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Australia's Turning Point

What defines Australia in 2022? We’ve always pinned our identity on land and sea. As an island full of unique animals and home to the oldest living culture in the world, we’ve lived off the land one way or another – be it from bush tucker or mining the minerals in our red earth. But as our environment suffers, and pressures from the outside world and our biggest trading partner China loom, we are at a turning point.  

At the heart of our identity the Uluru process – so pivotal and full of potential – remains unrealised, the Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger, and koala populations are heading towards extinction. Can we resolve our relationship with our Indigenous people? Can we save our environment? Can we adapt to changing global power dynamics?  

UNSW Centre for Ideas Director Ann Mossop chairs this critical discussion on national identity and action, drawing on perspectives from journalists Peter Hartcher and Stan Grant, and marine biologist Emma Johnston, before comedian Dan Ilic closes proceedings with his unique take on what we can all do to save Australia. 

The Reckoning is presented by the UNSW Centre for Ideas and Sydney FestivalUNSW Sydney is the Education Partner of the 2022 Sydney Festival. 

Transcript | The Reckoning: Dan Ilic

Ann Mossop: Welcome to The Reckoning, a series of talks co-presented by Sydney Festival and the UNSW Centre for Ideas. I'm Ann Mossop, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. The excerpt you're about to hear is from our event, Australia's Turning Point, and features satirist Dan Ilic, highlighting his unique take on what we can all do to save Australia. We hope you enjoy it.

Dan Ilic: Hey, thanks very much. Absolutely a privilege to be on this panel of such heavy hitters and intellectual folks, taking the big topics to our audience. I tackle one big topic, mostly in irrational fear, which is my podcast, and that's climate change. And, like, what Peter was saying, don't be scared. That's the whole ethos of our podcast, because the media tends to make us scared of all sorts of things, and many things we shouldn't be scared of. But the one thing we probably should be scared of is what Emma Johnston was talking about, is climate change. And so that's kind of what we do on our podcast is we, we look fear in the face, and we have a laugh at it. This is kind of where I'm at with climate change right now, because we've run out of tools to kind of get climate action moving. So I'm turning to the only tools I have, which is comedy. Often a lot of folks who face climate change, particularly folks on the front lines of climate change, the most climate vulnerable people can feel powerless, and those at home who are in the suburbs of our big cities can feel powerless with what they can do with climate change. But I also from time to time feel powerless. I wanted to go to Glasgow this year. Well, actually, last year, I wanted to go to Glasgow last year, and I wanted to go to Glasgow this year to do shows. But unfortunately, somebody forgot to reply to a bunch of emails, and so no one could go anywhere, instead I was in lockdown with a lot of other Australians. Here's me, in Paris in 2015, at COP21, I was doing shows every night in Paris, making fun of terrible actors at the climate talks there. And I wanted to take my show, last year, A Rational Fear, to Glasgow, to perform in pubs around Glasgow, but just couldn't get it happening. So there was I stuck in Sydney on day 94 of lockdown, in my bedroom, thinking to myself, oh my gosh, I feel so powerless. What can I do? What can me, just a guy in my bedroom, on day 94 of lockdown d to kind of point out just what a bad actor Australia is on the world stage at these climate talks. And this is something that I've been, I'm really anxious about because I'm involved with quite a few international organisations. The Obama leadership organisation, the Bertha Foundation, and Comedy for Change, another great organisation. And quite often, people ask me about our position on climate, and they're like, what is the deal with Australia? Why are you so terrible? And I don't have an answer for them. So it's also something I think a lot of Australians don't actually know. 

So I wanted to do something to point out that while our Australian government would be in Glasgow, promoting what great actors Australia was on the world stage, I want to point out to the rest of the world that Australians know that our government is lying to them. So I decided to get a billboard. Oh, and also, you know, here's the thing, heading into Glasgow, our friend Scott Morrison decided he probably wasn't going to go to Glasgow, instead, he was going to engage in his normal duties, which I assume is cooking a curry and waiting till decisions can be put off until they become crises and explode in his face, or his pants, you know, whatever. So I decided to buy a billboard in Glasgow, and I thought I would buy this billboard, I could put three bits of artwork on it. And here's the artwork I was going to put up. “Cuddle a koala before we make them extinct. Australia net zero by 2300.” Now this is a joke, but Ketan Joshi also worked out that this is actually pretty accurate. For anyone walking past this billboard, maybe they'll see it and go, oh, wow, they committed to 2030 and then have a double tag and go, oh, they've made a typo. But in fact, the way our emissions reductions are going right now is we will hit net zero by 2300. And the third one was a billboard that I hadn't actually designed yet, instead, I decided to create a crowdfunding campaign to try and find someone who wanted to put their own message up. So I created a Kickstarter campaign or Indiegogo campaign, and I emailed all of the people on my email list at 6:30am on the 27th September. At this point, COP was about a month away. And then I needed to raise $12,000 to pay for this billboard. And I managed to get that by 8:30am. I got $12,000 In two hours from my email list. Oh, and also I'd sold the truthful billboard somebody had wanted to buy the billboard straight up, like within the first couple of days, and this is what they wanted on it. Yeah, look, sorry about our government bullshitting. Kind regards, Australia, overwhelming majority of residents. Is there a poll we can refer to and I said yes, there's the ACF poll with over 75% of Australians want more climate action. So we kind of put that into words. Now, this was bought by a very famous Australian, and they want to remain anonymous, and maybe you can figure out who it is. By the end of day one, we'd raise over $40,000 At the end of the day, 43,000 Isn't that incredible? And then by the end of day two, I'd raised $80,000, well, all of us had raised $80,000. And this is a whole bunch of press and things like this about it, which was kind of catching the eye of people in the media in Australia. 

This told me two things. One, people want climate action, heaps of people, and people are pissed off at the way our government is portraying ourselves on the world stage, they're pissed off about the way our government is lying to the world about what we're doing, and we are terrible actors when it comes to climate action. And the other thing is, I needed to do a dress rehearsal for Glasgow, clearly. Because I don't want to mess this up, I'm going to need a few more billboards, so we should definitely practise. So I decided to purchase the biggest billboard in Times Square. Now, the problem for me was this billboard is really, really, really big. But it's also extremely expensive. $100,000 per hour. So I spoke to my broker who I had had through a contact there and I was like, hey, is there any way we can get this down? Like, I don't need it up for an hour? I think I might need it up for 10 minutes max, what can I do for 10 minutes? And she did an amazing job and talked them down from $20,000 to $16,000 US, so we could buy 10 minutes. And in that 10 minutes time I thought, I'm gonna need to get as many press down there and talk to as many Australians who I know, in the city and get them down there and get them taking photos and get them taking videos and sharing that on social media so we can make this 10 minutes last throughout eternity. I got some of the classic billboard artwork made up for this particularly huge billboard. And look, isn't that amazing? My artist took the animation and totally turned it into something completely magical. I also got some jokes from some friends because the billboard had room for extra jokes. So this is Coal-O-File Dundee, and this was done by The Chaser. And also this one, Coal-i-con, New York Coal-i-Con, it's a parody of New York Comic-Con, and it's a special guest Matt Canavan, winner of Best Coal Cosplay 2020. 

And then people will keep messaging me because this story got so big. people kept messaging me about this billboard that is indefinitely in Glasgow, or a Gas-Cow, as the tweet says. We're rich in sunshine, wind and climate denial, this actually wasn’t in Glasgow train station. This was just a mock up done by a Sydney graphic designer called Sean Marsh. So I reached out to Sean and I asked him to do one for our billboard, so it actually would go up somewhere. Then I had a couple of tweets that got turned into billboards as well. I decided to create, like, an Australian Government Against Humanity kind of board game, where I would just point out the immense hypocrisy of our government. Like this one, during a deadly pandemic former commission to fix the problem by building a gas pipeline. Now that of course is referring to the national COVID-19 Coordination Committee, which was started when the government went on holiday for six months and this committee was going to solve the pandemic. And what did they do? Well, they stacked it full of fossil fuel executives, and their solution to a respiratory virus problem was to build a gas pipeline, which is wonderful. And then as carbon emissions reached 416 parts per million, the most urgent thing to do is, approve four new coal mines in one month. And that is something that Susan Ley did the month before. And then we managed to finesse our billboard owner’s suggestion, Dear World yeah, look sorry about our government bullshitting about emissions targets, kind regards Australians, and had the ACF poll there.

So, we're ready to roll. So had the invoice paid. At this point, I should point out but I'm paying it out of all of my own money at this point because the campaign was still going. I was hopefully still gonna get paid by the campaign at the end of the month, but you know, things have to be paid. So I took some money out of my house deposit and made sure this invoice was paid, it was a very important invoice. Hundreds of Australians RSVP’d on the New York City Facebook page, which is incredible. And also the press was invited, Australian press, some overseas press. This tweet I put out was also replied to by Russell Crowe and he brought Jake Tapper towards it. He said, Hey, Jake Tapper, have you seen this to which Jake Tapper replied, I had not. Thanks, Russell Crowe. So that's pretty exciting. So CNN were probably going to be down there. So on the day of the billboards going out, which, I think was October 15, our time. They were going to go up at about 9:45am our time, 6:45pm the day before in New York City. So I just gathered around my webcam, put the webcam… the only webcam I could find, on the TV, in my living room. At exactly 9:45, I saw this, which was incredible. This is me taking a video of the webcam on my TV. This is the only part of the Billboard I saw for the next 10 minutes. It was incredible. I was elated to only see a third of a billboard. It was amazing. Thankfully, I got some great photos later, of some of the great work being put up on this billboard. This billboard is huge. It's the entire city block, it wraps around the Marriott in Times Square. This is also another great bit of artwork here; Missing Persons - last seen doing nothing, answers to Scomo. And the coal lobbyists also appreciate that one. So is Scott Morrison going to Glasgow at 9:45 on the 14th of October, at this point, no. But then by 2pm, yes, he decided to go to Glasgow. 

So it could have been me. It could have been the Queen, it could have been Prince Charles, it could have been a number of people convincing him to go to Glasgow. But I like to think something about this billboard hitting nationwide news all day might have pushed him in a position where he decided to go to Glasgow. Oh, and the next day I did a great interview with my good personal friend, Jake Tapper. So Glasgow, what did it look like? Well, Glasgow also had some billboards, too. We had our billboards on the highway on the way to the venue. We had a couple of other billboards that were in the suburbs of Glasgow. So that was pretty great. Oh, and this is a really strong indication of just the incredible passion that so many Australians had for this particular initiative. 2500 people basically gave $200,000 for this campaign, that works out to be $190 after fees and stuff. And that is incredible. So we had so much more money leftover from this. We could also spend it on campaigns at home and that's what we've done. We've put Australia at zero by 2300, in New England. We've had Australia net zero by 2300 and Malley in Horsham. We have one in Torquay. This is great. This is a site in Kooyong in Hawthorne where you are not allowed political advertising. So we created one that said, hey, with a big space, it's time to buy a standing desk because you're about to lose your seat. That big space for someone there to, perhaps, maybe, graffiti? Josh? Who knows. But somebody did graffiti it unfortunately, Frydenberg, down the bottom. Look it still makes sense. I can understand why someone would be anxious about climbing up a ladder to write Josh. Some billboards are getting rejected, and that's been a bit of a problem. like this is one in Bundaberg in Keith Pitt’s electorate. Keith Pitt, famously known for not knowing what a battery is. We've got one here saying Hey Keith batteries give you power in the dark. The outdoor company said no, that is rejected, on two accounts because it's too political. And because it's a sex toy. So I said hey, what about this one? Did you know batteries can give you power in the dark? And they said no because you’ll tweet about it, and, you know, it's too political. So I negotiated with, batteries, wow. So this one is currently up in Bundaberg around the corner from Keith Pitt’s office, batteries, wow, which is great. And for those sex toy fans, you may recognize something very similar to the flashlight. Yep, okay, good. We've also got some going up in the seat of Cook. So this one is a beautiful one done by a wonderful artist in Tasmania called Tanya. Visit the old growth stumps of Tasmania, we've got the Hawaiian hideaway for when things get too hot at home with a bushfire sale now on. This is in Engadine, welcome to Engadine the place where Scott Morrison last did anything. And I think the Engadine doctrine is well and truly enforcing this prime ministership. Also this in Kirrawee, in 2035 Cassie will be qualified to put former politicians in jail for historical climate crimes/ Climate prosecutor is one of the 1 million new jobs in a fossil free future. This is great. 

So what about my own electorate? Well, Dave Sharma is my local member. And you may remember the hoo haa around International Women's Day, March last year, he was handing out flowers to people, to women, at Edgecliff station. It's not Valentine's Day, it's International Women's Day. Nothing says empowerment, like getting a platitude from your sitting member. So I decided to do something similar. I handed out hammers to men at Edgecliff station on International Men's Day, and I got far more engagement than him. But not only this, so you know, there's a bit more going on here. This is Dave in November, when net zero by 2050 plans were kind of formulated by the government which actually don't meet 2050 targets. They actually fall short by about 30%, because they require something called magic to make happen. He actually went flyering, with meeting some babies, putting fliers all about this government's Net Zero targets. And he's got a lovely flyer that says Net Zero climate action. Net Zero climate action. And to my relief I was like oh, wow Dave, you're actually telling the truth for once. So I've actually got a pamphlet going out next week, Net Zero climate action, literally, with some jokes about the Liberals Net Zero climate ambitions. 

So climate change can make people feel powerless, right? It can push people into a place of indecision. But this is the kind of stuff that I did with a heap of people online, with the tools freely available. And I mustered a team together to create some kind of real change, to agitate for change. And I want people to think that, that they can do that themselves. Because there are… someone put it to me last week, there are 7 billion people on this earth, and everybody has woken up, and we're not going to take it anymore. And if they think… if the people who run fossil fuels, if the carbon lobby thinks, because they own parliament, that they can do whatever they like, I think that people in this country are slowly waking up to the thought that maybe, maybe not, maybe we do need to take some meaningful climate action. And I'm gonna go one step further than Peter Hartcher and say, don't be reckless. And by that, I mean, don't vote for candidates funded by mining and fossil fuels this election. That is the simple solution to this problem right now, heading into May, because the coalition, they have power by one seat, and what we need to do is find people who believe in science, who want accountability, who want a federal ICAC, who want gender equality. And by voting for folks who aren't funded by mining and fossil fuels, that can short circuit the ownership of our parliament by those interests. So please, everyone, you have more power than you think, even if you are just stuck in lockdown, in your bedroom. Thanks very much.

Ann Mossop: Thanks for listening. For more information, visit and, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Transcript | The Reckoning

Ann Mossop: Welcome to The Reckoning, a series of talks presented by Sydney Festival and the UNSW Centre for Ideas. I'm Ann Mossop, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. The conversation you're about to hear. Australia's Turning Point, features myself, journalist Stan Grant, and Peter Hartcher, and marine ecologist Emma Johnston. We hope you enjoy the conversation. 

Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to Australia's Turning Point, a talk in the series The Reckoning, which the UNSW Centre for Ideas and Sydney Festival  are co-presenting. I'm Ann Mossop, I'm Director of the Centre for Ideas at UNSW. Before we begin, I'd like to acknowledge that I'm coming to you from the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I'd also like to acknowledge any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are here with us here today. 

We're here today to have a really big conversation about what's happening in Australia now. And where we find ourselves in relation to some of the most significant issues of our time. The pressure on the environment from climate change, our place in the world, and our identity. What is the turning point that we're at now? And what are we going to do about all of these things? About the ongoing injustices for First Nations people in Australia, as a result of the invasion of Australia, and the ongoing legacy of that, for First Nations people and for us all? So we're going to be talking about these key questions, the environmental pressures on Australia, their acceleration, what's happening in the world, the dramatic changes, and whether we can come to terms with the promise and potential of a process like the Uluru Statement from the Heart. 

We have three fantastic guests with us today to talk about this. Stan Grant, Peter Hartcher and Emma Johnston. All of whom have recently completed major pieces of work on some of these questions. Let me introduce our speakers. Stan Grant is a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi man, a distinguished journalist and writer. He's worked for ABC, SBS, Seven Networks, Sky News Australia, and of course, as an international correspondent for CNN, from Asia and the Middle East. He now holds a chair at Charles Sturt University and is international affairs analyst for the ABC. He's the author of Talking to my Country, Australia Day, On Identity, and his newest book is, With the Falling of the Dusk: A Chronicle of the World in Crisis. Peter Hartcher, a leading Australian journalist and writer, he's the political editor and international editor of The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, and he spent time as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Washington. His books and essays include, Bubble Man, To the Bitter End, The Adolescent Country and The Sweet Spot. His new book Red Zone: China's Challenge and Australia's Future, is described by Francis Fukuyama as clear eyed and utterly frightening. Emma Johnston is a Professor of Marine Ecology and the Dean of Science at UNSW. She's a national advocate for improved environmental management and conservation, who studies human impacts on the ocean, from climate change, pollution and invasive species. She's a board member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and one of the chief authors of the Australian Government's State of the Environment Report 2021. Of course, you can also see her on television as a presenter on Coast Australia. I'm going to turn to Emma first, really to start this conversation by talking about the environment. One of the things that is really important is to think about our environment, not just of course, as the place where we live and the biosphere that supports us, but also something that's a really key part of Australian identity. But I want to start by asking you, the State of the Environment Report is a major report that the federal government commissions scientists to conduct every five years. The 2021 Report has just been completed, but it's not yet public. What are the key things that we need to understand about what has happened to the Australian environment in the last five years? 

Emma Johnston: Thanks Ann. Well, a lot has changed over the last five years. We, in particular, I can talk about the structure of the report, which indicates two of those major changes. This is the first time in the history of the State of Environment reporting that we have an entire chapter devoted to extreme events. And that really speaks to the impact that extreme events have had in Australia, on ecological systems and on people throughout the last five years. I was involved in the 2016 report. And, you know, in that report, we were talking a lot about climate change impacts and we were starting to have clear evidence of those impacts. But five years later down the track, we are dominated by those. And so whilst we're still looking at impacts of land clearing and invasive species as being two of the key drivers of extinctions, for example - and we have a terrible extinction rate in Australia - we also see layering on top of that, now, climate change pressures, and it's very clear that our capacity to manage those pressures is insufficient. So, to give you an example, there are 1900 species in Australia that are listed as threatened, or a higher category of threat, like endangered or critically endangered. And that's about 8% more than we had five years ago. So, the situation is deteriorating, we're also starting to see abrupt ecological changes on entire ecosystems that we haven't seen before. For example, the loss of entire kelp forests, or major mass bleaching events, very, extremely large synchronous bushfires, so a lot has changed in that space. Another thing that has changed, in terms of the way that we report on the environment is this is the very first State of Environment Report where we've had Indigenous co-authors on almost all chapters, and I'm really thrilled to say that I enjoyed being the co-chief author with Terri Janke. And that contribution, that acknowledgement and the long overdue voice, the Indigenous voice on the environment and connections to the environment has radically improved the way, I think, we are recording on the environment. So we have a scientific, Western, evidence based approach that can be very much focused on the biophysical aspects. Bringing in Indigenous authors made us recognise, and realise, and talk about, our connections to country. The clear fact that our well being is being impacted by those impacts on the environment. And I think Western systems can sometimes divorce people from environment, and we might talk abstractly about that. And that is just not something that many of our Indigenous communities across Australia, and they are diverse, you know, 300 different language groups, etc. But something that draws connection to country and treating country as king, and that Indigenous voice throughout The State of Environment Report is clear, and it's there and it should be celebrated.

Ann Mossop: You're an environmental scientist, your role in this has been to document the situation, and to inform government and to inform us as citizens about it. But when you think about what that story, the story that you're telling, extreme climate events, increasing rates of extinction and these abrupt climate events, what does that do to how you think about the environment? You know, obviously, it's something that is part of your professional life and so on. But it's also something that we all have a sense of every day, how do you deal with that, really, what is a tide of very concerning news?

Emma Johnston: Yeah, I mean, it just gives me more energy, to tell you the truth. Because we don't have a choice. We can't not have biodiversity, you know, it's not something nice to have, it's actually a complete necessity. Humans do not live in an isolated way, we are dependent on, for food, for medicines, for ecosystem services, like clean air and clean water, etc. We're dependent on functioning, diverse ecosystems. So from my perspective, when I see all the damage that has been done historically, and the disconnection between people and the environment, it makes me just more energetic about wanting to reconnect people, wanting to be able to explain clearly, the urgency of the need for change, in particular, the urgency for the need of the reductions in carbon emissions. Because no matter where you look, the, you know, looking in the next 10 years, World Economic Forum, for example, the biggest risks to the globe over the next 10 years, the top three, failure to act on climate, extreme events – which are associated with climate – and biodiversity loss with ecosystem collapse. Which is not just climate, it's also all of the other unsustainable mechanisms that we've had for producing food and urbanisation, urban sprawl, for example. So, for me, it's motivating, at times you can get into a dark space. But I also think that my connection to environments and I'm particularly connected to marine environments, you know, a daily walk along the sea, allows me to refresh and recharge, and I think that's something that people are increasingly understanding. The Australian identity. We can't talk about one single Australian identity, but if we were to romantically you know, and wistfully talk about the icons, the icons are people lying on the beach, they are the farmer in the outback. You know, there's someone walking in the bush, we feel we are connected to country. However, we're actually a highly urbanised community, living primarily in big cities, in big concrete jungles. And for me, I think, creating much more of an opportunity for people to connect back into biodiversity, having biodiversity strategies for our cities, and our new developments, and making sure that we've got more green spaces, more blue spaces and more opportunities for urban ecology to thrive, will actually improve our mental health, it will improve our well being, but also our understanding of our dependence on ecosystems.

Ann Mossop: Peter, and Stan, can I get your comment on this, we see ourselves as a people of the outdoors, as Emma mentioned, but also very much the view of Australia from other countries is filtered through this set of, you know, the Great Barrier Reef, this set of icons, when you hear this kind of news about damage to the environment, the difficult situation that we're in, what do you think that means for you personally, but also for the way Australia is seen by others? Peter? 

Peter Hartcher: Well, we may well see ourselves as a land of, as a people of the outdoors and the bush and all of that. But in reality, we fail to appreciate what we have, we fail to appreciate our own uniqueness. We fail to appreciate our own unique wildlife. And I think we spend more time and attention staring at American pop culture, foreign pop culture generally, rather than looking at our own environmental reality. In one sense, sort of complacency, pardon the siren in the background. I don't know if you can hear that. But they've got a sense of urgency even if the rest of the country doesn't. In one sense, our complacency and our delinquency in confronting the climate and environmental reality is perfectly understandable. Because we had a 10 year dalliance, a 10 year diversion with the climate denialism, led by Prime Minister in charge, Tony Abbott, of course, remember until Tony Abbott, we had a bipartisan commitment in Australia, on climate change, led by John Howard and Kevin Rudd. Tony Abbott broke that, and he broke that not solely under his own influence. It was actually Barnaby Joyce, who coached him and you will remember Tony Abbott said that Barnaby Joyce was Australia's greatest retail politician, and followed him down the path of populism, climate denialism. And that really has cost Australia about a decade in getting any real progress on confronting the reality of climate change. And it explains why Australia is so far behind on many measures. Electric vehicles is one that we were talking about in our family yesterday. We’re just ludicrously far behind compared to other developed countries. But that's been the high cost of political populism, of political parlour games, rather than seeing politics as problem solving. And that's been a really expensive diversion for our country.

Ann Mossop: Stan, can I ask for your input here?

Stan Grant: I think a lot of what we're discussing today can be framed, you know, within an Australian perspective, and Ann has talked about the damage to our environment, Peter has talked about the political situation here and the loss of a decade politically and getting traction on this. A lot of the discussion we're having today, we can pull the lens out and look at where this situates us, and what the global picture looks like. Because one of the things we know about the environment is that it's going to require a global effort. When you have a situation where we know that we're in a state of geopolitical fights, where there is a return of great power rivalry, where there is still the divide between the global north and south. China and the United States, the two biggest emitters, are absolutely critical to any lasting and meaningful solution to this. And you'll look at the parlous state of their relationship. I think it reflects something else that was also mentioned in the World Economic Forum Report that Emma talked about, and one of the things that it listed among the many existential threats that we face right now is a collapse of multilateralism. We have seen this, what are we up to now, COP26? We will then go to COP2 still looking for solutions. We have Russia and China not turning up to COP26. We have the watering down of the statement about coal and trending it out rather than removing it altogether. So there's different timeframes. There are arguments, rightly or wrongly about this, but certainly countries like China, Russia, India, is another one who point the finger at the West and say you've had 200 years of industrialisation to build your economies and we haven't, and we’re doing it in 40, 50 years. And so we want longer timelines So you get 2060 targets 2070 targets. So climate, like so many other things, whether it be COVID response, vaccinations, whether it be weapons control, rising inequality, all of these things are caught in the crosshairs of an erosion of a global order, an erosion of multilateralism, a return of a much more virulent nationalism, populism that Peter talked about here in Australia, which has been a winning ticket in many parts of the world politically as well. So we see the return of the political strong man who plays populism, plays on the worst aspects of anxiety and fear in their own countries as a beggar thy neighbour approach when it comes to things such as trade. So all of these things come together and climate lands right at the heart of this, an existential threat to us all, that we cannot resolve, without a global approach, at a time when a global order itself is crumbling under attack, liberal democracy receding, authoritarianism rising and at a real shift in the global balance of power. So what we're talking about fits within that sort of rubric. But absolutely, when it comes to climate in Australia, we require the rest of the world to be able to come together to work on this, and we need to be good global citizens as well, as Peter and Emma have pointed out.

Ann Mossop: So before we move on to that enormous discussion about the state of the world, which I feel, you know, it's going to be a very rich one, I want us to just focus on one more thing, specifically in the Australian context. And I want to ask you, Stan, to talk to us about something that's absolutely the core of the Australian story at this point. And that's the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Over the decades, we've all seen attempts by governments to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians, whether it's called reconciliation, or John Howard's practical reconciliation, or closing the gap, or the whole, you know, issue about saying sorry, all of these things. The Ulluru Statement has so much promise because it goes to the heart of something that all of those other approaches have ignored, which is a question of sovereignty. It's been an incredibly considered process and consultative and inclusive. And with such beautiful words, invites all Australians to walk with First Nations people in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. The most extraordinarily generous statement, but we're coming towards five years since that statement, and I really like your perspective, Stan, on what is proving so difficult about making this vision real? 

Stan Grant: Well, it's the tension that sits at the heart of the Australian settlement, and that is the question of sovereignty, sovereignty not ceded, sovereignty not fully recognised, and where that sits within the Australian political sovereignty itself. That’s the heart of the question here. We know that we've made progress when it comes to the sort of softer end of reconciliation. We have reconciliation targets, we have closing the gap targets, albeit many of them still not being met. We have welcomes to country, acknowledgements of country, we like watching our indigenous sporting stars,  Ash Barty’s playing the Australian Open right now, Scott Bowland in the cricket, recently. We're about to have the Indigenous All Stars play in the NRL. All that stuff around acknowledging Indigenous culture, acknowledging Indigenous peoples connection to land, acknowledging whose land it is, but the hard work of trying to marry the contested sovereignty has always proved a bridge too far to the Australian polity. And I think that's what lies at the heart of this, remember when the Uluru Statement was first delivered and rejected by the Turnbull government, under the belief then that Barnaby Joyce – to pick up on what Peter had said about climate – but Barnaby Joyce first out of the gate, saying that this was a third chamber of parliament, he has since walked that back, but Malcom Turnbull picking up on the same thing, Scott Morrison repeating the same line, and dumping it on the premise that Indigenous people should not have rights that other Australians don't have, that that somehow sits outside of the Australian compact, that Australian liberal democracy is premised on an inclusion of all, not the recognition of one over all. And we're still at that point, we're still working through, what is an acceptable political outcome that tries to put some meat on the bone around this idea of contested sovereignty, and what that sovereignty looks like. Now in the Uluru Statement sovereignty is represented by a voice in the Constitution. And that's been critical to weigh too, in the constitution not something near the legislature – which I shouldn't say really, because legislation has its own power – but not something legislative, which later could be altered. But something voted on by the Australian people into the Australian Constitution that is part of the heads of powers of the country, how we do business in the country. We're still working through that. The latest iteration now, which is talking about going back to more negotiation around what that voice would constitute, would it be legislative first, at what point would we go to a referendum, what would be the recognition inside the constitution itself. So all of those things are still up for grabs. But at every point, and this has been a two century long struggle now, to recognise Indigenous sovereignty, we have seen that, fall at the last hurdle, even the Mabo decision, the High Court said we cannot consider the idea of sovereignty, Native Title recognition that can sit within Australian property law, but it can't sit outside of that. And so that's the hurdle at which it falls. And, you know, it's a high bar to pass. Australians don't pass referenda, eight out of 54 have been successful. It is a high bar to change the country, to change the nature of the democratic compact, which works so well, demonstrably, for so many, is a difficult order. And that's the challenge for Indigenous people, is to make that case that brings the Australian people with us on this journey of being able to resolve the tension at the heart of the Australian settlement. And just a final word on it as well. There is no homogenous view on this amongst Indigenous people, either. That's incredibly contested, and some who reject the idea of the Uluru Statement and want absolute sovereign treaty. So there's a tension at the heart there as well. But that's the big question. Is the recognition of the rights of First Nations people here sovereign rights, can they be accommodated within the liberal democratic compact of Australia and we've, we've been struggling with that for two centuries.

Peter Hartcher: Stan’s talked there about contested sovereignty, which obviously is a core truth and a core problem we're grappling with here. But can I suggest it's also part of a larger problem that Australia has, of a, kind of, underdeveloped national identity. You referred at the beginning to an essay I wrote years ago about Australian foreign policy for the Lowy Institute that was called The Adolescent Country. Well, in terms of a different definition, but a national identity. I think we're a bit of a juvenile or a bit of an adolescent country. And to me, the compelling vision for what really is unique about Australia, and that will see Australia realise its potential, was laid out in 2014, by Noel Pearson, from the Cape York Foundation. And I'm going to read this, it's only a couple of sentences, I'm going to read it to you because, first, to do it justice. But second, because I find that the compelling vision for Australia finding its identity, its place in the world, and being able to reconcile its different parts. Noel Pearson talks of Australia, having been an incomplete Commonwealth, but a Commonwealth in three parts. And those three parts need to be brought together. And I'll just quote Noel; “there is an ancient heritage written on the continent, and the original culture painted on its land and seascapes. There is its British inheritance, the structures of government and society transported from the United Kingdom, fixing its foundations in the ancient soil. Then there is its multicultural achievement, a triumph of immigration that brought together the gifts of people and cultures from all over the globe, forming one indissoluble Commonwealth.” And Noah Pearson wrote in 2014, “We stand on the cusp of bringing these three parts of our national story together.” Unfortunately, that's seven years ago, and we're still standing on the cusp, we haven't made a lot of progress. But to me, that's the compelling vision of where Australia can truly unite and realise our own potential. 

Ann Mossop: Emma, go ahead.

Emma Johnston: One thing I can say clearly is that there is an increasing opportunity and official transition of land into Indigenous Protected Areas, which is expanding rapidly. So across Australia now, something like more than 50% of Australian continent now covered by Indigenous Protected Areas, in many cases, they’re co-management, for example, or they might be just primary management by traditional owners, and traditional use of marine reserves, agreements in the Great Barrier, for example, continue to expand. And Australia benefits enormously by understanding and working with Indigenous people who have much much longer traditions and understandings of ecosystems. And so we are in the environment space, increasingly recognising, respecting, and working with Indigenous people to manage land and to connect back to country. And this includes Indigenous cultural learning practices as well, where possible, sometimes we've actually transitioned the country so much that the traditional practices are no longer applicable. But certainly there's a positive story there of increasing engagement and empowerment of Indigenous people, which is benefiting the whole country.

Ann Mossop: So if in fact, we don't want to sink into a pit of despair about this, we can take Stan’s longer historical perspective, and say, just five years out of 200, we need more time to do this, but also that in some ways, if not sovereignty, but a resumption of that relationship with the land is happening, not by stealth, but by practice.

Stan Grant: And you, you see this Ann, you see it all around the country. You know, my father has been heavily involved in language recovery, our language, the Wiradjuri language in particular, and, and to see white kids, you know, all Australian kids speaking that in our schools and be taught that in primary schools on Wiradjuri country, and my dad always says, you know, in terms of of sovereignty and how that is constructed, he says, language doesn't tell you who you are, but where you are, it goes to Peter's point about a shared identity in the land, and that speaking the language of the land, makes you a part of that. Dad says it's, it's for everybody in the country, not just for us, he is holding that language in that culture for all, and that's that's the sharing part of this that we're getting right, we're not getting the political part right. 

Ann Mossop: I want us to move and to look at some of those really big issues in relation to the outside world. Peter, in Red Zone, you've given us an incredibly compelling, you know, clear eyed and terrifying – I would have to agree with Professor Fukuyama there – an account of the recent rise of China in particular and Australia's immediate response to it. What has happened? Can you paint us a picture of where we're up to? I mean, obviously, the rise of China is an enormous global story. But it's tremendous significance for Australia, we're in the neighbourhood, we're a small to medium country with an incredibly significant economic relationship with China. What has been happening and where are we up to?

Peter Hartcher: Well, yes, Australia has been described as the canary in the coal mine for engagement and confrontation with China. It's been described as also as the tip of the spear in trying to resist and countries around the world have looked at the Australian experience and learned from it. In fact, the British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss in Australia just yesterday, said exactly this. In a press conference at Admiralty House with her Australian counterpart, she said, the rest of the world has looked at the Australian experience and it has woken the world up to China's intent, its plans, and its new modus operandi. It wasn't China, as you know very well, and it wasn't China's rise that troubled Australia, Australia was only too happy, again, very rich from it, and happy to embrace China, absolutely fully. It was Australia's biggest source not only of trade, but foreign investment or foreign students. And you name it, the most common foreign language spoken in the country is Mandarin Chinese, followed by Cantonese, and then Arabic. So what happened was that first under Malcolm Turnbull, but also since, Australia, realised that there was something more than a benign engagement and mutual advantage being pursued here. And it was really the wake up. I think the single most important wake up call Australia got was the Sam Dastyari case, where we saw a Chinese agent of influence a billionaire, who has since been declared persona non grata by the Australian Government, and refused re entry for the price of a few thousand dollars, had managed to buy an Australian senators policy views and had Sam Dastyari, abandoning his own political party's views to repeat the Chinese Communist Party's views about the South China Sea and how it really does belong to China. And it's not actually an international waterway after all. And Sam Dastyari, of course, has since repented of all this, but the astonishing thing about all of that Ann, was that it was all legal. Nothing Sam Dastyari did was illegal, and in fact, we only know about it because he disclosed the money he was taking from Huang Xiangmo on the parliamentary members interests register. So that woke Australia up that there was a creeping takeover of the political system underway, which then had as we know, the Turnbull government banned foreign donations, which incredibly was still legal in Australia until just three or four years ago. Ban Huawei which was planning to build Australia's 5G network and created a new system of register of foreign interests in Australia. But since then the entire country has awoken and followed by other countries worldwide. And we now see a very sharpening confrontation, where we see China pursuing not only pursuing its own version of authoritarianism at home, but seeking to export that to make its own dealings in its own sphere of influence as comfortable for it for the Chinese Communist Party as possible. And the primary piece of evidence we have for that for anybody who says, well, that's nonsense – the Chinese themselves say that's nonsense – but if you look at the log of 14 demands that the Chinese Embassy in Canberra presented to an Australian journalist for publication in November, the year before last, that log of 14 demands, sets out what has been described as the ingredients for an illiberal order, an illiberal international order set according to Chinese interests. The first demand was that Australia did not exercise its own discretion on foreign investment decisions, but agree with whatever China wants to do in terms of foreign investment in Australia. And then it moves quickly through; Australia should allow Huawei in, Australia should do a number of things, including muzzling the press, silencing Members of Parliament who say anything that might be critical of China, and so on, and so on. And we now see this as what the Brits again just yesterday in their meetings with Australian counterparts, described as the confrontation of malign or authoritarianism being exported through the South China Sea. In the case of China, and on its borders, we see increasing confrontation with India, with Japan, with its neighbours in the South China Sea, and at the same time, of course, Vladimir Putin, and we see the stirring recrudescence of expansionist disruption from Russia, and what it's doing now with its destabilisation on the border of Ukraine. And it's no coincidence that those two great powers, both pursuing authoritarian visions, are increasingly working together.

Ann Mossop: So Stan, I want to invite your comment on what Peter has been talking about in your book From the Falling of the Dusk, you're very much telling the story of China so that we can understand a lot more about it with a really interesting mixture of history, but also stories and experiences from your time living in China for almost a decade in the lead up to 2012. What have we failed to understand about China? And why does this matter?

Stan Grant: China is a paradox, isn't it? And all the things that Peter has said, absolutely true, and documented, verified. China is a country that challenges the global order, and yet profits from the global order. You know, we've seen our relationship go into the deep freeze over the past year, and yet conversely, the price of our exports increased by about 24% over the past year, despite the bans placed on barley and beef and wine and crayfish, and other things, predominantly because of increase in iron ore prices. But you know, it's the biggest trading partner of more countries on Earth than any other country. It's the biggest engine of economic growth, it is part of a global order. It's a member of multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, it's a permanent Five member of the UN Security Council. It's a contributor to global peacekeeping. You know, it's about to host the Olympic Games. So in many ways, it's enmeshed in a global order, yet at the same time, that challenges the precepts of that order. And I think that's the really interesting thing here, in trying to understand what, what drives China and drive Xi Jinping, the one thing that I took away from my years of living there, and I've delved into in my book, as well, is a sense of identity, and the sense of national humiliation. When Xi Jinping talks about the 100 years of humiliation, dating that from the first Opium War through to the 1949 Communist Revolution. The Communist Party believes, you know, gave China back its pride ended the 100 years of humiliation, continually tells the Chinese people, look what these foreigners did to us in the past, don't trust them, look what they'll do to us, again, it's part of that identity, and it does fuel the way that he sees the war. It's not a benign power in that sense, there is an element of vengeance in that return, and it is part of that national identity. And he shares that with Vladimir Putin, who, you know, part of what we're seeing in Ukraine right now is his idea of what is Russian identity and avenging of humiliation, the fall of the Soviet empire that he thought was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. But the big point here too, though, I think, I think we need to understand this is that the rise of illiberalism that Peter was rightly identified, led by these rising authoritarian states, comes at a time when we are allowing that to fester within our democracies themselves, the rise of illiberalism within our democracy. We've seen that writ large in the United States. We see it in countries like Hungary, in countries like Poland, in Brazil, in the Philippines. You know, Narendra Modi is meant to be our partner in peace and a member of the quad pushing back against China's rise, and he's been accused of trashing his own democracy with his Hindu nationalism. Democracy is in retreat. Freedom House now accounts for 15 straight years of retreating democracy. That great book How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky, the Harvard political scientist, said that democracies die from without but they die within as well, and they die at the ballot box, and it is political leaders that we elect who help to bring about the death of democracy. So you know, the strength of the liberal, the liberal order to withstand the rise of China depends on the strength of our own liberal democracy, the faith in it, the strength of our institutions, the ability to work together, we are still as a bloc, China, the US and EU, dwarf China's economy as a bloc, dwarf China's military, as a bloc. But the erosion of democracy within, the rise of illiberalism, the cancers of inequality and identity politics, and weakening us at a time when we need to be stronger.

Emma Johnston: Yeah, look, I'm really interested in how this has played out in science and technology, and the field of science, obviously, it's one of my special areas. And China has been investing substantially in science and technology research more generally, for more than a decade. And I'm, I mean, substantially in a huge way, building their capacity and space. And there's many, many productive collaborative relationships between Australian scientists and Chinese scientists that continue today, in areas where we can be sure there are no sovereign security issues. But what the change in this conversation and the trade issues has given rise to, in Australia, I think, for the first time in a long time, is an idea and a need to build sovereign capacity in all fields. COVID has contributed to this as well. But that understanding that our own investments in science and technology and manufacturing, in particular, are actually helping us be the independent nation that we'd like to be in this circumstance. We haven't heard that for many, many decades in Australia, and it has some positive connotations, because we have the brains, we have really highly trained researchers in science, technology and material science. You know, we're talking, cutting edge global researchers in quantum, and all sorts of spaces. And yet we fail to translate that into supply chains that can produce the products we need as a sovereign nation, and other countries are speaking about this as well. So from that conversation, regardless of how the trade issues explode, which they may well explode, is a constructive conversation for us to have to say, as an island nation, you know, as a wealthy nation, where are we putting our money? Are we putting it into the most important currency of the moment, which is science and technology? The US are scared that they will wake up and China will be ahead in quantum communications, for example. We need to be at the cutting edge of these areas, and on top of the technology, and we can only do that if government and industry invest more seriously, and match the investments that we see in the US and in China.

Ann Mossop: That's a very interesting point. I think that really resonates with everybody at this time, in the wake of two years of pandemic where these issues have really been raised.

Emma Johnston: mRNA vaccine manufacturing. Absolutely, yep, we did not have mRNA capacity, we still don't. And we could have because we've got the technology, and we've got the chemists and we've got the molecular biologists. So it's about getting much more on the front foot and thinking strategically about risk in the context of disruptions to supply chain.

Ann Mossop: Peter, I want to bring you into this conversation also, because you make some really interesting points in Red Zone about some of those issues that Stan raised about democracy, and in particular for Australia in relation to the challenge of China. You know, at some point you say we need to earn our democracy or lose it, but also that Australia needs to concentrate on strengthening itself, making itself armour plated against foreign subversion and domination, so that it can engage confidently with China and the world because it cannot count on anyone else. Another incredible thing that you say, I think that Australia is being faced with a moment it has been avoiding for two and a quarter centuries, dreading in fact, standing alone, forced to feel its own pulse, its breath, to collect its senses and test its resolve against a great power. To really maintain the status quo of its sovereign independence Australia needed to change. Now, all of those relate to this question about how do we strengthen Australian democracy, but also that point that you make that, you know, potentially about standing alone, and how challenging that may be, in all kinds of different ways.

Peter Hartcher: Yes, well, precisely, thank you, Ann. And we just had a conversation a minute ago about finding out who we are and bringing the parts of our national identity, culture and history together. Well, that's a good way of strengthening ourselves and figuring out who we are. But the point about standing alone, the inevitable ineluctable fact of Australian history, is that first, we considered ourselves an outpost of Britain. And, essentially, for the last 70 years, we've considered ourselves an outpost of the US, in terms of we have contracted out of a lot of our foreign policy and defence policy has been contracted out to Washington, we've just relied implicitly and totally on US leadership, but also, we've fooled ourselves that the alliance with the US guaranteed us permanent sovereign protection against interference or intrusion or loss of sovereignty or liberty. Well, of course, that has always been a fantasy. And anybody who's read that it's only 400 words long, this treaty, knows that there is no guarantee of security there. But what we also have seen, of course, is that what we had long thought of as perhaps the leading and perhaps strongest of the democratic nations in the world, the United States, has now been teetering on the brink of collapse into an anocracy, or autocracy, or some other democracy. Or another word I learned during the Trump presidency was kakistocracy. I've never come across, it’s an ancient Greek term, kakistocracy, meaning, government by the worst among us. But the prospect, the prospect of the US no longer being a democracy, but also an equally fraught for Australia, is the US no longer being in any way an interested or reliable ally. And we saw Trump pulling out of international treaties, as well as insulting bilateral allies and allies of great and long standing. So without Britain any longer, I know that Brits are trying to make a bit of a reduct, that's very nice, still, in a minor  power these days, on the other side of the world, with new questions about the durability of American democracy. Confronted by China, we do have to ask, are we going to have to stand alone and defend our own liberty and sovereignty? And it is a terrifying question, because Australia has never looked that concept straight in the eye and dealt with it. And just finally, I would say, what else Australia needs to do to strengthen its own democracy apart from figuring out who we are, we need institutional evolution, we need, and this is something that nearly 90% of Australians agree with. We need a national anti-corruption body. All the states and territories have one. The federal government federal level still doesn't. This is a glaring hole, not only in the way our Commonwealth runs, but in public confidence in the political system, public trust in how our political system behaves. And we need that, as well as other, and I go into some of them in the book, but that's central to us, evolving, improving and strengthening our political governance and civic infrastructure. And as people including Fukuyama to whom you have alluded earlier have said, democracies evolve, or they die, it's time for us to evolve.

Stan Grant: Can I just add there too that what Peter's outlined for Australia is a question that all countries around the world now are asking themselves, and the answers are many and varied, we often don't like the answers. The answers in Hungary and Poland are to put barbed wire up around your border and keep out refugees and the like, the answer in India is a Hindu nationalism. The answer in Brazil is what Bolsonaro presents to them in terms of their own democracy. You know, we're seeing a lot more of this now, is we're seeing a fracturing of a global order that it held the great peace, the great peace in the end of World War Two, up until now in terms of global conflict, and Peter’s, right, that's fracturing now in the face of the disintegration of America from within and the erosion of American power from without. And I don't say that with any great glee because Pax Americana it can be argued has been broadly, not uniformly but broadly a good for the world, certainly a good for Australia and China's rise was predicated on the great peace and economic growth that the United States itself oversaw. But we're seeing all of that challenge right now and the answers are going to be so much more difficult in a world of a return to great power rivalry, a return to a much more virulent nationalism, populism that’s taken hold in so many democracies, the challenges that we see to a liberal global democratic compact, predicated on the rights of individuals, on pluralism, on freedom of speech, on secularism, as our own countries become more diverse, those challenges become more fraught. And the questions become ever harder. And there is a viable authoritarian alternative right now, in China that says we have a better model. And we just have something to answer back to that, both individually in each of our country’s cases. But collectively, we want to preserve what we know as a global liberal order.

Ann Mossop: We've got some questions from audience members, maybe to Emma; is it even possible to separate politics from climate action? it seems to be ever more connected.

Emma Johnston: Look, I think that the bushfires in Australia were a turning point for us, because they, you know, 85% of Australians were affected at some point by the smoke, just alone. So they were widespread in the human touch, in 3000 homes lost, 34, life lost, etc. But more than 400 associated lives lost due to smoke inhalation, etc. So they brought climate extreme events to the forefront of people's minds and helped people realise that actually, you can't hide from climate change or climate extreme events. And so I feel like there's a general acceptance now from everybody, regardless of where they're working, and what industry they're in, that for the future of their children, they need to see rapid carbon emissions reductions. And I'm seeing that play out in all communities, including coal mining communities and their representatives. So I think we're at a turning point, and I think that that's going to take the wind out of the sails of some of the nastier bipartisanship that's been going on, because there's no winners now to being a climate denier, and there's no winners to not not getting rapid emissions reductions. And as Peter and others have said, you know, we are 1.2% of global carbon emissions, that's puts us in the top 15 in the world, and, you know, one of the top per capita emissions producers, so we have a real responsibility of a wealthy country to say, okay, time to pull our own weight. And to rapidly, you know, set intermediate targets and rapidly reduce emissions, while we've got the technology that we can use, you know, to expand. The solar technology that's come out of Australia and the University of New South Wales in particular, actually, you know, is so cheap, and the electric cars that were mentioned earlier. We don't want to use up our runway, and it's only like a nine year runway now till we hit the 1.5 degree global temperature increase. We don’t want to hit that without having any room to spare, so the faster we can move down now, in emissions reduction, the more time we have to develop all the new technologies, we'll need to get to net zero by 2050.

Ann Mossop: And of course, if we add to those figures, Emma, the share of carbon emissions that Australia exports to other countries, we are an even more significant global player. Finally, I just have a minute or so for a final comment from Stan and from Peter. And a question from Kate P, a question about how the speakers think ordinary Australians should respond to our current challenges. So this is sadly a very limited timeframe to think about what we should do. But I do feel we've certainly laid the ground for a bunch of very interesting future conversations. But so Stan, and then Peter, any suggestions for how ordinary Australians should respond to current challenges?

Stan Grant: You know, one of the things that I'm always amazed by wherever I am in the world, wherever I work from in the world, is the extraordinary strength, resilience and industriousness of ordinary people. And Australia, you know, we talked a lot about the issues in Australia today and where we may fall short. But Australia was still a remarkable experiment. Remarkable. You know, I can walk down the beach and I live near Emma and we pass each other sometimes in our morning walk, but you know, I can walk down there and I can see a country where people of all different backgrounds can come together and we don't have a lot of that deep seated tribal ugliness of so many other countries. We don't have the political polarisation and extremities that you see tearing apart a place like the United States, the extraordinary experiment of Australia, of ordinary people from different backgrounds and faiths and races, and whatever, coming together is truly remarkable. The missing piece is the settlement, the lasting settlement that Peter talked about in binding that national identity, to a sense of our full history. But here's something to be very mindful of, inequality is a cancer that is eating democracies around the world. And we need to be absolutely on guard against that. I’m going to quickly close by quoting something from the University of New South Wales report. And it showed that the average wealth, the top 20% in Australia, is 90 times that of the lowest 20%. That is an unsustainable situation that will lead to the extremities, the tribal warfare, the ugliness, the populism, that tears apart so many other democracies. We are remarkable in so many ways, we want to pay attention to creeping inequality.

Ann Mossop: Peter, just to conclude, about any advice for ordinary Australians in their response to current challenges.

Peter Hartcher: Both in big history where we now confront aggressive authoritarianism, but also in small history, we now are about to confront a federal election. My only, I guess my very personal impulse would be for Australians to refuse to be afraid to be positive, to value what we have, to pay attention, not to be… our national enemy is complacency, but refuse to be afraid of any of that, and entering an election campaign which is going to be full, I fearlessly predict, full of scare campaigns, don't be reckless, don't be imprudent, but refuse to be afraid.

Ann Mossop: Thank you so much for that. Excellent advice. Thank you to all of our speakers, to Emma Johnston, to Stan Grant, to Peter Hatcher, for a really rich discussion, which I feel we have much more to talk about. So we'll come back to do that at some point in the future. Thanks for listening. For more information, visit and, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Stan Grant

Stan Grant

Stan Grant is a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi man. A journalist since 1987, he has worked for the ABC, SBS, the Seven Network and Sky News Australia. From 2001 to 2012, he worked for CNN as an anchor and senior correspondent in Asia and the Middle East. As a journalist, he has received a string of prestigious international and Australian awards. In 2015, he published his bestselling book Talking to My Country, which won the Walkley Book Award, and he also won a Walkley Award for his coverage of Indigenous affairs. In 2016, he was appointed to the Referendum Council on Indigenous recognition. Stan is now Chair of Indigenous/Australian Belonging at Charles Sturt University and International Affairs Analyst at the ABC. Stan’s newest book is With the Falling of the Dusk

Peter Hartcher

Peter Hartcher

Peter Hartcher is a leading Australian journalist and author. He is the political editor and international editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. He is the papers’ main commentator on national politics and international affairs. He is also a visiting fellow at the leading Australian think tank on foreign affairs, the Lowy Institute for International Policy. He has been writing about politics, economics and international affairs for nearly 40 years, including a decade as a foreign correspondent in Tokyo and Washington. His first book was a pathbreaking study of Japan’s Ministry of Finance and its economic dysfunction, The Ministry, published by Harvard Business School Press in 1988. His new book is Red Zone: China’s Challenge and Australia’s Future. Francis Fukuyama has described it as “clear eyed and utterly frightening”. 

Emma Johnston Headshot

Emma Johnston

Professor Emma Johnston AO is a marine scientist at UNSW Sydney and a national advocate for improved environmental management and conservation. Emma studies human impacts in the oceans including pervasive threats such as climate change, plastic pollution, and invasive species. Emma conducts her research in diverse marine environments from the Great Barrier Reef to icy Antarctica and provides management recommendations to industry and government. In recognition of her contributions to environmental science, communications, and management, Emma has received numerous awards including the Australian Academy of Science’s Nancy Millis Medal, the Royal Society of New South Wales Clark Medal, the Eureka prize for Science Communication, and in 2018 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO). She is immediate past President of Science & Technology Australia, a current Board Member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Co-Chief Author of the Australian Government’s State of Environment Report 2021. Emma is a high-profile science communicator and television presenter for the ongoing BBC/Foxtel series, Coast Australia and has appeared multiple times on ABC CatalystThe Drum and Q&A. Emma is currently Dean of Science and Professor of Marine Ecology and Ecotoxicology at UNSW Sydney. 

Image of Ann Mossop

Ann Mossop | Chairperson

Ann Mossop is the Artistic Director of Sydney Writers’ Festival, and was previously the Director of the Centre for Ideas at UNSW Sydney. She also held the position of as Head of Talks and Ideas at the Sydney Opera House from 2010–2017. She established the Opera House’s extensive talks and ideas program and lead key projects like the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and All About Women. Throughout her career she has been involved with important initiatives to bring the work of writers and thinkers to broader audiences, from the pioneering series Writers in the Park to the re-establishment of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

Dan Ilic

Dan Ilic | Performer

Dan Ilic is one of Australia’s most prolific comedic voices. Dan recently returned home after working in Los Angeles as the Executive Producer of Comedy for pop culture, satire and news network, Fusion. Dan has been making television in Australia for over ten years. His credits include Tonightly with Tom BallardAustralia’s Funniest Home VideosThe Olympic ShowThe Ronnie Johns Half HourThe MansionHungry BeastHamster WheelCan of WormsThe Feed as well as being a regular on comedy panel shows and news magazine programs. 

In 2021, Ilic spearheaded the JokeKeeper: Shaming Australia’s climate inaction fundraiser which has collected more than $145,000 and is dedicated to using “subversive comedy to ridicule fossil fuel supporting parties in the upcoming federal election”.

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