Six years of making sense

It is six years since The Saturday Paper printed its first edition. At the time we said our task was to make sense of Australia. The great joy of this task is that it is never done. That is also its occasional frustration.

When Malcolm Turnbull launched the paper, he was not yet prime minister. He said he welcomed a new voice. “Even though I expect to disagree with a lot of things in your paper, I probably agree with quite a few, too,” he said. “We should rejoice in our democracy and the diversity of our news and our journalism.”

He later clarified comments he made in the speech, about demented plutocrats who would pour money into newspapers to further their agendas. “I was surprised that some people have inferred I was referring to Rupert Murdoch.”

The task of making sense of a country is never done – even as Australia holds itself painfully still, as if to make it easier.

When The Saturday Paper launched, Australia had no climate policy, and it still doesn’t. There was bipartisan support for the mistreatment of refugees, and there still is. A Voice to Parliament had not yet been proposed, and one still hasn’t been offered to the public.

Since our launch, privacy has diminished. Inequality has grown. Trickle-down economics has been dragged back up. Old fears about race, gender and sexuality have been sharpened and exploited in new ways.

The Saturday Paper has covered three prime ministers and one government. Malcolm Turnbull didn’t understand Australia and Tony Abbott only thought he did. Scott Morrison knows the country better, but he doesn’t know what to do with it.

Morrison is aware of something that wasn’t clear until he won the last election: that there is an essential selfishness at the heart of the Australian character. He communes with this selfishness and calls it “humble” and “decent”. He is a student of the caveats in the Australian fair go.

This is not what makes sense of Australia. It is only part of the country, and it is changing. Selfishness is a limiting ideology. It cannot confront the great changes the world is facing. Australia might be holding very still, but that only means it will have more to catch up.

Six years ago climate change was a warning to most people. Now it is a reality. How we make sense of that will in part make sense of the country. Likely it will change its character. It will redefine the orthodoxies of our politics. Possibly it will happen very quickly: the environment will act by force.

A newspaper must watch the future while reporting the present. Sometimes it feels as if the future is a long time coming. The Saturday Paper launched with a great belief in Australia. It is a belief sustained by our readers, articulated each week by the work of our writers. Like everyone else, we’re waiting to find out what happens next.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 29, 2020 as "Six years of making sense".

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