The only thing I like to boast about as an Australian is modesty

Posted on 25 Mar 2024

By Denis Moriarty

Australian passport

Proud Australian Denis Moriarty said it's time our politicians stopped claiming we are the best country in the world and instead started trying to help us be better.

Our office has just had a small celebration (sausage rolls with tomato sauce, and cake) for one of our staff, Zach Sifakis, who’s just got Australian citizenship, and I had to give a short speech of welcome.

This is one of the few occasions when an Australian actually has to put into words what they think of Australia, and I probably should have given it more thought beforehand.

As it was, I spent most of my few minutes congratulating him on retaining his Greek citizenship and celebrating the broad tolerance that meant the same office could house both Greeks and Macedonians (big hug!) without ugly incidents.

The real charm of this country, though – what we really have to boast about – is that we aren’t comfortable with boasting.

Our nationalist emblems don’t come readily to hand. Our flag is one-quarter colonialist and 100% easily confused with New Zealand’s. Our national anthem consists (in practice) of the first line of the first verse, one line in the chorus, and lots and lots of rhubarb.

Our head of state, much as I wish him well in his current health challenges, has spent (by my calculations) slightly over half a percent of his adult life in this country. And Australia Day, of course, is increasingly seen as a British affair.

I’m not saying we’re perfect. There’s been a worrying tendency for our politicians to wander round with flag pins in their lapels. Both Anthony Albanese and Peter Dutton have gone on record calling Australia the greatest country in the world, a sentiment you wouldn’t have heard from Curtin or Menzies or Whitlam or Fraser.

As a regular invocation it came in, I think, with John Howard.

"I want Australians to be proud of being modest, unfocused, and completely lacking in any sense of destiny."

At this point I should clarify that I quite like Australia, and for myself would be vaguely unsatisfied living anywhere else.

I’m certainly not saying that there are other countries I prefer or would even rank higher. It’s just that – and surely this should go without saying – every country has its strengths and its weaknesses. Every country has good qualities and weak spots. Every country has policy areas it’s leading the world in and hideous blemishes that it ought to fix tomorrow such as in Australia’s case our treatment and non-recognition of our indigenous populations.

There’s no way of summing up all the pluses and minuses in a single ranking scale.

And even if it was possible to get this hypothetical ranking, and even if we did by some miracle end up by general agreement at the pinnacle, it would still be nothing to be proud of.

Australia punches above its weight at cricket, for example, or so I’m told, but what’s that got to do with me? I don’t know enough about the game to avoid mixing my metaphors. My contribution to the last Cricket Superbowl was, if anything, a minus quantity.

Our Community group managing director Denis Moriarty.

Similarly, I think highly of our electoral laws – indeed, I find it hard to see how the United States and Britain have got along for several centuries without something similar – but what would it mean to say that I was proud of them?

I’m proud of the things I’ve contributed to – my family, my company (Our Community), my partner’s recipe for chicken cacciatore. I’d come to the defence of the Electoral Commission if it was under attack, but so far, it’s been able to get along without me.

While I’m generally not entitled to be proud of our achievements, though, I am probably right to feel ashamed of our shortcomings, because there are things that I could have done about them – or done more about them than I have (I should have fought harder to make Waltzing Matilda our national anthem, for example).

This may seem mildly unfair, but then one of the things that’s wrong with Australia is that a lot of people don’t get a fair go.

I could get to feel kind of proud, I suppose, if I were able to sell widely the idea that a belief that your country is the best in the world is a very bad thing that is prone to lead to war, oppression, exploitation and inefficiency. Let’s discourage it.

If I really did believe that our ways were indisputably best, after all, I would have a moral obligation to impose them on others wherever possible.

In Australia’s case, mind you, ‘wherever possible’ wouldn’t carry me very far – our armed forces would have a hard time invading Nauru, let alone tested militaries like New Zealand and Timor Leste – but a federal inquisition against un-Australian activities would be perfectly doable.

Mike Pezzullo probably left a blueprint for it in some Home Affairs filing cabinet.

I want Australians to be proud of being modest, unfocused, and completely lacking in any sense of destiny.

I want new citizens like Zach to hold us to higher standards on things like Indigenous voice and treaty than the frankly squalid practices that content us now.

I want our politicians to stop claiming that we’re best and start trying to help us be better.

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of, a social enterprise that helps the country's 600,000 not-for-profits.

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