The response received by George Megalogenis’ Making Australia Great, the 3-part documentary shown in ABC, has been very positive. Not only that, viewers and reviewers alike have expressed their enjoyment watching the series, and seeing it embrace a sensitive topic economics which seem intimidating to the point of unfeasibility for prime time Television. It isn’t exactly something anybody would particularly be begging to watch, especially on a Tuesday night, right? But here’s where you’re wrong. The economic protectionism and the White Australia Policy, both of which emerged around this time, were 2 sides of an interconnected economic and cultural closure of our country’s boundaries.
The most important thing of all perhaps, is the success of ‘Making Australia Great’ verifies that there is indeed a very large audience for television that is able to provide a narrative that has multiple layers of the big picture without getting rid of the intricacies for cliché. Contrariwise, backing out of cliché in favour of complexity (but comprehensibility) is what Mr Megalogenis, the writer and the presenter of Making Australia Great, does so well after all.
From verified facts, Megalogenis looks forward to the wider horizons of what it lets is know about ourselves and our history and, more importantly, places economics where it rightfully belongs, right smack in the middle of a story with a lot of connected facets, which are culture, identity, history, and politics. All are independent with each other. To see any of it in isolation from the rest is to only see in part how changes take place in our society, and how it works as a whole.
The series was made to call attention to the national topic that we all should be talking about as the economic context, which has made Australia the country that the developed world considered as their rival. This national conversation keeps on evolving. The cycle continues, and there are new shocks and surprises that are just waiting to present themselves, any given time. The modern Australian economy was presented in a positive light, with a story that is not hagiographic as it was able to weather several recent shocks really well. It was also able to recount how Labour and Liberal governments established the reforms that has made it all possible from the old closed economy passed on to us through the early Federation period’s protectionism.
The amazing success of our country and the truth is, it really is astounding on an international level was no accident. However, neither were the instincts, the behaviours, as well as the policies that presented themselves, as major hindrances to progress, and that needed reform to begin with.
But it is in this complexity that made the dramatic-sounding remarks of Judith Brett regarding last week’s pages discombobulating. Ms Brett argued that the final episode had become ”fearfully awry, turning from a well-informed program about economics to a bizarre one about migration.” She felt that the series was deathly derailed as it specifically and falsely blames the woes of Australian economy way back the early 1890s (which was the end of the land boom in Melbourne) on legislation against the Chinese after 1988, which was the Afghan incident, when a ship that carried a manifest of mostly legal Chinese residents and migrants, was refused entry. Laws were placed to ban the immigrants from China. But that simply wasn’t the case.
The truth is that the series does not make any specific causative connection between the anti-migration laws that started to be put in place around this period, and the end of the land boom. Rather, it simply states that the legislation and the agitation of the anti-Chinese laws ” heralded a fifty-year economic and social decline.” The word ”heralded” was used on purpose in the sense of an indication, a harbinger, a prelude, an omen, or a sign, as how it is being defined in the dictionary. Both the White Australia Policy as well as the economic protectionism both emerged around the same time, and they were 2 sides of an interconnected economic and cultural closure of the country’s boundaries. The facts, however which way you look at it, or piece it, shows that we were affected by an economic decline that lasted for decades.
Protection against competition simply means foreign competition. It all too often also broadens to actual foreigners. Unfortunately, it all takes for granted the honest-to-goodness productivity that migrants bring in to the economy. It was particularly surprising how the series was placed to book for apparently offering a false causative connection between 2 exact events that occurred in 1888, and another one after that in 1892, which didn’t, at all. The palette was considerably larger. But what is more concerning is the implication that it simply was wrong to see there can possibly be a link between economic and immigration (or how it is being curtailed) in this context.
What it is trying to imply is that the link between immigration and Australian economy completely ruined an otherwise fantastic series, which occurred almost at the end of the last instalment. Weird, considering that in an earlier episode, Mr Paul Keating provided a clear discussion on how the old closed system worked by protectionism that kept foreign goods and the ”yellow people” out through the White Australia Policy.
Megalogenis, together with John Howard, turned the spotlight on the issue of immigration in the second episode, in the context of the anti-Asian immigration comments made back in 1988 with One Nation, as well as the fallout from the recession that occurred in the early 1990s.
The confusion broadens to Brett’s speculation as to whether this alleged incorrect link between immigration and economics had somehow been dragged into the last part of the series for the reason that the series was trying to be sold to SBS. The truth was that the TV Series was actually inspired by Megalogenis’ book released in 2012, The Australian Moment. However, it was entirely conceived, developed, and internally produced by the ABC. SBS was never a part of the discussion at any level, just to set the record straight.
There is one more thing that we need to point out about this, as this kind of reaction can be revealed as a cultural blind spot that implies the topic of immigration on television is only fitted to be discussed on SBS, and not any other broadcaster in the country, certainly not a national one. We are all a part of history, and however difficult the subject of economics may seem for some, ultimately, an economy, regardless of what part of the world we’re in, is simple made up of individuals making a living. Thus, the transnational migration of those who have a deep impact on economies, which is why it is believed that economics and migration are closely linked together. To ignore this fact would also ignore the profound patterns in which high levels of immigration that occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as those in the present century, are driven straight by the economic success of Australia.
There is no mistake in bringing immigration and economics together in the very same story of history. Side by side with culture, identity, politics, and all the other complicated interactions this TV series gives light to what made us who we are, and what keeps making us who we are. The truth of the matter is, it’s all complex.
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