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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 March 2015
16 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 MARCH 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Putting on the documentary filmmaker hat, George Megalogenis explores the way Australia managed to steer itself through economic turmoil to become the last rich nation standing HELEN VELISSARIS Six former politicians, a number of treasurers, reserve bank heads and countless other political insiders paint a pretty remarkable picture of Australia's economic and political history thanks to George Megalogenis' new ABC documentary. The veteran journalist, known for being in Canberra's Press Gallery for more than a decade reporting for The Australian, takes a look at the power players and the external forces that contributed to the best and worst parts of Australia's economic history. "The political and economic story is about a closed society that went from the worst performer, the economic 'juvenile delinquent’ in the ‘70s and moved to become the last rich nation standing," Megalogenis tells Neos Kosmos. The three-part ABC documentary, Making Australia Great: Inside our Longest Boom, is Megalogenis’ first foray into documentary filmmaking, and for the print journo and author, the transition was a welcome change. He quit his high-profile political role at The Australian to pursue other interests, mainly writing more books, but documentary filmmaking was always a pipe dream. "It's a privilege to do a career change at this stage of one's life," says the 51-year-old. His ambition was to write the prequel to his bestselling book, The Australian Moment, but the ABC got in first. "I was on the road from March to August last year," he says. "It was a full time job." Just the sheer time it would have The last rich na experiment in open economics taken to interview every prime minster since the ‘70s is enough to show the mammoth task at hand. The show tracks two versions of Australia; a highly prosperous, open one and a backwards, closed version that created many of the economic and problems many remember. "When we're closed down, greedy, protective, bad things happen to us," Megalogenis says. "The good Australia I tend to view as the open Australia, the openness in the markets [and] openness in society." He aims to show just how interconnected public opinion was in affecting economic and political events. "You can't have one without the other," he admits. "If we hadn't opened our society, we couldn't have conducted this grand experiment in open economics. "We couldn't have survived the GFC in a monoculture. We still would have been carrying a closed mindset." As a child of Greek migrants, Megalogenis believes that that openness came hand in hand with a more tolerant Australia, one that opened it borders to postwar migrants like his parents. His story is intertwined briefly in the show to give the audience a human face to the external forces that influenced the politics and economics of the day. "I think one of the reasons those things are sprinkled into the show is because you need to declare that baggage up front. I am a press gallery journalist and a child of migrants," he says. "You can't pretend you're this professor on the subject matter." Some of the best parts in the series come when Megalogenis takes a break from politics and focuses on a key cultural event that explains the time perfectly. Case-in point: the colossally terrible Leyland P76 car. The 1974 creation was dubbed the greatest failure in Australian automotive history and it came at a time when Australia was held captive by high tariffs on imported goods The argument to open goods. The argument to open Australia's markets was very much thanks to the failure of the Leyland. "The P76, the unfortunate symbol of a broken economic model," he says. Megalogenis actually jumps into a restored Leland P76 to give it a test drive to prove the point. The charm of this series is that Megalogenis makes very complicated and sometimes dry topics shine. An outsider immediately feels like an expert on the ins and outs of Australian politics and economic policy. The archival footage cut between interviews helps a lot with that, but the first-hand comments from those in power make for some compelling insights. "One of the things I wanted to do with the show was make sure the A-List you heard from, so the prime ministers, the treasurers and the central bank governor, and then all the cultural cameos, talk as human beings," he says. "I had to get them past the idea that they are political players and that they are witnesses to big events." Stuck within those parameters, people such as former prime ministers Paul Keating and Malcolm Fraser shine, while more recent politicians like Kevin Rudd Megalogenis with former prime minister Paul Keating. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s interview focuses on his role in bringing Austraila through the GFC.
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