Public ethics and the future of Australia: Chris Uhlmann on Australia’s identity crisis

Chris Uhlmann, Political Editor at Nine News, has called on Australians to reclaim the nation’s Christian heritage in the face of the “clear and present danger” of China.

Speaking at the launch of Ethos, a new ACU event series discussing public ethics and the future of Australia, Mr Uhlmann said Australia faced a clear identity crisis that coincided with a loss of faith.

“The Chinese communist party is seeking to control every aspect of the lives of its people, and to extend that control beyond its borders,” Mr Uhlmann said. “It’s unlikely the changes the Chinese Communist Party has in mind will suit us at all.”

“We face an adversary that has a clear idea of what it is and what it wants at time when we are internally divided. I had hoped a crisis like COVID-19 might unite us, but it turns out that we’re still a collection of colonies masquerading as a nation.”

Citing part of a speech made by celebrated Australian historian Manning Clark which he heard while studying to be a priest with the Marist Fathers in Western Sydney, Mr Uhlmann said the need for Australia to find what it is and what it stands for has never been more pressing.

“Manning Clark was a prophet. He marked the loss of faith in the West, and what that meant in the elusive hunt for an Australian identity. We are no closer to answering that question today. In fact, we are further along the path of what Manning Clark dubbed ‘the kingdom of nothingness”.

Faith, both in the institutions of Western civilisation – the Church, the parliament, and the law – and in God, was once a key character of Australia’s identity, which many “who style themselves as progressives” sought to abandon.

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche knew what the death of God meant, Mr Uhlmann said. “Kill God and there is no reason not to kill others, to lie, to steal, to bear false witness.”

However, “You don’t have to believe in God to accept all that is good in the tradition we inherited,” Mr Uhlmann said.

Following his address, Mr Uhlmann joined a discussion with the chief executive of the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre, Rachael Falk.

Ms Falk commenced her remarks by asking what the Australian way of life is. She proposed that it was a country based on the rule of law and the presumption of innocence. 

She explained that Australia needed to be clear about what it was protecting as it faced the challenge that Uhlmann proposed China presents. 

Ms Falk pointed out that the rule of law needs to be applied equally online and warned that privacy is lost when you engage in criminal conduct.

ACU Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis launched Ethos at the livestreamed event in Canberra, saying the series demonstrated ACU’s commitment to three key focus areas: opportunity, innovation and ethics.

“We want to establish ourselves as leaders in public discussions about ethics, and to actively contribute to conversations about ethical issues in the broader social and political space — and that is exactly what the Ethos series will do,” Professor Skrbis said

“This will be the first of many major events that will provide a forum for experts and thought-leaders to engage in discussions about ethics, public affairs and issues of value raised by our complex society.” 

PM Glynn Institute Director, Dr Michael Casey, said Ethos would focus on what sort of society we want to live in, the principles and assumptions we need to sustain this, and the everyday decisions we need to take to make it a reality,

“Chris Uhlmann’s talk on what binds us together and how we need to recover a sense of shared purpose to respond to the challenges confronting us, has provided us with a great launch of a series with this sort of focus,” Dr Casey said.

The first ETHOS 2022 event will examine the role of social media in Australian society: the ethical challenges it poses for politics, debate, and wellbeing, and what social accountability means for social media.

Video of the event and more information about the Ethos program is available at

Media Contact: Emilie Ng, 0403 251 568, or (07) 3861 6047 

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