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Resources for Conversations that Matter

What follows is a guide to how discussion can proceed on four different topics. Each of them deals with major challenges Australia is currently facing. These are challenges that will tax our wisdom and our skills for a long time to come. To a greater or lesser degree each of them raises questions that are of global significance.

Things to keep in mind

What follows is a guide to how discussion can proceed on four different topics. Each of them deals with major challenges Australia is currently facing. These are challenges that will tax our wisdom and our skills for a long time to come. To a greater or lesser degree each of them raises questions that are of global significance.

All four topics – some directly, others indirectly – raise complex questions which require mature reflection and access to a good deal of reliable information and thoughtful analysis. This guide offers some useful resources but should not be regarded as exhaustive. Those taking part in discussion are encouraged to look for additional materials. The key thing to remember is that resources can be divided up so that each member has something different to share with the rest of the group. It may also be helpful if one core resource was identified as something all members would look at prior to each discussion. This would provide the discussion with a common starting point.

Discussion groups can adopt one or more of these modules as the subject of their discussions. But this is not a requirement. The purpose of the modules is to provide a template on how to structure discussion and the kinds of materials that might be helpful for this purpose. All discussion groups, whether they adopt one of these modules or choose a subject of their own, are asked to look closely at these modules and the method they use to stimulate and enrich the conversation.

With each of the four selected topics – or any other topic the group may choose to discuss – it is useful for the discussion to proceed in some logical sequence from one meeting to the next. One way of doing this is to proceed in three stages:

  1. Where are we at? What is the current state of affairs with regard to the issue(s) being addressed? What are the key challenges we face?
  2. What is holding us back as a society? What is preventing us from getting on top of these challenges? What are the obstacles to effective solutions?
  3. How do we move forward? What will it take for substantial progress to be made within a reasonable timeframe?

It is up to the group to decide whether one or more discussions are needed to do justice to a particular stage.

Topic 1: Australia’s First Nations – How do we respond to the injustice that began with colonisation and is ongoing today?

Focuses explicitly on Australia, and raises large issues to do with:

  • race which affects all facets of contemporary life in Australia
  • the continuing influence of Australia’s colonial past,
  • Australia’s identity as a nation
  • our relationship to land and environment, and what we can learn from Indigenous knowledge and experience
  • reconciliation and constitutional change – and what it will take to achieve them.

Resources

Henry Reynolds is possibly Australia’s leading historian of Australia’s colonisation and what European settlement has meant for Australia’s First nations. His latest book is especially timely as it links Australia’s colonial history to the current situation and what lies behind the Uluru statement

Truth Telling: History, Sovereignty and the Uluru Statement (New South Publishing, February 2021)

Truth Telling is as much about the present as it is about the past. Reynolds explains why we must acknowledge the frontier wars, why we must change the date of our national day, and why treaties are important. He makes urgently clear that the Uluru Statement is no rhetorical flourish but carries the weight of history and law and gives us a map for the future.

Those who do not have access to the book, can listen to a recording of an hour long interview with Henry Reynolds aired on Uncommon Sense – Triple RFM: ‘Interview with Henry Reynolds, Truth-Telling: History, Sovereignty, and the Uluru Statement’, 24 February 2021.

  • Two chapters in J. Camilleri and D. Guess Towards a Just and Ecologically Sustainable Peace: Navigating the Great Transition (Palgrave 2020):
  • Tony Birch ‘We’ve Seen the End of the World and We Don’t Accept It’: Protection of Indigenous Country and Climate Justice’, pp, 251-273
  • Anne Elvey, Reimagining Decolonising Praxis for a Just and Ecologically Sustainable Peace in an Australian Context, pp. 275-295

These are rather dense chapters, but both offer great insights into the notion of ‘Indigenous Country’, Indigenous sovereignty, and the implications for ecological sustainability.

Short Articles

Other valuable resources

  • The Uluru Statement Website contains the text of the statement, background information and other useful resources: https://ulurustatement.org/
  • For voices opposed to the position advocated in the Uluru statement, see: ‘Legislated voice will divide Australians by race’, Institute of Public Affairs, 12 January 2021.
  • ‘A Treaty with First Australians Is Divisive and Dangerous’, Institute of Public Affairs, 13 July 2016

Two Opposing views on the Adam Goodes AFL controversy

  • Stan Grant, ‘Racism and the Australian dream’, The Ethics Centre, 21 January 2016.
  • Andrew Bolt, ‘Story of Adam Goodes ‘hounded’ out of AFL makes no sense’, in The Bolt Report, Sky News, 17 June 2019.
#theboltreport

BOLT: This story of Adam Goodes getting hounded out of the game by racist fans and commentators makes no sense at all, and insisting on that story is a big mistake by the AFL, which insults its own fans for a start. MORE: https://bit.ly/2BuFqi1 #theboltreport

Posted by The Bolt Report on Monday, 17 June 2019

Topic 2: America’s Decline and China’s Rise – What does it mean for Australia?

Focuses on how Australia can handle a major shift in the world that is gaining momentum and has far-reaching economic, political and security consequences – all vital to Australia’s future.

What does a more independent Australian stance look like? Is this a desirable objective? If so why? What will it take for this to happen?

Resources

Short articles

  • ‘Louis Devine, ‘Australia Should Re-imagine Its Alliance with the United States’, Australian Outlook, 7 May 2020
  • A 3-part analysis by Joseph Camilleri: ‘Living with China: There is a way, but is there a will?’ Pearls and Irritations, 22-24 June 2020

Part 1: https://johnmenadue.com/australias-relationship-with-china-by-joseph-camilleri/

Part 2: https://johnmenadue.com/living-with-china-there-is-a-way-but-is-there-a-will-part-2/

Part 3: https://johnmenadue.com/living-with-china-there-is-a-way-but-is-there-a-will-part-3/

  • ‘Australia at mercy of ‘coercive trade warfare’ as China and US continue rivalry’, The Guardian, 15 February 2021

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2021/feb/16/australia-at-mercy-of-coercive-trade-warfare-as-china-and-us-continue-rivalry

  • James Laurenceson, ‘Slogan-led strategy isn’t working’, Australian Financial Review, 26 February 2021

https://www.afr.com/policy/foreign-affairs/slogan-led-strategy-isn-t-working-20210226-p5762j

  • ‘Everything you want to know about Australia-China trade war but were too afraid to ask’, ABC News, 10 December 2020

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-12-10/china-australia-trade-war-your-questions-answered/12971434

  • A view from China: Zhai Shilei, ‘What does a new US govt mean for China-Australia ties?’, Global Times, 1 February 2021

https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202102/1214557.shtml

  • Peter Jennings, ‘China’s wolf-warrior tactics are here to stay’, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 12 September 2020

Videos

  • ‘Australia-China: Reflections and Projections’, UTS Australia-China Relations Institute, 25 February 2021 (especially 10-minute segment on Australia’s Chinese community that goes from the 14 to 28 minute mark):
  • IPAN People’s Inquiry, ‘‘Australia-US Alliance Webinar Series: Environment & Community’, 26 February 2021:

Podcast

ABC Radio National, ‘Can Australia and China learn to get along?’(Duration: 29min). The relationship between China and Australia continues to deteriorate and it goes beyond trade sanctions. By standing up to China, is Canberra just ‘pulling the tail of the tiger’? Or are we right to protect our national sovereignty?

Guests: Peter Hartcher, political editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and author of, among other titles, Red Zone: China’s Challenge and Australia’s Future; and Kishore Mahbubani, distinguished fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Asia Research Institute and author of, among other titles, Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/betweenthelines/can-australia-and-china-learn-to-get-along/13120338

Topic 3: Rising Global  Economic Inequality: How bad is it? Why and how has it come about? What can be done about it?

Focuses on the writings of Thomas Piketty, who offers the most illuminating study of the workings of global inequality. Few academic books ever become bestsellers, and even fewer dramatically change global political discussions. Prof. Piketty’s first major book, Capital in the 21st Century (2013), did both. The book traced the history of income and wealth inequality in the developed world, and argued that inequality is not an accident of history but integral to contemporary capitalism.

His second book Capital and Ideology of capitalism offers us a global perspective on the history of inequality and the social and political institutions that made it possible. The underlying argument in the book is that inequality is not economic or technological, it is ideological and political. If  we are to oppose inequality, then it must be on the battleground of ideas. He is inviting us to a global conversation on the human future.

Resources

Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2020), especially chapters 13, 17 and conclusion.

Given that it is such a large piece of work (over 1,000 pages, with lots of statistics, graphs and charts), conversation can focus on one or two selected chapters and/or one or more podcasts, recorded lectures or interviews.

Summary Notes

‘We live in a time of extreme inequality – Thomas Piketty shows us a way out’, https://scoop.me/thomas-piketty-capital-and-ideology-summary/

Piketty Speaks
Delivered by Thomas Piketty at The Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London, 3 July 2020 – duration: 2 hours (lecture followed by panel discussion): https://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/news/2020/hss/thomas-piketty-on-capital-and-ideology.html

An Address by Thomas Piketty at Harvard University, 11 March 2020 – duration: 1 hour 34 mins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRPp6scB_pg

A conversation hosted by the George J. Stigler Center for the Study of the Economy and the State, Chicago University, 20 May 2020 with Thomas Piketty and Chicago Booth professor Robert H. Topel on Piketty’s new book, Capital and Ideology, inequality, and the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on capitalism – duration: 1 hour:

Room for Discussion, Amsterdam University, 5 March 2020 – duration: 1 hour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Vv-I_yzESs

Interview with Economist, 12 February 2020 – duration: 20 minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utnpOqE6Lk0

Reviews

Geoff Manne, ‘The Inequality Engine’, London Review of Books, June 2020: https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v42/n11/geoff-mann/the-inequality-engine

William Davies, ‘Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty review – if inequality is illegitimate, why not reduce it?’, The Guardian, 19 February 2020: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/19/capital-and-ideology-by-thomas-piketty-review-if-inequality-is-illegitimate-why-not-reduce-it

Till Breyer and Felix Kersting, Critical Inquiry, 3 June 2020: https://criticalinquiry.uchicago.edu/till_breyer_and_felix_kersting_review_capital_and_ideology/

Cole Stangler, ‘Tipping Point: Thomas Piketty’s new history of global inequality’, The Nation, 19 May 2020: https://www.thenation.com/article/society/thomas-piketty-capital-and-ideology-inequality-origins/

Topic 4: Big Tech Surveillance and Control – Is it a threat to democracy?

In just a little over two decades social media have achieved decisive influence over most facets of modern life, including information, education and the workplace. This raises major issues:

  • the power that big tech companies have amassed within the space of 20 years, and its corrupting influence on the democratic process;
  • the dangers associated with state surveillance;
  • the options available to citizens, governments and the international community interested in reshaping digital media in ways that respect the dignity of the human person and serve the common good.

Resources

State surveillance

  • ‘Trust and consequences: China’s evolving ‘social credit system’, (2-minute video clip):

Surveillance Capitalism

Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at the frontier of power (Profile Books 2019)

The book has been widely praised and deserves to be read in full, and especially Chapters 1-3, 18. 

From the very first page I was consumed with an overwhelming imperative: everyone needs to read this book as an act of digital self-defense. With tremendous lucidity and moral courage, Zuboff demonstrates not only how our minds are being mined for data but also how they are being rapidly and radically changed in the process. – Naomi Klein

A chilling exposé of the business model that underpins the digital world … a striking and illuminating book. – The Observer

Zuboff has written what may prove to be the first definitive account of the economic – and thus social and political – condition of our age. – The Guardian

Zuboff’s book is the subject of may recorded lectures, interviews, conversations, podcasts – here are a few:

  • We Need Rights to Protect Us from Big Data Surveillance | Amanpour and Company, 24 February 2021
  • ‘Shoshana Zuboff: Australia Facebook row ‘wake-up call’ for governments over tech giants control’, Interview on Channel 4 News, UK, 18 February 2021

•     ‘Age of Surveillance Capitalism: “We Thought We Were Searching Google, But Google Was Searching Us”’, Democracy Now, 3 January 2019: https://www.democracynow.org/2019/3/1/age_of_surveillance_capitalism_we_thought

Critical Assessments of Zuboff’s book

  • Sareeta Amrute, ‘Sounding the Flat Alarm (Review of Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism), B20, 27 January 2020

Other Writings