When should public resources be used for a particular interest group? Who gets to choose and how can decisions for the few be countered by the many?
Questions like these rose to a shout in Australia this week, from culture to science to academia.
It’s always risky to connect such disparate subjects — each has its own context. But as I write from cold, quiet Canberra, I think it’s worth recognizing that a number of recent public debates have all included something vital for democracy: a moment of grass-roots awakening.
At a time when apathy is on the rise, this was a week of engagement and lively argument about national and international affairs.
Let’s go through a few examples and why they stood out.
• Whose House? Our House
The fight over whether the sails of the Opera House should be used to advertise for the Everest horse race brought out thousands of protesters who insisted that Australia’s most famous building not be used as a billboard for gambling.
We had a reporter in the crowd. Here’s her piece, which aims to put the dispute into context, noting that for some, it was the equivalent of putting a gambling ad on Stonehenge or the Statue of Liberty.
→ What I found interesting: The fact that a brief light show quickly took on momentous meaning, tapping into frustrations that may shape the next federal election: When, many asked, will Sydney and Australia stop taking their cues from the conservative old guard?
• The Uni Wars Commence
Australia’s universities are increasingly dependent on fee-paying foreign students with the largest share of them coming from China. This week, a divide on how to handle that became more apparent.
Peter Varghese, the chancellor of the University of Queensland, and the former head of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, gave a much-discussed speech arguing that the country’s institutions of higher learning needed to reduce their reliance on Chinese students.
He suggested drawing from other countries and even setting aside revenue for a day when Chinese students stopped flooding Australian campuses, because of university growth within China, or a Chinese blockade caused by rising tensions. (He also called for more government support.)
“What lies ahead looks more complicated at best and gloomy at worst,” he said.
→ What I found interesting: Mr. Varghese appears to be a bold outlier in the Australian university world. In China this week, a group of vice chancellors from Australia’s eight largest universities told Chinese officials that there was no reason to worry or slow enrollments.
Their message: Keep the money (and students) coming.
• The Reef as Resource
It’s not every day that the United Nations scientific panel on climate change comes out and declares that the only way to avoid catastrophe is by transforming the world economy within just a few years.
It’s also not every day that the Australian government rushes to dismiss such findings, doubling down on coal and rejecting calls for the world to shift away from it by 2050, despite dire warnings for the Great Barrier Reef and other ocean ecosystems.
→ What I found interesting: The government’s stance notwithstanding, the United Nations report stirred a lot of discussion about the tough choices climate change will require. And though it’s a global issue, climate and the power of the coal industry is increasingly becoming local: Malcolm Turnbull’s son, Alex, and a famend coral reef scientist, Terry Hughes, are each campaigning on the difficulty within the Wentworth by-election.
After all, it’s not clear that any of those responses will change Australian politics anytime quickly. The Opera Home nonetheless confirmed its Everest advert; universities are persevering with with the established order; Australia isn’t any nearer to making a coherent local weather coverage.
However efforts to shake up Australia are on the rise — or at the least they had been this week.
Inform me the place you assume it’s all heading by e-mail (email@example.com) or by commenting in our NYT Australia Facebook group.
Also, thanks to everyone who volunteered to join our reader dinners in Sydney this week. Sorry we don’t have room for you all but I’ll share some of the discussion in next week’s newsletter to get a better sense of whether what we hear resonates.
Now for our stories of the world, good and bad, happy and sad.
Scholars tend to discuss geopolitics from high above, gaming out strategy and long-term goals. But global power is also human. And it’s more cruel than kind.
Meng Hongwei, the president of Interpol, is another. This week he went from China’s shining example of international leadership to a mysterious mark of Chinese politics after officials detained him on corruption charges.
So, too, has global conflict burst into view for a Chinese intelligence official, who was recently arrested in Belgium and brought to the United States to face economic espionage charges — a dramatic escalation of the Trump administration’s effort to crack down on Chinese spying.
“The more I consider how Cooper depicts the ebbs and flows of their relationship, the more I find this latest version intriguing in the way it complicates an already complicated narrative,” Aisha Harris writes. “If it maintains some of the more questionable aspects of the original story, it also tries to push against them for a modern audience.”
“A study published in Nature found that about 90 percent of people will experience a ‘hot streak’ in their career, which is that span of a few years when a person’s greatest, most effective work is produced. And — here’s the good part — your hot streak can appear at any point in your working life, meaning that it’s never too late (or too early) to hit your peak.”
What does is mean to be 18? Is it a major transition, a blip, a breakthrough?
The New York Times wanted to understand what it meant for girls turning 18 in 2018 around the world so we enlisted young female photographers to profile them for a boldly designed interactive feature called #ThisIs18 — through girls’ eyes.
There are fascinating young women from all over here, including Australia.
Check it out and join the fun. Share a picture of yourself at 18 with the hashtag #Thisis18 and a message to the person you were.
… And We Recommend
Trying to understand the American midterm elections can be a struggle, especially for non-Americans, so in our continuing effort to serve global readers, check out Abroad in America.
This week she takes aim at governor’s races.
Damien Cave is the Australia bureau chief for The New York Times. His last visit to the Opera House was for “Evita.” Follow him on Twitter: @damiencave.