(Australian Associated Press)
A little wit and some lightly-worn erudition – Malcolm Turnbull and book launches just go together.
Especially when the book has a big idea about Australia.
On Wednesday the prime minister launched Australia’s Second Chance, by George Megalogenis, a journalist who’s become an influential book-length interpreter of Australian history, economics and culture.
Turnbull started with a bit of foolery over what megalogenis means in Greek, in due course revealing it’s great beard – even though the author was clean-shaven.
There was a bit of faux-modesty – he’d have to work harder to write as crisply as Megalogenis.
Then to the serious bit. Megalogenis, he said, was one of the few to explain Australian exceptionalism in an unsentimental way – meaning there’s no bush mythologising – and why we became the world’s most successful multicultural society.
Partly it was balance.
Australian capitalism was not as red in tooth and claw as America’s. On the other hand it wasn’t a nanny state as interfering as in Europe.
Turnbull, who first made his name as a young lawyer by being utterly undeferential to the British establishment, continued with another sort of balance.
Always be courteous, but not deferential. Deference, he said, can be death.
Openness, however, was the book’s big theme.
Australia had prospered when open in the 19th century, fallen back when it closed itself to the world early in the 20th, then brought back the good times later in the century.
Multiculturalism based on mutual respect and freedom were the keys.
Turnbull listed a few cities that had once flourished when free and open. They included Smyrna. The PM rightly brought the Turkish city up to date. It’s now Izmir.
Megalogenis continued the theme more starkly.
Australia’s success was explained not by wool or anything that can be dug up, but by mass migration.
And if he was designing a model society from scratch, it would be half Asian and half European.
Turnbull, who spoke first, wasn’t obliged to comment on such an extreme prescription.