Swanny Brings The Big Picture Back


Can we just stop it please? You know what I’m talking about. Stop the pettiness, the triviality, the frivolous time-wasting, the pointless focus on ephemeral minutiae. Can we just pause in this headlong 21st-century rush into the jaws of futility, and just for one goddamn minute think about the BIG PICTURE?

You remember the big picture, don’t you? It’s a thing we used to have back when Paul Keating was prime minister and not a week went by without him standing up in parliament to announce a grand vision for the future and to call the opposition leader a post-structuralist anti-Cartesian pig’s vagina. And what’s more, he’d mean it. Back then, every picture seemed to be big, whether it was a Ken Done tea towel or a bold road map for our economic integration into the Asia-Pacific region.

But since then, big pictures have gone out of fashion. Nowadays we’re all about small targets and sustainable growth and steady hands on tillers and review committees and calm, soothing voices. All the ambition and bombast has gone out of our politics, and we have become a mean, ratty little country as a result, unsuited for great strides on the world stage and fit only for hosting the Commonwealth Games and occasionally providing a location for a Nicolas Cage film.

Yet amid all the pernickety carping and brothel receipts, little glimmers of hope for a broader future still shine through, most particularly in Wayne Swan, Australia’s favourite surfing whippet and charismatic accountant-about-town.

To many eyes, Swan is not the obvious candidate for statesman status, given his only identifiable skills seem to be repeating himself multiple times within a single sentence and the mysterious ability to convey a sense of extreme sweatiness during radio interviews.

But the fact is, in these uncertain times, Swan is the one who has stepped up to plate and smacked the big-picture ball out of the park with his mighty vision-bat. It is he who has picked up Keating’s cudgels and headed out to bludgeon the world with them, laying out his aspirations for Australia in "the Asian century".

An upcoming white paper (a problematically racist term in the first place, but never mind) will detail Australia’s role in the Asian century, and how we can use the Asian century to grow and progress into a world powerhouse. There is no time to lose, either — we only have 88 years of the Asian century to go, before it turns into, like, the Scandinavian century or the Canary Islands century or something depressing like that, and it’ll be too late. So we have to get cracking, fall in behind the World’s Greatest Treasurer, and follow him to the future.

But what is the Asian century, I hear you ask, eerily?

Well in basic terms it’s a century which is Asian, but perhaps I’m getting too technical. Think of the Asian century as being very much like the International Year of the Farmer, only a hundred times as long and with much more repressive social policies. This century is the century when Asia really begins throwing its weight around, strutting around smoking cigars and hurling less robust continents through saloon doors before taking their women upstairs for rough, noisy sex. And it is imperative that Australia does not get ravished in this depraved analogy — rather, we must try to become the ravisher, or at least the ravisher’s grovelling sidekick who picks up his cast-offs.

How do we do this? Well, we must become, socially, culturally, and economically, more Asian. We can’t go on with this Anglocentric pasty-faced Chiko roll rubbish anymore — that’s the old century. The new century is all about looking right above us — or right below us if you use a less colonialist projection on your world map — and joining in with the booming economies that will dominate our world for many years to come, until, obviously, 2100, the dawn of the French century.

Let’s be honest, those countries are the big boys now. The West just doesn’t have the firepower to compete with the lean, hungry economies of China, India, South Korea, Indonesia and of course Brunei. Instead, we must join them. How do we do that?

First, we show the Asians how much we want to be Asian. Introduce parliamentary quotas such that 50 percent of all MPs must be of Asian extraction, or at least be really big fans of Manga. Legislate big pay rises for the proprietors of our Asian restaurants and 7-Elevens. Make pad thai the official national dish, and bamboo the national panda-food. And make sure whenever Asian diplomats are visiting, we talk really loud about how disgusted we were with the casting choices for Street Fighter: the Legend of Chun-Li. This will get them onside.

And maybe we should wear chopsticks in our hair? Is that a thing that Asians do? Look it couldn’t hurt. We could even learn to eat with chopsticks, although obviously we don’t want them to think we’re completely under their thumb.

Also, we need to really ingratiate ourselves with Asian leaders. If our media could get on board with a lot of passionate op-ed pieces about how efficient the Chinese government is, say, that would be good. A public information campaign on TV and the internet about the benefits of military rule and nepotistic dictatorships, maybe. Perhaps our parliament could even pass some strict lese majeste laws, or put out a hit on the Dalai Lama, just to show that we are totally on board with the whole Asian deal.

And finally, we need to get really Asian in an economic sense. Converting our currency to the renminbi is a no-brainer, but there are many other measures we can take. Dissolving the Reserve Bank, and having our interest rates set by the Chinese politburo would set our economy humming along — it works for them, after all.

And there’s the matter of our exports. It is good that we export a lot of iron and coal to them, but surely we can go further. Divert resources out of airy-fairy dead-ends like "education" and "tourism" and "food", and into more well-targeted areas, things that Asians really love. Like … I dunno, horror movies? Video games? Karaoke? Things like that I suppose — I don’t really have any idea what Asian people like, so frankly we are off to a bad start already, thanks a lot JuLiar.

But at least we’re talking about it. We’re having a robust debate, and as we all know a robust debate is the first step towards a parliamentary working party, and within a few years of that we should have the solid underpinnings of a draft discussion paper on the Asian century and how we can exploit it without getting invaded by angry Communist Muslims.

And that’s why I salute Wayne Swan, for his vision and his courage in stepping outside the banality of the 24-hour news cycle to look at what is really important — no less than Australia’s place in the world of tomorrow. And that world is an Asian world, and that tomorrow is an Asian tomorrow, and it behoves us all to take a lesson from "Swannie", or as his mates call him, "Wayne", and look at the big broad horizon facing us. Look at the big picture, Australia. See the world beyond the next pay cheque, the next press conference, the next election, and let’s really engage with this Asian century of ours.

And make sure when you do you speak really loud and slow, because they might not understand you otherwise.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.