Turnbull's civic identity, when it came to the crunch, turned out to be remarkably thin. It came down to Australia spending more on welfare than the U.S.
But Turnbull's civic nationalism was less shocking that what followed. Kevin Rudd, the former Labor PM, was the next politician to talk about Australia's identity and he presented Australia's development in quasi-religious terms, as a casting out of national demons of racism and sexism to get to the promised land of tolerance, diversity and membership of a global village.
If you're at all conservative it sounds a bit mad. It is reducing the existence of an historic nation of people to the terms of Rudd's political ideology.
But I don't think we should be surprised. One of the secrets of Australian politics is that the leaders of the Labor Party have not only given up on a deeper traditional nationalism (as have the Liberals), but they've given up on a civic nationalism as well.
There's a reason for this. If you're a liberal and you believe that we should be free to self-determine who we are, then you won't like a traditional nationalism, because that's based on what liberals dismissively call "an accident of birth", namely an inherited ethnicity. With a civic nationalism, ethnicity no longer matters - anyone can become a citizen.
However, civic nationalism is still in its own way exclusive. A civic identity might make our ethnicity not matter, but it still makes our nationality matter. And nationality is usually just as arbitrary as ethnicity - we gain our national citizenship because of the state we happen to be born into.
Therefore, the drift of liberalism is to move away from all distinctions of nationality.
The leadership of the Labor Party seem to have reached that point decades ago. For instance, when former PM Bob Hawke was asked what defined an Australian he answered:
An Australian is someone who chooses to live here, obey the law and pays taxesThat's the answer of someone who doesn't take distinctions of nationality very seriously. The next Labor PM made his position even clearer. Paul Keating once ranted against the idea of civic nationalism, complaining that it was "exclusive" and that it relied on:
constructing arbitrary and parochial distinctions between the civic and the human community ... if you ask what is the common policy of the Le Pens, the Terreblanches, Hansons and Howards of this world, in a word, it is “citizenship”. Who is in and who is out.Keating, in other words, had openly moved beyond distinctions of nationality, even those based on citizenship and a civic identity. And what of Rudd himself? Back in 2005 a Labor Party committee recommended the formation of a Pacific Community:
There would be a Pacific Parliament, a Pacific Court, a Pacific Common Market, a common currency and military integration.Far from having a strong sense of a distinctly Australian national identity, the Labor Party was already at the stage of wanting to merge Australia's sovereignty into a larger regional state. When Rudd became PM in 2007 he decided on an even more ambitious project, that of creating an Asia-Pacific regional bloc:
Kevin Rudd wants to spearhead the creation of an Asia-Pacific Union similar to the European Union by 2020.Which leaves us with the current Labor Party PM, Julia Gillard. Her Government has created draft legislation which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of nationality or citizenship - a law which doesn't exactly uphold the spirit of a civic nationalism.
So when a Labor leader is asked to talk about a specifically Australian identity they're in an even more difficult position than a Liberal leader. They have already moved a long way toward the idea that nationality shouldn't matter, not even a civic based one.
So it's not surprising that Kevin Rudd should present Australia's development in political-ideological terms as a shift toward an ever greater liberalism. What else could someone who is "post-national" do?