Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard spoke at a gathering in New York a couple of weeks ago at the Australian Consulate. He was Australia’s second longest serving Prime Minister, from 1996 to 2007, and represented the Australian Liberal Party.
Before my conservative friends stop reading, in a “the world is upside down moment,” the Liberal Party in Australia is actually the conservative party. A more pragmatic and socially responsible version of conservatism and one I supported in several election campaigns (this might come as a shock to certain members of my extended family).
Still, John Howard was cut in many ways from the Thatcher and Reagan era cloth. I asked him about what he saw as Australia’s biggest challenges. He talked first about shifts in the global economy and then his following statement had me inwardly cheering. It was all I could do to resist a giant “whoop” from my chair (a bit unseemly in a room of global dignitaries, but perfectly acceptable amongst a room of Aussie expats — I managed to restrain myself).
“(Australia’s) social challenges are the same as most Western societies – balancing work and family and understanding that life is not always about work – (life) is also about a society where people achieve a balance. Stable families are at the center, and a society that allows those things to be properly balanced (will be more successful).”
He highlighted the similar values between Australians and Americans, both deriving much of our national character, individual worth and identity through hard work and education, and providing safety net for those who don’t make it. “Our people to people links and cultural links are strong. The values we have in common are very important.”
I am encouraged that a leader of Howard’s standing is willing to share this opinion and weave it into his remarks as part of a wide-ranging analysis of global trends and issues. Not as an afterthought, but as part of the suite of strategic considerations for his country’s future modus operandi.
We need fifty more statements like it, backed with policy, strategy and cultural shifts that give families the flexibility they need to navigate modern work and life – where the boundaries between the two have irreversibly merged.