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Advance Australia Where?

As Tony Abbott sends us off to war we are reminded of John Howard’s eagerness to do the same thing 12 years ago. Dean Laplonge offers a brief insight into Howard’s Australia and what Howard tried to achieve, and the comparisons to today’s Australia are startling.

I wrote this article 12 years ago. Has anything changed?

Australia is fast heading down a dangerous path. While our stories of history may permit us to see an era of fascism only in some distant place and some distant time, there is no guarantee in this story that the ugly head of right-wing extremism will not rise again. Just because we participated in the fight against it, and shared in the spoils of the victory over it, does not remove us from being the constructors of an equally horrific threat. The current rhetoric of patriotism that is circulating within this nation suggests quite clearly that fascist ideologies are gaining prominence once again. And in this land where we claim there is opportunity for all, amidst all the rhetoric of a tolerant multiculturalism, such destructive ideas are starting to appear quite normal.

I’m not saying that John Howard is akin to Hitler. Let’s be honest, he really doesn’t have that much flair. Given a bit more intelligence, and the ability to speak with passionate vigour, and he might be taken more seriously by the masses. As it stands, however, he’s far too feeble and too docile to be such a crowd-controlling force. All too often his slippages and wayward comments have to be reshaped by his publicity machine in order to make them fit the full picture. It’s as if he doesn’t quite have all the pieces there to be able to do it alone.

But we do have the concentrat-ed/-ion camps. Here the unwanted “aliens” are held under lock and key, behind barbed wire fencing. What happens to them inside, not one of us is permitted to know. Their lips are sewn. They have all but faded from our minds right now. Will their faces reappear in years to come when the reality of their stories are finally untold? What future guilt awaits us? What demands for yet another “sorry” to be spoken from our lips? It is not too hard to notice the increase in discussions about the flag, the anthem, the pledge of allegiance, and citizenship. Nationalism in this country is currently flying unhealthily high. Memories of Anzac and fallen heroes of the battlefield occupy a place of public pride in this land. War movies populate our television screens. Young Australians are urged to go out and “fight” for peace in numerous territories overseas. We are obsessed with fighting. And still, for some bizarre reason, we appear to be gagging for a new war. How much bigger do we wish to be? How much further throughout the globe do we want to advance our Australian name?

Our own naïve self-image of the laid-back lifestyle full of Christian compassion is a long way from the understanding of those who are currently angered by the position we are taking in the world. Do we really think they would hate us so much if they too saw in us the same pacifistic, peaceful image that we see in self? While Howard’s aggressive comments do not speak for all of us, we should recognise that this is exactly how they will be interpreted. Does not our own media represent the words of foreign governments as reflective of the general consensus of all the people in these countries? If this is this case, then we are indeed being seen as racists, colonisers, overly full of ourselves. To shrug off such opinions as unimportant is arrogant. To think that we are okay, that we know best, that “foreigners” know nothing, is the kind of attitude that drives a nation deeper and deeper into its own isolated cave. From here, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the bigger picture. Sitting here, we all start to look like, think like, talk like little Johnnie Howards.

Today, we fail to see that the Aussie dream, where the voice of the average person on the street is said to matter, is all but dead; that our governments are becoming increasingly distant, wrapped up in their own corporate-style worlds from which they see nothing of the reality of our lives. We just sit back and we trust them. We let them tell us of the fear on our streets and to our borders. There’s something out there, threatening, waiting to get in. Don’t go outside. Don’t question. The foreign—the outside world—is, so we are told, now a danger to our “normal” and precious way of life. But this way of life, this normality of us, is just an idealised way of life. It doesn’t even exist. The people we offend by adopting such a nationalistic and high-and-mighty stance may soon grow impatient with having to appease us. We would do better, therefore, to start recognising our commonalities with them instead of dozily lapping up the rhetoric of right-wing ideologies without thought, without concern for the kind of future we invite. But we can only begin this process of communication and understanding when we stop thinking of ourselves as some superior and master, unquestionably lucky race.

Dean Laplonge is a cultural theorist whose research and consulting work explores the relationship between culture and everyday practices. He is the Director of the cultural research company Factive ( and an Adjunct senior Lecturer at the University of New South Wales.


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  1. David Stephens

    Nailed it nicely, particularly with the shout out to events of more than a decade ago. In this vein, note also that the remarks of Abbott today are virtual carbon copy of those of George W Bush in 2001 On the fascism issue note this: ‘All fascist regimes and organisations have used the power of nationalism and national security as a motivator, as Australia has increasingly done. But no other country I can think of has so actively used this power to support another nation’s militarism and to suppress perception, comment and understanding of events affecting our own foreign and defence policies.’ See also:

  2. flohri1754

    David Stephens …. As you have nailed the continuing, echoing concerns very well yourself ….. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” So extremely relevant ….

  3. kerrilmail

    Lest we forget!
    It seems we have forgotten!

  4. mars08

    I wrote this article 12 years ago. Has anything changed?

    One thing has (or REALLY should have) changed….!

    Twelve years ago many voters couldn’t conceive or believe that their government would lie and fabricate in order to start a needless, illegal war. These days the public (and the hopeless MSM) should know better.

    And that’s what makes it all the more infuriating!!

  5. mark delmege

    TAbbott at the UN was particularly embarrassing – as is our media with their never ending bullshit – be it terrorism, downed planes – or anything really of importance when it come to international affairs- this clip is a little hard to watch but you get a feel for what it is saying – turn on captions – I’m not sure that anyone in our media could even say these things on our TV such is the nature and degree of our servitude and I’m not sure if that is a reflection of the degree of our censorship or stupidity.

  6. dwejevans

    Not surprising that the only Prime Ministers who have committed Australia to war never actually served, and the prime ministers who had served brought the troops home. I think I have a better idea, how about the servicemen and women take over the running of the country and we send Abbott, Howard etc off to do their bit?

  7. mars08

    Slightly off topic…

    Does anyone here know (for sure) if any of the people arrested in “The Biggest Terror Raid In Australia’s History™”, are still in police custody?

  8. Matters Not

    mars08, I would like to inform you but that might be giving away ‘operational’ information. Whistle blowers are now verboten!

  9. Möbius Ecko

    This is unbelievable and up there with the propaganda of the worst dictators.

    Abbott’s supposed rousing speech to the UN in the cavernous lecture hall was given to a near empty room, with less than a handful attending. Of them one was half a sleep and yawned through most of it and another spent her time engrossed in her electronic device.

    Abbott’s propaganda unit headed by Credlin carefully edited the footage for the Australian domestic audience to not show Abbott talking to an empty hall. And apparently it was similar with Bishop for the climate conference.

    That’s evidence on how on the nose Australia now is internationally.

  10. Jeanette

    Could not agree more. Fearful? I’m fearful of this govt. nothing or no one else. I am appalled at the way “refugees” are being treated and appalled that Tony Abbott in order to boost his ratings has taken us yet again into another conflict. Too bad that nothing was done to help those in Syria when all this started. Is the timetable to wait until an American is beheaded? So, this means others don’t count. Stupid Abbott.

  11. Möbius Ecko

    Bishop’s small audience and have just read wide condemnation for Australia’s inaction on climate change.

    Just saw a video of Abbott’s speech, and there were more there than the piece I read made out. Still there were far more empty seats than occupied ones.

  12. mars08

    Bishop’s small audience…

    Maybe, perhaps, possibly that could have been a rehearsal?

    Honestly, I don’t know. But these days it’s very important to be sure. I wouldn’t put it past the Coalition to “plant” some dodgy photos just to try and discredit it’s opponents…

  13. Anne Byam

    Where is Dr. Who and the Tardis ? They are needed.

    To transport PM back in time, to start up ( in the Middle Ages ) …. yet another crusade, similar to the ‘crusade’ he is attempting here …. and there, and ‘over there’ as well.

    He would be very very comfortable in those times. Leading a [ religious ? ] onslaught against even his own people, who dare to disagree with him, not to mention everybody else he views as ‘flawed’ ( the poor, the elderly, youth without education …. those people )…..The little despot !

    I can see it now – the emblazoned ‘crux’, sword in hand – on his bike ( I doubt a horse would tolerate him – ‘ horse sense’ you know ) …. leading the charge, and daring the bigger leaders to get the hell outta his way, cos he leads ‘team austraya’ …. in the name of everything HE holds dear !! …. And that is sacred, don’tcha know.

    Yeah – well …. a little off topic, ….. but I simply could NOT resist.


    Mobius …… I don’t think Australia is on the nose …. or it’s people. Just one or two of the population who are making utter fools of themselves everywhere they go, glaring, spruiking, gesturing and threatening.

    I am wondering what the world makes of Morrison ? If they know who, or more to the point, ‘what’ he is ? Sooner or later he will get more than his prized 15 minutes of fame. That’s for sure.

  14. Kaye Makovec

    I’ll bet it was the same people who voted for Abbott as did for Howard. With a few new voters taking up the call left by dead grandparents.

  15. John Fraser


    And :

    Hitler used trains.

    Morrison uses planes.

  16. mars08

    John Fraser:

    Another Australian generation goes to war.

    I wouldn’t worry about it too much, John.

    The men and women being deployed on this latest adventure are volunteers who would probably have enlisted in the past decade.

    I suspect they are quite keen to go and do what they’ve “been trained to do”… collect their combat pay… and come back home.

    These aren’t the trenches of Formelles or Anzac Cove. This isn’t Rabaul. Our men and women will not be sleeping in the mud or watching their wounds turn septic.

    The vast majority of the current force will probably never hear a shot fired in anger… as opposed to the local civilians who will witness hear our jets and witness the bombs raining down.

    Frankly, any concern for the physical and emotional welfare of the Australian force is the furthest thing from my mind…

  17. abbienoiraude

    (This)…” is the kind of attitude that drives a nation deeper and deeper into its own isolated cave. From here, it becomes increasingly difficult to see the bigger picture. Sitting here, we all start to look like, think like, talk like little Johnnie Howards.”

    @Anne Byam; we are being seen as all little ‘Tony Abbotts’ now…ergo we are ‘on the nose’. Foolish of the foolish western nation who disagrees with Climate Change and who treats asylum seekers with contempt and cruelty.
    Blink Bishop says we take more asylum seekers than most other western nations. We know this is a lie and yet since she said it on the ABC ‘Insiders’ I guess she will be believed.
    Seeing how Sweden and Norway accept asylum seekers, build specially produced schools for their children, release them asap into the community shows us up to be a mean and nasty people.

    The little Conservative men ( Howard and Abbott) taking us into USA warmongering conflicts makes me sick.

    And @ Mars 08 The couple of young men I have met ( husbands of my daughters old school mates) have ended up with PTSD. The things they heard, the things they saw, the things they were suppose to feel ( hatred and contempt for the people in Afghanistan) made them sick. You don’t have to be in a muddy dugout to be affected by war. I do care about our young service personel…because they are the parents of our future.

    I am so sick and tired of the repetition of history. I am guessing this is why Pyne only wants the rich to go to university for if we educate everyone for free we might conscious raise and make free thinkers so that Conservatives are never ever allowed to hold office ever again.

  18. Anne Byam

    @abbienoiraude. Excellent comments ….. and right on the button, especially about the effect war in any degree has on returning deployments. …….. It most certainly takes it’s toll.


    I take your point …. but am horrified to think we might be being seen as ‘little Tony Abbott’s” …. perish the thought. But you might be right at that.


    ………………” the foolish western nation who disagrees with Climate Change and who treats asylum seekers with contempt and cruelty. – Blink Bishop says we take more asylum seekers than most other western nations. We know this is a lie and yet since she said it on the ABC ‘Insiders’ I guess she will be believed. …………


    Unfortunately, whenever a representative of our Government sits at a meeting of global importance – they have in front them the placard “Australia”. And they often use the term ‘we’ and ‘Australia’ in their speeches. The thinking people of the world, will recognise their statements as political …. in every sense – and hopefully know enough about us, to not lump us all in the same basket.

    The unthinking will do the opposite …. he said, she said – so they all must be the same. They voted them in – so 23 million Aussies ( minus under voting age ) ….. are all nuts and a horrid lot ?

    I am sincerely hoping there are more of the first group listed, than there are of the second. Having said that however, I wouldn’t place a bet on it.

    As for the ABC “Insiders”…. I do not watch that. ……… It doesn’t surprise me however, that Bishop would seize the opportunity to lie to the public – yet again – and at the same time, bring the ABC into even more disrepute. Two birds with one stone there. Of course, the ABC must take responsibility – as they had a choice – to have her on the programme – or NOT. …… bad choice taken.

    I do believe though, as far as Climate Change and the vile treatment of refugees’ is concerned, other political leaders – would see it as THIS Governments decisions only ….. and not something the average Australian would want. Other major leaders of the world, would also be very well aware of the lies told by Abbott pre-election – and particularly the rotten about face he did, post election. World leaders keep their ears to the ground …. very much so. – – – And Abbott would be fooling none of them.

    And if Morrison succeeds in any way, sending refugees to Cambodia – there most certainly will be a world outcry, for many many reasons.

    The International Court of Human Rights is springing very much to my mind at this moment.

    The cruel treatment of refugees, would HAVE to be seen as Government policy – not something Australian people could ever want.

  19. abbienoiraude

    @Anne Byam;
    “World leaders keep their ears to the ground …. very much so. – – – And Abbott would be fooling none of them. ”

    Oh heaven help us, I so hope so, I do so hope that no world leader would be fooled by this twit who reading his speech in the UN pronounced “Plough” as ‘plow-er’…Please let it be!

  20. Peter Lee

    Howard has recently admitted that he was wrong when he committ. He says that he was upset when he put our soldiers at risked our sons and daughters to war in Iraq aas the result of incorrect information,ie Iraq did not have WMDs.
    Now Abbott proposes to send our air force and commandos to war in Iraq and maybe Syria. It is , says Rabbit. a humanitarian action and our soldiers will be there to advise the Iraqi army. How many of our servicemen speak the local language or know a Shia Muslim from a Sunni Muslim. How many know a Hannifi Sunni Muslim from an Ismaili.
    What skills do our soldiers have to train and advise the Iraqi army. Did not the US leave it,s troops to train and advise th Iraqi army?

  21. nonadhominem

    Remember Howard’s ‘Alert but not Alarmed’. Now its Abbott’s ‘Insouciant but Alert’. Perhaps Tony believes the intervening years have brought with them a greater sophistication to Australia. He’s right. Something I’ve noticed myself. Why only the other day, after a particularly grueling game of rugby the chaps and I – there were four of us: David, James, Michael and yours truly, Paul – repaired to our favourite local hostelry. Mulling over the highs and lows of the game, as is the wont of Australian chaps after a game – and I should interpolate at this point, a game which we won, so no recriminations were involved – I turned to David for a bit of banter.

    “Well, David, how did you think you played today?”, I asked with a broad smile.

    In typical Australian rugby-player fashion, he shot back, po-faced, “Positively inconstantly, Paul!”

    Not willing to let him off the hook, I responded, “Indeed, I noticed that your last pass to me betrayed a certain elan in its execution. In fact, I would like to amend that with the reflection that it seemed tinged with gay abandon, n’est ce pas?

    Ca va sans dire, James and Michael joined in with their own ironically Australian contributions.

    It must be hard for Tony, the £10 British migrant, dual citizen, avowed monarchist, restorer of the English Honours system, and passionate anglophile, to imbibe the Australian patois. Thank goodness for Ms. Credlin’s ‘Aussie word for the day’ which enabled him to fit right in with his casual, unselfconscious use of ‘insouciant’! Next step will be deportment classes. it seems that they played westerns non stop on his youthful boat trip to Australia which left him with the distinct impression that the rustic, bow-legged, wide-swinging arms of a gunslinger entering a bar would be appropriate in an Australian context. I prefer this to the other theory that he was accidentally abandoned in a zoo in Aden and became unnaturally attracted to the Great Apes, finding a naturally affinity with their simian gait.

    Whether or not we are confronted by our Prime Minister’s regular display of his wedding tackle in outline through wet Spedos (personally, I think Ms. Credlin slipped up on the Prime Ministerial penis), it is comforting to know that our Prime Minister, salivating at the prospect of becoming a ‘War Prime Minister’ who doesn’t have to deal with myriad domestic policy and administration failures, will be able to stride the international stage in the guise of a genuine Australian homo sapiens by the time our involvement in this next war is over.

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