Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 07:31 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 05 Jul 2022 | 07:31 | SYDNEY

The limits of the Asian model

2 May 2012 09:35

Dr Daniel Woker is the former Swiss Ambassador to Australia, Singapore and Kuwait.

In his post of 27 April, 'Australia's head-start to the Asian Century', Nick Bryant develops an interesting storyline of Australia moving from 'imitative country' (with an adopted, not learned, democracy) to Australia as the 'emulative country', picking up Asian values in its 'Asian moment'. This is understandable but goes overboard.

To build bullet trains between cities and efficient, clean rapid transit within cities (both cruelly lacking down under) is not the same thing as educating children and providing health care and old-age pensions for everybody (both done reasonably well in Australia).

On the first account, Australia might indeed want to copy some Asian models. Anybody boarding the 'Nostalgia Express' between Sydney and Canberra (see photo), which hasn't increased its speed and comfort over the last century, would undoubtedly concur.

But how many Sydneysiders or Melbournians would accept paying $75,000 to acquire the right to put their car on the road (and this would not include the price of the car itself) in order to avoid traffic congestion? This is the current price of a  Certificate of Entitlement (COE) in Singapore, and such is the reality behind its wondrously smooth flow of traffic. The COE effectively puts car ownership out of reach for most Singaporeans, more so as the their city-state operates the world's first and most comprehensive gating system, where traffic flow is guided by changing road tolls.

To stay with Singapore, which Gina Rinehardt appears to perceive as the most desirable model for anybody anywhere, a real look at educational and social policy there shows that such a model is neither applicable nor desirable for Australia.

Ever noticed the number of taxi drivers clearly way past their retirement age in the 'Lion City'? They work out of necessity, as old-age provisions in Singapore simply do not provide for a decent living standard after retirement, at least not yet.

Incidentally, therein lies one of the biggest challenges for the gleaming Singaporean model: Singapore's change in the rate between working and retired populations is one of the fastest in the world, given low fertility rates and the perceived political necessity of restricting immigration. To find solutions for its rapidly graying population, Singapore will once again have to serve as the forerunner among emerging countries in the Asia Pacific.

This is neither the place nor the time to go on with regard to problematic and unsustainable policies in the emerging countries of the Asia Pacific, policies still hidden behind gleaming facades of seemingly unstoppable economic progress. If there were more Asian equivalents to this blog, we would surely hear more about it. In too many places in the Asia Pacific, 'The Interpreter' is not yet possible or only precariously so.

And here is where the real 'sweet spot' of Australia is located: as an example to the 'huddled masses' of the Asia Pacific of values which are neither 'west' nor 'east' but basic for all of us: personal liberties, decent treatment of the individual by the authorities and due process for protecting professional and social activities ('a fair go').

This is what many Asian applicants for immigration to Australia aspire to. To maintain this sweet spot while marching into a bright Asian future will be the main challenge for Australia, not gloating over the crisis in Europe (true for the Euro zone and Southern Europe) or heralding the terminal decline of both the US and Europe (emphatically wrong for both).

Photo by Flickr user longreach.