Two days ago, when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led a national day of mourning for Queen Elizabeth II, a handful of radical protesters took to the streets chanting obscenities and burning flags.
In fact, it wasn’t just a good thing, it was a great thing.
Because no other act could better prove the freedom and security we enjoy in our democracy.
Think about it for a moment: on the day specially marked for the solemn commemoration of the death of our Head of State, we witnessed the desecration of our national symbol and vigorous celebrations of her death.
And yet there were no riots, no deaths, and no one was even arrested. Meanwhile, the rest of the country – some 25 million – has respectfully commemorated the Queen’s legacy or spent the day peacefully with their colleagues, friends and family.
There could be no greater advertisement for both the stability and freedom we enjoy in this country. We are indeed the happy country, and not just in the pejorative way Donald Horne first intended the phrase.
Because it’s not just luck that brought us here. The modern, multicultural and democratic state of Australia is a marvel of both chance and design, a tripartite product of constitution, convention and common sense.
We’ve inherited the best of Britain’s long-evolved and intricate traditions of individual rights and married it to the democratic systems and safeguards of revolutionary America.
Like all countries, we have a history steeped in blood and laced with prejudice, but the actual formation of our nation has been a remarkably peaceful affair. Indeed, for the most part it was delightfully boring.
And of course, our relationship with those we colonized or conquered – depending on your version of history – fluctuated between ugliness and ignorance, but it’s undoubtedly better than what it was.
Contrast this with Russia, where 1,300 people have just been arrested for protesting Putin’s war against Ukraine and his attempt to recruit 300,000 civilians – more as nationals – for his bloody cause.
Compare this to the global flagship of democracy, the US, where poverty is rife and riots are almost ritual.
Compare it even to England’s homelands, where just ten years ago riots set the capital on fire.
Sure, we’ve had a few: Cronulla, Redfern, Macquarie Fields, and more recently a bit of anti-lockdown rage, but we haven’t had anything on the scale that has visited other countries. No city-wide destruction or country-wide chaos has crippled us.
There’s a pretty fail-safe way to measure a nation-state’s stock and that’s a breakdown of who’s struggling to get in compared to who’s struggling to get out. Australia consistently rates numerous versus none.
Indeed, Canada and New Zealand are the only countries that come to mind with equally benign and peaceful societies. And guess what we all have in common?
And that is the supreme irony of the protesters’ statements about the Crown and British history in general. Despite all its mistakes and countless atrocities going back centuries, it has brought us to this place. A place that is obviously imperfect, but just as good or better than any other on Earth.
And a place where they can express their anger today, protected by the rule of law and a tradition of free speech – including the freedom to express hatred against those same institutions.
But there is no doubt that many people, for the most part First Nations, still face massive intergenerational deprivation and poverty as a result of colonization. This is hardly the fault of Elizabeth II, who was in fact in charge of the mass decolonization, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
And so our job is to find a way to remedy these ills. Not through an absurd plan of reparations that would reduce all of history to an arbitrary, time-traveling lawsuit, but by focusing all our national efforts on those who are still disadvantaged and ensuring they have access to the same social, educational and employment opportunities. which the rest of us enjoy.
Replacing our head of state, replacing one ceremonial role with another, will do exactly nothing to solve that. Though I am an Irish Catholic Republican by strain and inclination, I cannot imagine a more useless matter at this juncture in our nation’s history.
But what might work is the creation of a First Nations Voice to Parliament that will ensure that the policies of legislators and bureaucrats aimed at improving the lives of Indigenous people are actually informed by Indigenous peoples themselves.
If radical protesters are genuinely concerned about making a difference and improving the lot of our native brothers, they should focus their energies on this simple and achievable step rather than screaming into the void.
Whether it succeeds remains to be seen and whether it works we can only hope. But I can assure you it will be much more effective than burning flags.
Originally published as Joe Hildebrand: Flag-burning Queen Elizabeth Protesters Show We Are A Truly Happy Country