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.

* * *

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

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’.

27 Replies to “Why Australia is a great country”

  1. 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.

  2. 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 to presidential campaigns, but most of their work goes on with influencing Congressmen and Senators in the legislature, along with Cabinet members. On a state level they often go about securing deals favorable to them. And it does help if the majority of the legislature and President are from the same party.

    Back to Australia…

    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.

    Knowing Philippine political culture and the fact that one is voting for the recognized party leader (and their MPs as Congressmen/Senators) via party name to lead the country, I would think Filipinos would be quite content to continue to “defer” their responsibility back to their local MP (or vested interests, like the Church?) as their political shepherds/wolves in shepherd’s clothing.

    Looking at the mechanics of how Gillard ascended to Labor leadership, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine Roxas giving way through party caucus to Noynoy in some alternate universe where the Philippines already had an unpopular GMA Government 2009.

    It WILL help a Philippine Parliament if the populace is active enough through enlightened-elite role models to keep holding their politicians accountable, and if the politicians within that party actually do listen rather than convince their gullible constituency that it’s their opponent’s fault for everything. Sort of an “active” elite within the party to boot out the “reactionary” elite and vested interests dominating even local politics (e.g. barangay ‘datus’) now, though they will need substantial clout just to break through. A more open economy can especially help.

    Finally, Australia has a Sex Party. That concept could really take off in the Philippines as something against the tradition-religion complex here…

  3. 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…

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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 straight to my face. I know they are just the minority but I guess it’s safe to say that Australia is indeed a great country but not without it’s problems.

    1. 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 government and then return to Australia just in time before the government cuts off the unemployment benefit. They suck.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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 Philippines will be the same , coz when Filipino settles or work overseas they are good on following rules and regulation , but as soon as they back to the Philippines , they’re back to the same old ways.

  17. 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.

  18. I want my children to live and work and start their family in australia
    As for me, well im already 52 yrs
    Old, i will just stay here in my rotten country and wait for my pension good if its not yet corrupted
    I hope not at least my children will
    Enjoy aurtralia’s honest government system.

  19. Having migrated in Australia 18 yrs ago was the best decision even if we lived a financially good life in the Philippines as we were both managers in our jobs but wanted a much better life for our son. You are right that in Australia we have this common courtesy, being considerate to others and equality that we tend to forget until we get to come home to the Philippines and we instantly see the race to be ‘me first’ in line in traffics, queuing and every single areas is so visible and stressful. We remembered what’s it like then and still the same today.
    For those of you that talks about RACISM in Australia, I do believe that you have to travel more within the Philippines and even outside of the Philippines.
    Working in the popular food chain as a working student, graduating from the University, job- hunting in Manila, starting a desk job till the time I became a manager in a multinational companies …. I do believe that everyone reading here that racism is much worst and visibly seen in our PHIL society than it is Australia. Any employers would favor applicants coming from Ateneo, La Salle, UP, St Pauls, San Beda etc and all the top and posh, popular universities and will always give priority in jobs, network of friends and connections. In the PH you can instantly see faces of people and conversations change when you asked “so what school or university are you from?” The manner of how people conduct themselves, taglish or full English speaking conversations always have the link of impressing others and a status symbol to identify ‘class.’ Even the location of our home, subdivision, suburb is an easy profile of who we are and where we belong in the financial and social ladder. Name dropping of relatives or friends in jobs or workplace tends to help push a work application to acceptance is still common practice in the PH. Try to recall all the unfair or sick practices we do that are not common or never practice in Australia….. Then you tell me where Racism is alive and commonly practice and implanted in our PH culture from day 1.
    To say that Australia is a racist country, you are one individual who never had the chance to meet the wonderful people here who will help you and share a friendship regardless where you live, school or university you came from, even if you don’t have a car, doesn’t matter what job you do, the way you pronounce English words, whoever you are in the sociology-economic ladder…. Aussies are great friends who don’t judge you where you come from and will not need to read your background profile to respect you as a person! People are equal here, even if you are a manager or a carpenter, we are first name basis and same treatment. And at the end of the day, there is no perfect country even though when I compare PH vs AU, in my books I would always say AU is the best! And with this I and my husband are both forever grateful of being an Australian, bringing my 1 yr old son then now 19 and giving birth to my daughter now 15 …..this is where I have seen that Filipinos can actually live a great future and that a great life do exist beyond your status quo. Working and saving up for 50 yrs in the PH, we can live comfortably in 5 yrs or even less for most hardworking pinoys.

    PS great respect to the writer of this article! Thank you for reminding us of our great culture in AU.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.