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Going outside the flags

Nick Bryant | 04:57 UK time, Friday, 2 January 2009

After the feel good fun of the New Year pyrotechnics, the kind of hangover that could last long into 2009 - and perhaps beyond. Following seventeen years of uninterrupted growth, the Australian economy is battling to stave off recession. After sixteen years of dominance, Australia's cricket team is no longer the envy of the world. After fifteen years of rising visitor numbers, Australian tourism is braced for a once-in-a-quarter-century blip, with international tourist numbers forecast to nosedive by over 4%.

sydney211.jpgThe IMF expects global commodity prices to fall by a staggering 23%, which is obviously terrible news for the all-important mining sector. No wonder the Anglo-Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto, has announced that 14,000 members of its 112,000-strong global workforce will lose their jobs. Japan, Australia's leading export destination, is in recession. Growth in China, Australia's largest trading partner, is expected to fall to a 19-year low.

The Australian government is about to go into deficit, with a recent Treasury report forecasting that tax revenues would fall $40 billion short of the original projections. The collapse of the property market, a rich source of tax revenue, means that all the states, with the single exception of Victoria, are likely to slump into deficit, as well - even resources-rich Western Australia.

Kevin Rudd remains well-liked at home, but his cautious 5% greenhouse emissions target may have dented his popularity abroad. Perhaps he will not strut the global stage with quite the same self-confidence, or, his critics would suggest, quite the same self-righteousness. The economic slowdown has placed unexpected constraints upon his government, which has already impacted its environmental policies and could have a similar impact on his educational programmes (especially the funding of universities).

The sweet and sour reviews and below-par box office figures for Baz Luhrmann's Australia could serve as a leitmotif for the country as a whole. Even the summer weather has been a bit unreliable and dodgy.

For all that, recession is by no means inevitable. Many of the country's leading economists are projecting growth in 2009 - between 1.2% and 1.4%. There's also good news for debt-ridden home owners, with interest rates expected to fall further, from 4.25% to as low as 3% by mid-year.

On other fronts, 2009 could be a year to savour. In cricket, we've got an Ashes series to look forward to, which is unlikely to match the quality of the 2005 vintage but could be equally tense and gripping. There are scores to settle on the upcoming tour of South Africa, as well.

Later this month, the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong will be making his comeback in the Tour Down Under, and perhaps we'll get to see another Federer/Nadal classic at the Australian Open.

Come September Cate Blanchett, will be packing them in Sydney when she plays Blanche Du Bois in Tennessee Williams "A Streetcar Named Desire" and, after a year's absence, the Chaser Boys will be back on ABC (is it possible to construct an argument that's Kevin Rudd's enduring popularity has partly been due to a Chaser-free first year in office?).

Many Australians will no doubt have ushered in the New Year on the beach, hopefully swimming between the flags - those iconic red and yellow markers which indicate where the churning waters are at their safest. But 2009 could well be an outside of the flags sort of year, with many Australians forced out of their comfort zone and subject to forces which are beyond their control. I hope that all of you will manage to keep to your heads above water.


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  • 1. At 09:59am on 02 Jan 2009, angelspspcreations wrote:

    Please do not worry about us, Us Aussie are always fine when adverse situations happen unlike other countries that whine endlessly we get on with it.

    Please note not all Aussies are cricket mad nor do we care about buying endless goods that mean nothing in our lives. And as for overseas visitors this will be occurring in all countries not just Australia. So really we dont need the heads up lol.

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  • 2. At 10:22am on 02 Jan 2009, Rossco737 wrote:

    She'll be right mate.
    Whack another shrimp on the barbie

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  • 3. At 2:02pm on 02 Jan 2009, Evan wrote:

    I think Australia will whether the storm better than most other nations.

    Having said that though, Australia has saturated the tourism market in most key foreign countries with advertising campaigns for many years so I don't see that situation turning around anytime soon. People have either been, don't want to go and will 'in the future'...

    Comodoties will always be in demand somewhere, just probably not as in demand as they have been with China.

    She'll be right!

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  • 4. At 5:13pm on 02 Jan 2009, StrikeAChord wrote:

    Australia has more going for it than fickle international demand for commodities or some notional valuation on the true 'Good Life'.
    Money doesn't matter when the way around practical problems are not necessarily linked to easy cash. If a little hardship refocusses some, who are too reliant on fast-food outlets, then it will be a good thing.
    Social Values - doing the right thing or the concept of the Australian Way - linked to independently minded, self-sufficient people with a can-do attitude - these are truly bankable assets.

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  • 5. At 9:34pm on 02 Jan 2009, Floyd wrote:

    "Kevin Rudd remains well-liked at home, but his cautious 5% greenhouse emissions target may have dented his popularity abroad"

    For me the 'cautious 5% greenhouse emissions target' is the most important fact in the blog. It's certainly dented Rudd's popularity as far as I'm concerned and I would describe it as 'ridiculous' or 'disgraceful' rather than 'cautious'. The possibility that Labor would take global warming more seriously than Howard (who only ever saw it as a cultural issue) did is the main reason I voted Labor.

    yours Australly,


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  • 6. At 11:54am on 03 Jan 2009, brightSharon wrote:

    We are very fortunate in this country and we will be fine! I know any of my friends would do all that is needed to assist their adult children through any problems. And they, as we have in the past, will survive the downturn and learn from it.
    We really dont need a great deal; we dont need a lot of expensive clothes or heating in this climate and culture. We (almost) all need less food not more. We entertain simply and most of us are still really enjoying our plasma TVs that we rushed out and bought in 2007!! And trying to persuade our elderly parents to spend their "economic stimulus package" on something similar that they can enjoy. How lucky so many of us are!

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  • 7. At 10:16pm on 03 Jan 2009, ianeholmes wrote:

    We will survive as Australians care about each other (mateship) and we will work to overcome the problems the yanks caused. We only have 3 more boring months of cricket and then Aussie Rules starts again, so there is always something bright on the horizon. We are used to adversary ( droughts and flooding rains) so we have the courage to overcome these events forced on us by so called powers. So break out the seafood and open another VB or a great Aussie white wine, and enjoy life with your beautiful Aussie wife mate.

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  • 8. At 10:52pm on 03 Jan 2009, pciii wrote:

    I wish you lot would stop winging on about how tough you all are.

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  • 9. At 5:06pm on 04 Jan 2009, Bill wrote:

    Don't give us a second thought. Our history is dotted with financial setbacks, droughts wars and other difficulties but we're still here; still independent and still a united country. Worry about yourself or about those nations who need it. We will come through this crisis in the same way we've come through all the others. Richer, stronger and more united than all the old nations of the world. Leave us alone and we'll be just fine!

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  • 10. At 12:45pm on 05 Jan 2009, Ernaid wrote:

    This is undoubtedly going to be one of the most dynamic years of my life (so far).

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  • 11. At 10:45am on 06 Jan 2009, NETCRUSHER wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 12. At 10:35am on 07 Jan 2009, newsjock wrote:

    The Australian budget may go into deficit this year ?

    The UK and US fiscal balances are ALWAYS in the red.

    If the rest of the world took on Australia's old "fashioned" policy of only spending what they can really afford, the world would not now be at the gatesof Financial Hell !

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  • 13. At 04:49am on 08 Jan 2009, rosyinoz wrote:

    I like the generally upbeat comments of the foregoing commentators. We are pretty well-situated compared to other nations. But Mr & Mrs Howard and their latest escapade in Washington, takes the biscuit for effrontery. We are reliably informed that other former world leaders deferred to Mr Obama and his family over accommodation, as a matter of courtesy. Now Australia is being badly thought of on the world stage, not in my name, thank you very much.

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  • 14. At 8:06pm on 12 Jan 2009, andyc114 wrote:

    australia will definitley not go through a recession because that would be way too much excitement for them to handle. Officially the most boring country in the world, NOTHING HAPPENS!!....nice weather though...zzzz....

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  • 15. At 11:24pm on 14 Jan 2009, William_Bond55 wrote:

    Its actually quite refreshing for Australia to get trounced every now and then in Cricket. Its not that I don't support Australia, merely that games became so predictable as to not be worth watching, because you knew the result in advance.

    I believe its far more exciting to watch a game sitting on the edge of your seat, with our cricketers apparantly struggling, but then finding reserves of strength coming from behind to take the prize.

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  • 16. At 11:34pm on 14 Jan 2009, William_Bond55 wrote:

    Old news perhaps, but I am shamed by former Prime Minister Howard's lack of courtesy towards President -Elect Obama and his family.

    Anyone with one ounce of knowledge of the way to behave, would have contacted Bush's office, gracefully thanked him for the offer of accommodation, then declined it in favour of the hotel Mr. Obama now finds himself in.

    It does not say much much for President Bush's appreciation of protocol either. This issue speaks volumes for the obvious grace and courtesy possessed by Mr. Obama, that he seems not to have made any public comment. 'Bravo', roll on 20/1/09.

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