History - AustralianAustralian CultureCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries

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Cultural awareness: to stereotype or not?

Emotion & innovation

Group vs individual

Tradition & change

Cults of multiculturalism

Warden & Convicts

Failed revolutionaries

Thinkers and Drinkers

Immigration and emmigration

Colonial masters

India Cultural Differences Between Australia and India
Convicts and Maharajas

Samurai & Convicts

New Zealand
Convicts vs Do gooders

Papua New Guinea
Chiefs and Elites

East or west?

South Africa
Kaffirs and Convicts

Coolies and Convicts

South Korea
The middle-powers

"Australians appear very naive to the newly-arrived Japanese. They speak the same way with everyone."
Hiro Mukai - Japanese

"Australians risked becoming ‘the poor white trash of Asia."
Lee Kuan Yew - Singaporean

"I can personally affirm that to stand before an audience of beaming Australians and make even the mildest quip about a convict past is to feel the feel the air conditioning immediately elevated."Bill Bryson - American

"You have no need to feel iffy about a country where "relaxation is the aim". There's nothing to be worried about if "no worries" is your mantra. People have killed for less."
Soumya Bhattacharya - Indian

" What sort or peculiar capitalist country is this in which the workers' representatives predominate in the upper house....and yet the capitalist system is in no danger?"
Vladimir Lenin- Russian

"You feel free in Australia. There is great relief in the atmosphere - a relief from tension, from pressure, an absence of control of will or form. The skies open above you and the areas open around you"
D.H Lawrence - English

" The Australian, who are the men our troops have had opposite them so far, are extraordinarily tough fighters. The German is more active in the attack, but the enemy stakes his life in the defence and fights to the last with extreme cunning."
Major Ballerstedt - German

"New Zealanders who emigrate to Australia raise the IQ of both countries."
Robert Muldoon - New Zealander


Singapore and Australia

Cultural Differences Between Australia and Singapore

England's Coolies and Convicts

Both Australia and Singapore are former British colonies in the eastern hemisphere. The legacy of the British foundations resides in both countries using the Westminster political system, the common law legal system and English as an official language.

In addition to sharing British history, both countries share a significant migration history. Almost the entire population of both countries are descended from people who have migrated in the last 200 years. In addition, a quarter of the population of both countries were born in different nations.

Despite significant commonalities, Australia and Singapore have significant differences which can be explained as stemming from their location, history, ideological orientation and strength of unionism.

Population 5,781,728 (July 2016 est.) 22,992,654 (July 2016 est.)
GDP per capita ($US) $87,100 (2016 est.) $48,800 (2016 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 0%
industry: 26.6%
services: 73.4% (2016 est.)
agriculture: 3.6%
industry: 28.2%
services: 68.2% (2016 est.)
Racial groups Chinese 74.3%, Malay 13.4%, Indian 9.1% (includes Sri Lankan), other 3.2% (2016 est.) English 25.9%, Australian 25.4%, Irish 7.5%, Scottish 6.4%, Italian 3.3%, German 3.2%, Chinese 3.1%, Indian 1.4%, Greek 1.4%, Dutch 1.2%, other 15.8% (includes Australian aboriginal .5%), unspecified 5.4%
Export partners China 13.7%, Hong Kong 11.5%, Malaysia 10.8%, Indonesia 8.2%, US 6.9%, Japan 4.4%, South Korea 4.1% (2015) China 32.2%, Japan 15.9%, South Korea 7.1%, US 5.4%, India 4.2% (2015)

From CIA World Fact Book


In 1819, the British East India Company signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor to develop the Southern part of Singapore as a British trading post. At the time, there were only about 1,000 people on the island. The population swelled as the British brought indentured labour from China and India (Coolies) to work in the island's rubber industry.

In 1869, the island’s economy got a further boost with the opening of the Suez Canal causing a major increase in trade between Europe and Asia – all which passed via Singapore. In addition to Chinese coming to Singapore under labour contracts, Chinese were also attracted to Singapore’s status as a trade hub. Chinese soon became the numerically dominant ethnic group. In 1914, the British banned indentured labour in Singapore.

After World War 1, the British invested significant military resources into Singapore as it was conceived as an impregnable military base. In World War 2, it took the Japanese around a day coming from Malaysia on bicycles to force a British surrender. More than 80,000 allied soldiers were taken prisoner. Around 25,000 ethnic Chinese were killed in the subsequent Japanese occupation.

Prior to the war, both Malaysia and Singapore had been colonies under British rule. The end of the war saw people in both regions press for independence. A battle for control of Singapore emerged between pro-Communist and pro-liberal Chinese. A temporary alliance was formed in the People’s Action Party.

Singapore had its first general election in 1955 and became a self-governing colony in 1959. Singapore’s inaugural prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, emphasised rapid economic growth, support for entrepreneurship, and limitations on internal democracy to help Singapore make the transition from a third world to first world country. This involved purging the party of its Communists.

In 1962, Singapore briefly merged with Malaysia in the belief that integration would lead to greater economic development. Racial riots and policy differences resulted in the Malaysian parliament voting to expel Singapore in 1965.

While British interest in Singapore concerned trade, in Australia it concerned a need to dump criminals after the American War of Independence deprived it of its old site. Penal transportation continued into the 1860s. British business initially reacted to the loss of penal labour by trying to import indentured Chinese, Pacific Island and Indian labour. In many ways, the indentured labour system was akin to slavery. Activism by Australian Unions led to the Immigration Restriction Act (White Australia Policy) in 1901. It has been very difficult for foreign labour to work in Australia ever since.

After World War 2, Britain followed a policy of de-colonisation. Although this led to many former British colonies gaining independence, technically Australia is still a British colony. Australia’s Head of State is the Queen of England. Federally, she is represented in Australia by the Governor General and in each state by a Governor. Functionally, Australia operates as an independent nation.


The ancestry of most Singaporeans and Australians seems to have had an influence on the over-riding values each country has decided to adopt.

As the majority of Singaporeans are of Asian ancestry, Singapore seems to have adopted an Asian approach to nationalism. In short, most Asian nations have a positive attitude to nationalism as it is used as the validation for ridding the country of the colonialism that most Asian countries experienced. Even though Singaporeans are descended from colonists, they perhaps are influenced by the nationalism in countries around them that used nationalism to reject colonialism.

At the Bangkok Declaration in 1993, Singapore president Lee Kuan Yew asserted an approach to values that differed from the former British masters when he, along with other Asian nations, asserted support for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but with "Asian characteristics." Specifically, the declaration asserted that, relative to westerners, Asians have: 

Preference for social harmony
Concern with socio-economic prosperity and the collective well-being of the community
Loyalty and respect towards figures of authority
Preference for collectivism and communitarianism

Critics accused him of trying to justify Singapore’s human rights violations.

As the majority of Australians have European ancestry, Europe’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights is more willingly embraced in Australia than it is in Singapore. The rights themselves are often vague and can be interpreted in contradictory ways. They were made, however, at a time that European nationalism had brought the world to war and resulted in genocide on an industrial scale. Collectively, therefore, the rights can be interpreted through a prism that asserts the right of the individual over respect for figures of authority or the nation. In other words, whereas Singapore's population may support the repression of the individual for the sake of the country, Australia's bias is the other way.

Asian versus Western Values

Attitudes to authority figures are shaped by the authority figures throughout a culture's history. Perhaps western cultures have less respectable authority figures in their history. Alternatively, perhaps they choose to focus more on the less respectable authority figures. Either way, it would be faire to say westerners are less trusting of authority.

Politics and corruption

Officially, Singapore is a democracy but the People’s Action Party has ruled since 1959. From 1965 to 1981, the party won every available seat. It achieved the feat on the back of strong economic development but also by detaining political opponents without trial for decades at a time. From 1984, some opposition parties have won seats. It is alleged that electorates have subsequently found themselves punished for their dissent. Candidates have also found themselves facing charges for things such as tax evasion or seen their businesses bankrupted. In addition to one-party rule, the press is controlled. So much so, in 2015, Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 153 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.  

Despite the single party rule and lack of press freedom, in 2017, Singapore was ranked the world’s 7th least corrupt nation on Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index.

The low rate of corruption can perhaps be attributed to the “Asian values” that Singapore espouses. Although western critics say that advocating the group before the self is just an excuse for repression, corruption stems from putting the self before the greater good. In other words, creating a model identity that encourages people to think of the group’s welfare and to be virtuous in their actions may be the secret of Singapore’s low rate of corruption. Evidence about the influence of a model identity could perhaps be seen in a former senior cabinet minister Teh Cheang Wan who committed suicide to avoid the public shame of accepting bribes from developers.

While Singapore has been defined by single-party rule, in Australia, power has been shared by the Liberal and Labor parties since World War 2. Diversity of power also comes via the Senate where representation is decided by a party's percentage of the vote in a State or Territory.

As well as having political pluralism and the diversification of power, Australia has a relatively free press.  In 2015, Reporters Without Borders ranked Australia 25 out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index.

Despite the political pluralism and press freedom, Australia still has a long history of corruption in politics, police and even the press. The worst examples have led to the creation of instutions aimed at catching the corruption. For example, in the 1980s, the Fitzgerald Inquiry found widespread corruption in the ranks of Queensland politics. Among many others, four government ministers and a police commissioner were sent to jail. In addition to uncovering corruption, the Fitzgerald inquiry made recommendations for how it could be prevented in the future. Lawyer Jeremy Pope, founder of Transparency International, organised these recommendations into a 'system' which he called The National Integrity System.

In 2017, Australia was ranked the world’s 13th least corrupt nation on Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index.

In short, Singapore’s corruption can be attributed to educating people to be good. Australia’s low rate can be attributed to creating watch dogs that bark at people when they are bad.

Public service recruitment; meritocracy versus social justice

The Singapore public service runs on the ancient Chinese belief in meritocracy. This is a system that places great value on school results and entrance exams in order to fill public positions.  With public service opportunities linked to school performance, Singapore schools are highly competitive.

It is often said that Singapore adopted the policy of meritocracy in recognition that it needed to develop human resources to compensate for its lack of natural resources. Perhaps it more likely that it developed out of discrimination against ethnic Indians and Chinese in neighbouring Malaysia. Specifically, when making the Malaysian constitution, the British believed they needed to protect Malaysians against migrant Chinese and Indian workers who had control of much of the economy. The constitution was subsequently expanded in the New Economic Policy to legitimise institutionalised discrimination against ethnic Indian and Chinese in Malaysia’s public and private spheres. This discrimination includes requirements that Malays hold all key government positions, be given preferential treatment when it comes to the number of student places in Government universities, 7% discounts for new houses and hold 30 per cent equity in publicly listed companies. Not only has the discrimination led to racial conflicts, it also hasn’t been effective in eliminating the income disadvantage of Malays. Although Malays dominate in politics the civil service, military and security forces, Chinese and Indians dominate the economy. When Singapore was still part of Malaysia, its Chinese led goverment called for equality for all Malaysians, which basically meant removing the institutionalised discrimination. The call resulted in it being kicked out of the Malaysian federation. It then implemented meritocracy in Singapore.

Unlike Singapore, recruitment to the Australian public service does not follow a principle of meritocracy. Instead, job advertisements have a range of selection criteria that can be so subjective that they can be interpreted to support almost any candidate. Not only does this lend itself to cronyism, it can also lend itself to ideological fashions, such as a commitment to social justice or up holding moral norms. Perhaps evidence of this was the 2017 government report “Going Blind To See More Clearly”, which found that Australian Public Service (APS) officers were likely to discriminate in favour of female and minority candidates for job vacancies. On the flip side, foreigners and permanent residents can not be employed in the public service. In the past, a different set of values guided recruitment. Until 1966, married women were not allowed to work in the Australian public service either.

Migrant work force

In 2014, the population of Singapore was 5,469,700 people. Over half were citizens (3,343,000). The remaining were foreign students/foreign workers (1,599,000) and permanent residents (527,700). In total, around 23 per cent were foreign born. Foreign workers made up 80 per cent of the construction industry and around 50% of the service industry.

The dependence on foreign workers in the construction and service industries can be partly attributed to the value placed on academic achievement. It is hard to spend 18 years pushing students to achieve in maths, science and reading but then expect them to accept a career labouring on a construction site or making coffees. It is not only manual trades that have significant foreign labour. In order to maximise its human resource power, Singapore has actively head hunted elite talent in STEM fields.

In Australia, a migration program aims to attract skilled migrants. In 2012, around 130,000 places were made for such migrants; however, the visas were conceived as leading to permanent migration rather than filling temporary vacancies. The actual issue of filling positions with foreign workers is highly political and tends to be rejected by all sides of Australian politics. Even when there are job shortages, dominant positions assert that a local worker should be trained to fill the position or wages increased in order to make the position more desirable.

In 2017, the left wing Labor Party ran an ad advocating employing Australians before foreigners. As everyone in the ad was white, the advertisement was seen to echo the white Australia policy where non-whites were excluded to protect the white unions.


In Singapore, academic performance is closely aligned to opportunities in life. Not only does the public service place great weight on academic performance in recruitment, so does private enterprise. The value placed on education helps explain why Singapore has high achievement on measurable academic outcomes. For example, in 2009, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that Singaporean students were ranked in the top five in the world in terms of mathematics, science, and reading.

In Australia, academic performance tends to be devalued in job recruitment for public and private enterprise. This reflects a wider cultural devaluing of education outcomes. For example, many Australians utter the cliché, “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach.” The devaluing is somewhat justified as Australia is a country where tradesmen can easily become millionaires so there can be a logical reason to think that many of the concepts taught in school have little relevance to opportunities later in life.

The wider culture’s devaluing of education is reflected in international rankings. For example, in 2012, the OECD found that Australians students were also ranked between 10-20 in the world for mathematics, science, and reading.

Australian teachers tend to be blamed for the relatively poor rankings; however, they are faced with significant hurdles that make attaining high ranks more difficult. Firstly, Australian teachers work within a cultural environment where parents are less likely to value education. With relatively less support at home, it is more difficult to push students up the ranking scales. Secondly, public education departments are more likely to value inclusion above national rankings. As a result, Australian public school teachers have to cater for students with intellectual and behavioural disabilities in addition to students who do not have English as a first language. Even if the students were later removed from the tests that are used for the rankings, catering for a diverse student body is significantly more resource intensive than catering for a student body with relatively common skill sets. Finally, although maths, science and reading exams are valued in Australian schools, so are other skill sets. Specifically, creativity, verbal and written communication as well as vocational subjects like woodwork, metal work, media and food technology. Physical education is also valued despite not having many vocational opportunities.


Poverty is rare in Singapore and there are little to no signs of it on Singapore streets. This is despite the fact that the Singapore government has largely rejected welfare. Instead, it has means tested support that includes funding for needy households, free medical care at government hospitals, money for children's school fees, rental support for apartments and training grants for courses.

There is relatively more poverty visible on Australian streets, despite the fact that welfare is easier to obtain. The welfare includes free medical care, housing, rent assistance, free public education and money. The visible poverty on Australian streets is often aligned to drug use or family breakdown.

Drug use

It is hard to know the rates of illicit drug use in a country as people who use drugs illicitly don’t generally report their use. Nevertheless, it has been said that Singapore has one of the lowest rates of drug use in the world, which can be partly attributed to strict drug laws that include mandatory death sentences for some drug trafficking offenses. In popular culture, there is no glamorising of drug use in Singapore.

 In 2012, a United Nations World Drug Report cited Australia as having one of the world’s highest uses of cannabis. The drug is used relatively openly by university students. Cocaine is a popular drug amongst financiers, football players, chefs and successful actors.  Since the 1960s, drug use in popular culture could probably be defined as permissive.

Civic action in regards to drugs tends to focus on harm minimisation. For example, The Australian Parliamentary Group on Drug Law Reform consists of politicians from state and federal governments. Upon joining the group, all members sign a charter that states:

This Charter seeks to encourage a more rational, tolerant, non-judgmental, humanitarian and understanding approach to people who currently use illicit drugs in our community. The aims of the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform are to minimise the adverse health, social and economic consequences of Australia's policies and laws controlling drug use and supply.

There are few organisations advocating Singapore style drug policies in Australia.


Australians are commonly stereotyped in Asia as drug users and drug smugglers. The stereotype probably stems from the prominence of Australians caught smuggling drugs in Asia. The sympathetic hearing they get in Australian media amplifies the attention given to their stories.


Male homosexuality is illegal in Singapore and some polls have found that around 75% of Singaporeans support the law. It is not; however, enforced.

In Australia, homosexuals have been very visible in politics and entertainment since the various Australian states decriminalised homosexual sex between the 1972 and 1997.

National symbols

National symbols reflect the history of a people along with their hopes and aspirations. The national symbols of Singapore reflect some of Singapore’s ethnic composition as well as an anticipated union with Malaysia that existed at the time they were adopted in 1959. There is no acknowledgement of its British heritage.

The Singapore flag has five stars which were modelled off the flag of the People’s Republic of China and a crescent moon, a recognised Islamic symbol. Although Islam is a minority religion in Singapore, it is the official religion of Malaysia.  (Today, the crescent is said to symbolise a country on the move.) Red symbolises universal brotherhood and equality of man and white symbolises pervading and everlasting purity and virtue.

Singapore flag
The Singapore flag shows the intended union with Muslim Malaysia but no British history.

Singapore’s Coat of Arms contains a shield that is supported by a lion and a tiger. The lion symbolises Singapore while the Tiger symbolises Malaysia. (Today, the tiger is said to symbolise the country’s close tie to Malaysia.) Five white stars represent democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality. Below is a blue ribbon inscribed with the words Majulah Singapura. In Malay, the words mean "Onward Singapore."

By law, the Singapore National Anthem must be sung with Maly lyrics. It basically calls on citizens to unite to move forward. Even though English is the most commonly spoken language at home and the common bridging language, an English national anthem was rejected because English was not endemic to South East Asia. Ironically, polls show that the majority of Singaporeans are in favour of requiring the anthem be sung in Malay even though polls also show that only a minority know the meaning of each individual line.

Perhaps in recogition of some of the deficicies with the Coat of Arms, the lions head logo was adopted in 1986 to be an alternative symbol of Singapore. The lion was chosen as it represents the folk story that gave Singapore its name. According to mythology, a prince was ship wrecked on the island in the 13th century. He saw a lion and so named the island Singa Purra.

Whereas British history is not acknowledged in Singapore’s symbols, it remains prominent in most of Australia's. The Australian flag was chosen in 1901 from a list of entries; however the Union Jack remained the official flag of Australia until the Flags Act of 1953. The flag symbolises Australia's history as six British colonies. The Southern Cross is one of the most distinctive constellations visible in the Southern Hemisphere. It has always been a popular image in Australia. Aside from loyalty to the Union Jack and the federation of colonies, there are no values symbolised by the flag.

The Australian Coat of Arms basically represents each Australian state on a shield being held by a Kangaroo and Emu. Aside from unity of the Federation, there are not values symbolised by the Coat of Arms; however, it has been said that the two animals were included because they could not walk backwards.  

The National Anthem of Australia, Advance Australia Fair, was written in 1878 but only adopted as the National Anthem in 1984. The first verse basically means that Australians should be happy that they are young, free and “girt” by sea. The second verse celebrates migration and making Australia respectable. The third and fourth verses have been dropped. The third verse sung about pride in British ancestry and the fourth about protecting Australia from invasion.

Coat of Arms aside, Australia’s symbols are not very popular. The main thing that stops them being changed is difficulty in agreeing upon alternatives.

The flag symbolises Australia's history as six British colonies but is otherwise value neutral.

Languages and language use

A great deal of cultural insights can be inferred from studying the structure and use of a nation’s language/s. The multicultural nature of Singapore society is reflected in four languages (English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil) being designated as official languages.

Singapore’s history and international out look is reflected in English being the most commonly spoken language home (40 per cent of Singaporeans). It is also the common language of Singapore. Singapore English is pretty similar to the rules of British English; however, there is a tendency not use grammar to signal plural verbs or the countability of nouns. This reflects the influence of Asian languages in Singapore where it is not common to differentiate between the singular and plural.

After English, Mandarin Chinese is the next most commonly spoken language at home (also around 40 per cent.) This rate is more reflective of pragmatism than cultural heritage. Specifically, most Chinese Singaporeans are descended of southern Chinese migrants who spoke Hokkien, Cantonese or Hakka as their languages. Because Mandarin is the common language of mainland China and all mainland Chinese are required to study it, learning Mandarin opens more doors for Singaporeans than does learning a regional Chinese dialect to preserve an ancestal identity.

In addition to economic pragmatism being seen in Singapore’s government elevating mainland China’s common language above the heritage dialects of Singapore’s population, it is also seen in the implementation of simplified Chinese characters. These characters were introduced to mainland China during the Cultural Revolution. The official justification was to make reading easier for the Chinese population; however, the use of simplified characters also made writing prior to the revolution inaccessible to the Chinese population. This appealed to the Communist Party at the time. (It didn't appeal to Chinese in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan nor to the Japanese who instead continued to use traditional characters.)

Malay is spoken at home by around 11 per cent of Singaporeans. By law, the national anthem must be sung in Malay, despite the fact that the vast majority of Singaporeans can’t speak Malay. The designation of Malay as an official language and its use for the national anthem reflects a desire to acknowledge the part of the world that Singapore resides in.

Tamil is spoken at home by around 4 per cent of Singaporeans. The designation of Tamil as an official language over Hindi (the most widely spoken indigenous language of India) perhaps reflects the fact that English operates as a common language in India like Mandarin does in China. Therefore, Singaporeans of Indian descent are more inclined to learn an ancestral language for identity reasons while still taking comfort from the fact that their English allows them access to India. Alternatively, the ethnic Chinese dominated Singapore government may have wanted a mainland Chinese orientation over an Indian orientation in case there was ever the kind of race-based power struggle seen in Malaysia. Therefore, it preferred that Singapore's Indians use a language not bound to Indian patriotism.

Just as cultural insights can be inferred from Singapore’s language use, so can insights be inferred from Australia’s language use. Unlike Singapore, Australia has no official language; however, English is spoken at home by around 70 per cent of the population. Mandarin is the next most spoken language (2.5 percent.) There has been no need to designate an official language in Australia as there has been no language based conflict that concern notions of identity that exist in Singapore.

Even though language based conflict has not led to the designation of English as an official language, identity based conflict has shaped the way that English is used in Australia. Specifically, many Australians have made an conscious attempt to reject American English use on the grounds that Australia is not America. As a result, British English spelling is typically used for most words under five letters. (The major exception is the spelling of the Australian Labor Party as 19th century unionists chose American spelling to associate themselves with progressive American ideals over conservative England.) Words longer than five letters typically use American spelling as they are more phonemic and easier to spell. Furthermore, it is harder to recognise the longer words as American in order to reject them.

Only a tiny percentage of Australians have ever spoken an Indigenous language; however, the Indigenous languages have had significant influence in place naming. Perhaps this has in turn influenced the language invention and pronunciation. Specifically, it is very common to hear words like ‘arvo’ being used instead of afternoon. Known as diminutives, these shortened words are formed by taking the first part of a word and substituting an a,o, ie, or y sound for the rest. In all, about 5,000 diminutives have been identified in Australian English. The diminutives harmonise many of the sharper English words with the smoother Aboriginal words that are common in the place naming of rural Australia. For example, consider the sentence,

“I will be meeting the journalist underneath the coolabah tree by the Tumbarumba billabong.”

Such a combination lacks rhythm. By changing journalist to journo, the sentence would be the much more harmonic:

“I’ll be meeting the journo beneath the coolabah tree by the Tumbarumba billabong.”



Everyone on earth has multiple identities. These are often based on perceived religious, national, gender, racial, employment or personal characteristics. They are also in a constant state of flux, with different identities being valued at different times according to inter-identity dynamics.

Government policy of Singapore seems to promote an all-encompassing Asian identity that Singapore represents. This was reflected in Lee Kuan Yew Bangkok Declaration in 1993, establishment of ASEAN and the lack of British representation in Singapore’s national symbols. Despite the attempts at creating an all-encompassing identity, identities based on racial and religious heritage typically dominate. This is reflected in Singaporeans referring to each other with a racial marker that reflects an individual’s heritage. It is also reflected in Singaporeans holding onto to cultural markers rather than fusing or evolving them into something new. Even though ethnic Singaporeans have an ancestral identity, they identify as quite different from the people in their ancestral country. For example, while Chinese of Singaporean ancestry identify as ethnic Chinese, they typically speak English as their first language and believe they have values quite different from Chinese mainlanders.

In Australia, heritage-based identities have either been eroded or are in a state of disintegration. Partly reflecting this was the 2015 census that recorded around 25 per cent of Australians referring to their ancestry as Australia. Such identification runs contrary to almost two centuries of government policy. Initially, Australians were expected to identify as British. In the 1970s, this was replaced with a policy of multiculturalism where identification with non-British ancestries was also encouraged. The architect of the policy Al Grassby, liked such identification with being a Nazi. In his own words,

"It would mean there was a secret master race that considered themselves pure Australians...It would be worse than the Third Reich."

Today, even Australians who identify as being ardent supporters of multiculturalism, are unlikely to personally identify with a foreign country, wear a cultural costume or limit themselves to a historical based cuisine.

Political identities, such as referring to oneself as a left winger or conservative, are very strong in Australia and they usually transcend heritage markers. A conception of a national identity is in the minority but has significant influence amongst Australian travellers and amongst sports fans. In the 1980s, it also found expression in a number of songs, such as I still Call Australia Home, Sounds of Them, Great Southern Land and Downunder.

Heritage is not a huge part of Australian identities.

Jury duty

Singapore is renowned for its strict laws that include severe punishments for indiscretions that might be considered minor in many other nations. Furthermore, it is alleged that political opponents have found guilty of charges of which they are innocent and this has aided one-party rule.

The strict laws and jailing of political opponents have been aided by Singapore’s abolition of juries in 1969. At the time, Lee Kuan Yew explained that his desire to abolish juries stemmed from his past history as a lawyer where he defended four Muslims who had murdered a Royal Air Force officer, his wife and their child in a religiously charged crime. Although Lee Kuan Yew exploited the jury’s prejudices to get the men acquitted, he felt sick about what he had done. He later said,

"I had no faith in a system that allowed the superstition, ignorance, biases, and prejudices of seven jurymen to determine guilt or innocence."

Without juries, the Singapore prime minister appoints judges to the branch. The system inevitably fosters yes men who will tow the government line, which is biased in favour of convictions. Furthermore, judges are less likely to have real-world experience that may help them relate or sympathise with defendants. For example, a member of the jury who has suffered police abuse of power is more likely to believe a defendant has been framed than is a judge who has only ever experienced police respect. Furthermore, a jurymen from certain vocation backgrounds are more likely to have used drugs or have a family member who has abused drugs. Such people are thus more open to the extension of a second chance than is a judge from a privileged background who views the world through a prism where rules must be obeyed and authority is always right.

Australia still has trial by jury for all capital offences that can be punished by more than one-year imprisonment. Serving on a jury is one of the few responsibilities that Australians are legally required to perform.

Government intervention in the economy

Singapore is sometimes erroneously described as a free-enterprise economy. In reality, it would be better described as authoritarian steered capitalism. Singapore companies are indirectly owned by the government through sovereign wealth funds like Temasek and the Government Of Singapore Investment Corporation; however, ownership is separated from management in order to promote greater efficiency. In addition to direct ownership of companies, the Singapore government steers the government by regulating land, labour and capital resources.

As well as using economic policies to shape business, the Singapore government intervenes to shape the social decisions that influence the economy in decades to come. Specifically, it subsides housing, education, health and public transportation. Furthermore, until 1984, the government discouraged population growth by levying additional medical and education costs on families that had more than two children. After 1986, tax rebates were used to encourage college educated women to have more than two children – the thinking was that such women would be better mothers for Singapore’s future generations.

Like Singapore, the Australian government heavily intervenes in the economy to shape business and social outcomes. Until the 1980s, the Australian economy was best described as national socialist with an under-developed free market. Specifically, major industries such as health, banking, education, telecommunications and transport were either government owned or heavily regulated by the government with the aim of achieving a social justice outcome. In addition, wages were regulated and protection was given to Australian industries and workers so that they would not face non-British competition. It wasn’t only government that embraced the socialist way. Private enterprises formed single desks, co-ops and industry bodies in order to reduce their competition and gain power through solidarity.

After World War 2, some of the restrictions on migrant and non-white workers were relaxed as part of Australia's attempt to increase population. Then in the 1980s, the federal government implemented a number of reforms that transformed Australia into a post-socialist society. These reforms included privatising government industries and opening up the market to foreign competition. Ironically, some reforms, such as compulsory superannuation, also transformed Australia into a post-capitalist society by making a capitalist class out of all workers. Rhetoric about ‘class warfare’ and ‘control of the means of production’ thus became redundant in Australia.

Like all reforms, there have been winners and losers, not just in the economic sense, but also in the ideological and identity sense. Therefore, whether the reforms have been good or bad depends on the socio-economic or ideological position that a critic is coming from.

Work etiquette

Singapore has a work hierarchy that is quite common over most of Asia. Specifically, superiors are treated with great respect and there is a dislike of assertive, outspoken or diversity in viewpoints. Honorifics followed by family name are expected. Superiors are not just limited to rank in the company; they are also those who are older. This is a wider value expected in Singapore social life where younger generations treat the elderly with respect and the elderly are introduced first in social situations.

Shaking hands is common in most companies but there can be some sensitivity when certain ethnic groups are involved. For example, Malay men shake hands with other men but do not shake hands with women since Muslim men must not shake hands with women in public. Instead, they may bow head. Other ethnicities may or may not shake hands with women.

Unlike Singapore, Australian work culture is not defined by hierarchies. Initially, a new employee may refer to a superior with an honorific followed by family name but this is quickly replaced by first names and sometimes even nicknames. Social egalitarianism is therefore important in the workplace. Alterative viewpoints tend to be valued if they are informed and insightful; however, basic diplomacy is still required. In Australia, there is rarely deference on the basis of age. To the contrary, the elderly are often derided as having views that are somewhat irrelevant. In wider society, “views of an old white man” is a common insult that may be used to invalidate a viewpoint. That said, if the boss is an old white man, it is an insult that may not be very persuasive. Men and women usually shake hands; however, sometimes the man will wait for the woman to extend her hand. Kissing on the cheek is a relatively new custom that is sometimes found in the workplace. It is usually the woman who initiates the kiss by signaling with her body.


Like most of Asia, Singapore’s shopping districts are both open and vibrant late into the evening.  In contrast, Australian shopping districts start to resemble ghost towns after 5.30 pm. Although supermarkets and restaurants may still be open, there are only a trickle of people in the vicinity.

There are numerous explanations for the differences. Firstly, family time after work is perhaps less important for Singaporeans than it is for Australians. Therefore, they are much more comfortable finishing work and walking around a mall, getting a massage or trying on a pair of shoes while the kids study at home. Secondly, Australian businesses have to pay penalty rates to staff who work outside of normal business hours. If the additional salaries result in costs exceeding revenues, there is little point opening. Finally, people attract people. If shopping districts are empty at night, then less people like to be in the area. The desire to go shopping, or be in a shopping area, does not enter the mind.



"Australia's culture has always been characterised by someone trying to make rules to live by, and someone else trying to break them."