Laura Tingle Great Expectations

Review: Book

Great Expectations, Government, Entitlement and an Angry Nation, Laura Tingle 2013
an expanded version of her previous Quarterly Essay

The beginning of the 21st Century is a time when something changed in society due to a rise in the lack of civility and anger over expectations not being addressed. This unrest has surfaced within the larger political debates as well as in more discrete arenas such as companies, community groups, societies and associations.

The media has had a great time fueling this dissatisfaction through the constant emphasis on problems, large, small and imaginary, about our  governments.

Other voices, shock jocks included, have dominated the air waves by portraying life as being difficult and the reason for this being the government. This combined effort has become a rallying call for all manner of problems, frustrations and disenchantment.

In recent years there have been some nasty incidents both in the public arena and in the more closed sectors, such as in associations and community groups, whereby people have been just plain rude to each other over things that could have otherwise been talked through in a civilised fashion. This is not about robust debate and about being angry when anger is appropriate. This is about over-the-top uncivilised behaviour that is not respectful of others.

This issue is not talked about enough. Too many suffer in silence while others try to put a positive spin on events in order to move on and not rock the boat.

Laura Tingle provides an intelligent and thoughtful perspective of key elements of this angry as have witnessed nationally in her timely book Great Expectations: Government, entitlement and an angry nation.

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The text from the book summary:

Rather than relaxed and comfortable, Australians are disenchanted with politics and politicians. Laura Tingle shows that the answer goes to something deep in Australian culture: our great expectations of government.

Since the deregulation era of the 1980s governments can do less, but we wish they could do more. From Hawke to Gillard, each prime minister has grappled with this dilemma. Keating sought to change expectations, Howard to feed a culture of entitlement, Rudd to reconceive the federation. Through all of this, and back to our origins, runs an almost childlike sense of the government as saviour and provider that has remained constant even as the world has changed.

Now we are an angry nation, and the Age of Entitlement is coming to an end. What will a different politics look like? And, Tingle asks, even if a leader surfs the wave of anger all the way to power, what answer can be given to our great expectations?

“It is wrong to see the anger of the last few years as a ‘one-off,’ which might go away at the next election. The things we are angry about betray the changes that have been taking place over recent decades. Politicians no longer control interest rates, the exchange rate, or wages, prices or industries that were once protected or even owned by government. Voters are confused about what politicians can do for them in such a world.” Laura Tingle, Great Expectations

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Laura provides a thorough historical angle to the expectations of Australians of their various governments. The reality hits home when looking at contemporary political leaders and how they have manipulated expectations obviously for their own short term benefit. All this careless mixing up of expectations of government has progressively been adding fuel to a fire that is burning, sometimes below the surface but often it erupts. Such anger is fired up by the mainstream media and the ABC to grab headlines and to make news.

Being angry and being rude is far too common. Too much of this incivility is based on a total mix up of our expectations of government and anyone else in a position of power (perceived or real) and a very strange view of our entitlements.

The country needs to address this and Laura provides some good ideas as a form of guidance. Who is to lead this rethink in national behaviour?

Recommended: Rating 8/10

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Paul Costigan, 16 October 2013

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