin kapag kapwa Pilipino ang kasalimuha mo. One thing that shocked me here in Australia is the subtle racism and some are quite overtly racist. I’ve had conversations with my workmates and there are some who admittedly tell me that they hate Muslims and are racist to aboriginals. Some of them probably hate Asians as well but just couldn’t say it… Read more »
Angela
Guest
Most Australians are not racist. Some are just being realistic. A lot of Muslim migrants do not know how to assimilate. They should stay in countries where there are more Muslims if they want to keep their lifestyle. Or if they want to keep their lifestyle, they should not impose it on other people. The problem with them is that, they migrate to a country with western values and then look down on westerners. Some Muslims are just living on the dole too. They go stay in their native land like Lebanon for six months, recieve money from the Australian… Read more »
Ann Marie
Guest

I like Australians,they are sensible,genuine and friendly people. I often visit OZ and stayed there for three months in each year. I like dealing with westerners than my own people(filipinos).As I find most filipinos, full of pretense and lies. Very troubled soul.

Jez
Guest

This article really made me miss queuing back home.

Soton
Guest

To those who say Australia displays racism I say you are badly informed. With 1 person in 4 being born overseas, with 2kids out of 4 having at least ONE parent born overseas, with immigration each year evenly split between Western and Asian nations, you are BADLY INFORMED!

Betch
Guest

In the Philippines, I worked at a company owned by Australians. They were the most down-to-earth bosses I’ve ever had! They were so easy to work with. They never bossed around and they joke with their employees. Ahh… those were the days!

Marlon
Guest

I’m Planning to go to AU with a student visa and my dependent is my husband and my kid. I will be studying vocational courses like Aged care cert 3, Aged care cert 4 with disability. I’m just wondering if my husband and I can find a job?

Thank you for your insights.

Potski
Guest

Argh, you are killing me. For the last 2 years, my husband has been trying to process his papers (well, more of like, I AM trying to process his papers) initially for assessment with Engineer’s Australia. Looks like it will be a no go for him or for me or for our kids. Wala syang gana. Yun na yun. And my cousin who’s in WA has been following up for the nth time already. Wala.

anonymous
Guest

i don’t agree 100%. a little bit Ms Universe-ish article. there’s still discrimination and racism in Australia.

anonymous2
Guest

just use google. and you’ll see many cases of discrimination and racism.

yes there are friendly and open minded australians but there are still A LOT of narrow minded ones.

neil tristan yabut
Guest

you forgot to mention some of the racism that goes on in australia, especially to those with middle eastern looks

homi
Guest

Speaking of racism, Filipinos are far more racist than Australians, so the statement about racism occurring in Oz, is a fact, but is irrelevant wrt the article.

anonymous
Guest

irrelevant?

meron bang respectful tapos matindi banat sa iyo ng racism?

dati ganyan ako mag isip.

but when i heard an aussie say “i can’t never ever respect asian people” sus ginoo.

“I don’t want asian people in Airsoft. I want to see Airsoft as being Australian.”

or a job ad that says ” the store requires no Indians or Asians… please.”

obviously homi, you’ve not been around.

mariaelizabethn
Guest
I have lived in Sydney for 40 yrs and am still happy and love it here , and talking about racism hey its part of life , even in the Philippines racism does exist so what is the problem then.?Anywhere in the world there’s problem no one can totally get rid of problems , but its only in Australia that l have seen so much honesty , fair and love to help either in Australia or other country , its a place l feel very safe and not worrying about me getting mugged or what , sometimes l just wish… Read more »
james lebron
Guest

Ha ha ha I think australia is not so great now
you can get killed in Martin place and mums are a tad crazy killing their sons.

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