Rupert Murdoch is a funny bugger. Just when you think that age has wearied him, and that his keen eye for the Big Picture had finally been overcome by terminal old-man grumpiness, he surprises you.
For his Lowy Institute address in Sydney last night Murdoch dropped his Twitter persona – that of slightly loopy conservative snarliness – in favour of a speech filled with energy and optimism to paint a picture of Australia’s future in education, innovation and immigration based on the themes of trade, technology and free markets.
This was a great speech, although one that I suspect he would have been incapable of delivering had federal Labor still been in government (the bile simply would not have allowed it.)
There was a lot in this for the tech sector too, and some messaging it certainly should take note of. Specifically, Murdoch annihilates the ridiculous notion that somehow Australia is hamstrung in innovation by its national values and by its business culture.
In fact, he argues the opposite. That it is the Australian immigrant culture that gives it an edge that should let it thrive in the 21st century.
In a tech sector that sometimes feels over-run by cultural cringers who can’t see the beach for all the sand and waves, Murdoch’s view is actually refreshing.
No, we don’t need to become a Silicon Valley, or an Israel or Germany to be successful industry and a successful economy.
We have a good thing going on here, and we should keep our good thing going. And a big part of that is not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
“Some people say we need to abandon Australian values,” Murdoch says. “The truth is that if we want to lead rather than follow, we need to promote Australian values and strengthen the institutions that sustain them.”
And that Australian culture includes its openness to the world, and its multiculturalism. Murdoch spent a lot of time talking up the huge on-going benefits of immigration – as if we needed to be told.
Because the thing that makes Australia attractive to the world is the fact that it is full of Australians. And as Murdoch noted last night, as an immigrant nation, 25 per cent of us were born somewhere else.
“The nations that lead this century will be the ones most successful at attracting and keeping talent. There are countless thousands of intelligent university graduates around the world, and in particular in our Asian neighbors, looking for work, and wanting to start businesses. We need to get the brightest of them here. That is how we will strengthen our human capital,” Murdoch says.
“Australia is on its way to becoming what may be the world’s most diverse nation. This is an incredible competitive advantage.”
Maintaining the healthy egalitarianism that exists in Australia is critical to our future, and a large part of that will be in maintaining equal access to education. This is something that seems more and more difficult to achieve as the public/private divide increases and middle-class handouts continue to warp our system.
So it is good that Rupert Murdoch is on board this important issue. Hopefully Education Minister Chris Pyne gets the memo!
“You can’t have a competitive, egalitarian meritocracy, if only some of your citizens have the opportunity for a good education,” he says. “In a world as competitive as ours, the child who does not get a decent education is condemned to the fringes of society. I think all Australians agree this is intolerable.”
Yes, all of these themes are important to the tech sector in this country. There are some core Big Picture issues that Murdoch has nailed. Education, immigration and trade. The rule of law. Strong institutions.
There are parts of the tech sector that are obsessed with issues of tinkering. People who cannot see fundamental strengths. These are people that fixate on the half-empty glass, and who can’t see the jug sitting next to it.
I recommend reading this speech. It might tip a tad too far toward the Murdoch libertarian instincts for me, but it gets the basics right.
And the basics are this: There is good reason for optimism in this lucky country, whose key asset is its people.
“To lead the way in disrupting the world, Australia must understand that strong investment in our human capital – in people who have these ideas, whether they are Australians or immigrants – is the most important investment we can make in our future.”