In 1980, Australia's low-budget multicultural channel, SBS (Special Broadcasting Service) launched with the song which sung, "Australia is a nation of people of the world; of many different cultures meeting in our boys and girls; it's all of us together that has seen this country grown, from all the different nation to a nation of our own; and we have come from east and west; we've come across the sea; we've come to start a new life; we have come here to be free and we have come from north and south; across the sky we've flown from all the nations of the world to a nation we called home."
1987 marked the 25th anniversary of the America's Cup. Syndicated columnist Michael Kinsley was also the editor of 'The New Republic'. He gave readers his perspective: "Australia strikes the American visitor today (in 1987) as a virtually classless society. Australia's per-capita income of $10,000 is close enough to America's (about $12,000), and there is far less wretched poverty or great wealth. When you consider that the sunshine and the beaches are free, it's hard not to agree with the sentiment cited by Australian social observer Donald Horne in his famous 1964 book, 'The Lucky Country': 'In the pursuit of happiness for ordinary people, Australians believe they are already ahead of America'. Some say that Australia’s achievement comes packaged with a national attitude that combines egalitarianism with freedom. Today (in 1987), many Australians complain that the egalitarian spirit actually threatens the nation's prosperity by creating an 'anti-success attitude' that sneers at entrepreneurship and hard work. In a world where natural resources matter less and human organization matters more, bountiful Australia – even more than bountiful America – finds itself being approached and surpassed by crowded, barren nations like Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. Most of Australia's population is descended...from pioneers who came from England during the 19th century to farm or mine for gold. Hence the...national nickname, 'diggers'. The country’s leading historian, Manning Clark, has described the national attitude that emerged from the gold fields a century ago: 'If you could not work, you were of no use, and would infallibly sink in the social rank in a society in which physical activity and industry were made the highest standards of a man's ability for getting on in the world'. Yet a generation or 2 in the Lucky Country seems to sap these juices, even more than a generation or 2 in the land of the free and the home of the brave saps the juices of young Americans, in the eyes of their immigrant grandparents. The America's Cup may be a race between 2 lucky countries whose luck is running out."
In December 1979, the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah fled to Panama while the Ayatollah Khomeini was said would be sending a religious leader to Australia to explain Islam. In economic news, Kenneth Davidson gave the Australian people his analysis in The Age: "No other country in the world has the same favorable combination as Australia of a good climate, a skilled and reasonably disciplined labor force and an abundance of natural resources. Why is it then that Australia is not incomparably wealthier than any other western society?
"A century ago, Australia was. The period of the 1880s was one of sustained economic and social advance except that much of the real wealth of the country was dissipated in an orgy of railway building and often associated land speculation which left Australia ill-equipped to meet the Depression of the 1890s. In the 1920s, Australia lost its direction. Economic development meant closer settlement of ex-servicemen on uneconomic farms and grandiose irrigation schemes. If the relative abundance of labor and capital had been used more wisely during this period, the intensity and duration of the Great Depression would have been less painful for Australia.
"Full employment came to Australia only with the Second World War and it was sustained for the next 3 decades through a combination of skillful fiscal management and the flexibility conferred on the economy by the mass migration program and a usually benign global environment. Unfortunately, this period of sustained stability was associated with only a very slow growth of real incomes per head of population despite one of the highest levels of savings and investment of any western country. Inefficient manufacturing industries were encouraged to proliferate under an umbrella of higher levels of protection in the name of balanced development and to provide the jobs for the new arrivals. It is now widely understood that Australia is adding to the economic instability of the area by hanging onto industries which are in direct competition with the exports necessary for the development of ASEAN countries. Unfortunately, this realization has dawned when unemployment is more than 5% of the workforce – and many people it will become worse during the 1980s.
"Irrespective of the necessity for change, it is unlikely that Australia's politicians are going to confront the protectionist lobbies when they have to face the electors every 3 years or less with only the disruptive effects of lower protection in evidence. There is even less consensus in Australia in favor of constitutional change to give more effective government at the center than there is for a leaner and more efficient industry structure. Instead, Australians will continue to pay the cost of failure to meet our full economic potential which has been translated into a relative decline in living standards.
"In the immediate postwar period Australians enjoyed living standards higher than any other country outside North America. As Australia entered the 1970s it was still in the Top 10 countries in terms of gross domestic production per head of population. As we enter the 1980s we have dropped back into the second 11 with most northern European countries joining North America in having higher real incomes than Australians. Australia failed to capitalize on the second minerals boom of the late '60s. The Country Party forced the Coalition to maintain an undervalued currency which led to a speculative capital inflow and the inflationary explosion in 1973 – despite the attempts of the Whitlam Government of dampen the impact through currency revaluations and tariff cuts.
"Australia is now (at the end of 1979) looking forward to an energy boom in the 1980s. Significantly, this will almost certainly be associated with coal. So far there is no evidence of any Government debate about the substantive issues in this development. Instead, the Government, the Opposition and the community (represented by the environmentalists) are fighting each other to an emotional standstill over whether we should be exporting uranium or not. This is a problem which will be resolved in energy importing countries, not Australia. They have to decide whether they want nuclear power or not. Even if the waste disposal problem is solved tomorrow utilities can persuade their electorates that have nothing to fear from a nuclear power station next door, it will be in the 1990s, before the demand for uranium oxide would have any appreciable impact on the Australian economy.
"At present (in 1979), there is huge potential excess of uranium oxide compared with demand, so that only some of the planned Australian mines can get long term contracts. These could be at prices which will make the mines only marginally profitable. Rather than the politicians fighting amongst themselves to decide whether the Federal or Queensland and New South Wales Governments are to get the credit for development – which was about to happen in any case – they should be examining the questions over which they do have control in order to maximize the community interest. For instance, are State revenues from the sale of electricity for the refining of aluminium being maximized or, as in the past, are the refiners going to play each State against the other in the name of regional development?
"Another question is: are political considerations going to dictate the siting of new developments even though they cannot be justified on the additional cost? And, should electricity be priced on the basis of import parity for the coal used or on something less? The lower the electricity price, the larger the profits of the transnationals producing the aluminium. But it is by no means certain this will be properly taxed, given High Court interpretations of Government tax law and the complex system of transfer pricing used in the aluminium industry. Given reasonably competent Government and the continued increase in the price of oil, which will increase the value of Australian coal, Australians will be richer in the 1980s than they were in the 1970s and even richer than most west European countries.
"The real questions will become how it is to be distributed within the community and used to meet the necessary structural alterations to our industrial base. But if history is any guide, the extra wealth will dissipate through postponing the necessary changes and creating even more monuments to political stupidity such as the proposed electrification of the Melbourne to Sydney railway."