Over many decades Australia basked in the glory of Donald Horne’s metaphor of the “Lucky Country”.
Published in the 60’s it contextualized a country which had survived the war –had stable government- abundant natural resources and a lifestyle which was incomprehensible anywhere but here.
Since that time many “metaphors’ have emerged The Quarry and the beach in the 70’s – the Clever Country in the 80’s more recently the Lucky Culture.
There are undoubtedly many more! However there is an image so ingrained in our national psyche that it is taken for granted – albeit –the Lucky Country – is the Lifestyle Country. A country, which chooses recreation above everything!
The Australian culture can be viewed through many lenses one of which is our Industrial relations system, which in its own right is an Institution (dare I say a cultural symbol).
The Union Movement –The Award system –The legislation -The Industrial Courts and the legal milieu – The debate about “Work Choices” – there is a whole Industry that has developed in and around this arena!
If one reviews the major Industrial relations debates of this country one factor stands out above all else – lifestyle – recreation – it seems as if all the major debates in the country have been about major recreational advances!
1920 44 hour week
1941 Annual Leave One Week becomes standard
1945 Annual leave 2 weeks is introduced
1948 40 hour week is gained
1949 35 hour week and Long Service leave
1963 3 weeks leave become the standard
1973 4 weeks leave
1981 38 hours per week
In addition there have other advances in the recreational arena:
17.5 loading on holiday leave
While all of these Conditions are laudable in the end someone has to pay for them!
It may be that I am biased but please help me remember when Australia had a genuine debate on Wealth Creation (increasing the size of the pie) and / or productivity –the closest I can remember was the 1980’s when their was some genuine effort to build an economy that was prepared for the 21st Century by increasing the “size of the pie.”
It strikes me that the real issues in the Australia now get confused and hi jacked by passionate “interest’ groups whoever they might be -whether they are Unions –Environmentalists, Welfare Lobbies etc.-and / or the media who choose to selectively profile some issues rather than others.
Australia is a country of enormous potential but in many ways we are too comfortable – our lifestyle has prevailed!
We have systems of Education, Health and Welfare, which are incredibly good (all of course could be better) we have a Government system and a Public sector while always under critique are working reasonably well -and we claim to be a country, which has an extensive record of Innovation!
So how is it that in recent years we have seen many of our Australian owned businesses being taken over by Foreign Companies – why do they see value that we are unable to realise?
Choose an Industry and you will find many of our Australian businesses are owned off shore fully or partially.
Not to mention that our Car Industry has not survived and the Government is to blame!
It is an interesting contrast to compare our development with Israel.
It appears their Economic development has been radical – from a start up Nation in 1948 –they lead the world in Irrigation systems for agriculture and have a technology sector, which is outstanding.
There is an argument that Australia is better prepared for the Globalised world than many others and we did survive the GFC in better shape than other countries.
But where is the future:
A story, which highlights our current position, was forwarded to me after the recent uproar about Toyota closing down.
Of course it was the fault of the Government!
In November, 2013, Toyota President and CEO, Max Yasuda, was giving a luncheon address, to a business group, at the Toyota Altona Plant, in
“Last year in 2012, we were working so hard to create conditions, whereby we could stay in this wonderful country, and produce cars.
We had restructured the business, and despite acceding to recent union demands, for even better wages and conditions, we were seeing a dim light,
flickering at the end of the tunnel.
We were honest with our employees, and had explained the seriousness of the company’s plight.
They had assured us of their cooperation, so we were determined to all pull together, in a desperate attempt, to keep the company viable.”
There was an air of camaraderie. A feeling of hope!
It was Australia Day that week, and it fell on a Thursday.
On the Friday, out of our workforce of 2418:
757 workers called in sick
568 workers just didn’t turn up
431 workers were on holidays
662 workers turned up for work
That’s when I finally realized, we were stuffed.”
It appears we are a country devoted to lifestyle!!