The Financial Review has offered us two politicians: Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd. In the interests of brevity I'll deal with Turnbull in this post and Rudd in the next one.
Malcolm Turnbull is on the left-wing of the Liberal Party, which is our right-liberal party. There are no surprises in his reflections on Australia's identity. He argues that Australia is special because it has a civic identity rather than a traditional ethnic one:
...unlike most other countries (the US being a notable exception), we do not regard national identity by reference to a common race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background.But what of the problems with a civic identity, in which it is a common commitment to liberal political institutions and values which is supposed to unite us?
Our national identity is defined by a common commitment to Australian civic values of democracy, the rule of law, respect for the rights of individual men and women, a healthy scepticism for authority and a deep intuitive sense of a fair go.
One problem is that identity becomes indistinct. If being Australian means being committed to democracy and the rights of individual men and women, then how is that different to what it means to be American or Canadian or English or Swedish?
Turnbull tries to solve this issue in two ways. First, he pretends that the European nations still hold to a traditional ethnic nationalism and that Australia and the U.S. are somehow exceptional in being civic nations.
But that's Turnbull just making things up. All of the Western nations define themselves explicitly now in terms of a civic, rather than an ethnic, nationalism: the UK, Canada, New Zealand, France, Sweden - the list goes on.
Second, Turnbull admits that the components of a civic nationalism are the same everywhere, but he thinks that there are other distinguishing aspects of society that define us:
There is no individual component in our civic values unique to Australia. But the combination is distinctly Australian – for example, we are much less deferential than the British, more caring, with a stronger safety net than the Americans.But that is an exceptionally thin foundation for a national identity. It's like Canadians thinking they're different because they have a national health insurance scheme. What if the Australian and American safety nets become more alike? Does that then mean we've lost our national identity?
The rest of Turnbull's column is, as you would expect from a right liberal, focused on the ideal of individuals being self-made in the market and the need for freedom from state regulation of the economy. (Right-liberals believe that you can regulate society best through the market rather than through state bureaucracy.)