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2010: The Year of Indecision

Nick Bryant | 07:00 UK time, Monday, 27 December 2010

America has just lived through the year of leak, whether it was oil in the Gulf of Mexico or the publication of once-secret diplomatic cables. 2010 will go down Australia as the year of indecision. The federal election ended with a hung parliament. Then it took more than two weeks for the trio of regional MPs, the so-called Three Amigos, to make up their mind as to who should emerge the victor. Even the leadership coup against the former prime minister was born of equivocation, since support for him started to fall off most dramatically when he demonstrated political hesitancy and retreated from his commitment to attach a price to carbon. Having called climate change the greatest moral challenge facing the world, Kevin Rudd had second thoughts and decided to delay the introduction of the emissions trading scheme.

Similarly, the Labor government announced a windfall tax on the super profits of the mining companies, and then backed down in the face of a multi-million dollar campaign from the resources sector, led by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

In deciding whether to challenge Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard apparently agonised over whether to wield the knife. Then she apparently could not decide whether she should appear before the electorate as the "real Julia" or an alternative model dreamt up by her image-makers.

The former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull decided to retire from parliament, only to change his mind a few months later.

In state politics, as well, the whiff of indecision was in the air. The Tasmanian state election produced another hung parliament, with the Greens once again holding the balance of power. Polls in Victoria and South Australia were also knife-edge affairs.

In politics, hardly anything was clear-cut. The Greens ended the year in a more powerful position than ever before, with their first elected MP in the House of Representatives, the prospect of holding the balance of power in the Senate and genuine influence over the legislative agenda of the Gillard minority government. However, climate change, the party's signature issue, slipped a long way down the national agenda.

When it came to the economy, the Reserve Bank of Australia could not quite decide on the strength of the recovery, veering between worries about inflationary pressures, a sign of overheating, and slower-than-expected growth. It continued its policy of raising interest rates from their emergency, post-GFC levels, but haltingly and with great caution.

In sport, the Aussie Rules grand final ended in a draw for only the third time in history. The Australian cricket selectors took until the third test in Perth to settle on their best eleven to face England in the Ashes. And they still didn't seem to have a clue as to who should succeed Shane Warne as the team's frontline spinner. Australian athletes equivocated over whether to compete at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, and then ended up at the top of the medal when they got there.

In national affairs, the Big Dry, Australia's worst drought in a century, finally came to an end. But then farmers were hit by floods in November and December, causing enormous crop damage.

On the diplomatic front, Julia Gillard signalled that she would not be such a consequential figure on the world stage as her predecessors John Howard and Kevin Rudd, and be more of a stay-at-home prime minister.

But Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and the world's most talked about Australian, filled the gap. When it came to Australians punching above their weight, Assange was the undisputed champion.

Australia got its first saint, Mary MacKillop - to cheers of Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi at the Vatican - but lost its most celebrated singer, Dame Joan Sutherland, La Stupenda.

Some of the major stories of the year happened over the Tasman. There was the Christchurch earthquake in September, which mercifully did not claim any lives. Then, in November, came the Pike River Coal Mine disaster, in which 29 miners lost their lives.

Qantas, the Flying Kangaroo, had another difficult year with the ash cloud in Europe, the temporary grounding of its A380 fleet after an engine explosion outside of Singapore and, most recently, the snowfall in Britain.

In the year that the Melbourne gangster Carl Williams was killed in a high security prison in Victoria, Animal Kingdom, a brilliant movie based on a Melbourne crime family, became the Australian film of the year.

The Sydney Opera House played host to the teenage sailing sensation Jessica Watson after her circumnavigation of the globe, thousands of naked Sydneysiders posing for Spencer Tunick, hundreds of dogs for an open-air concert of canine music, and a bevy of Aussie A-list stars for the arrival of Queen Oprah.

Oprah helped fill a few news pages during her visit in early December, and so, too, did Shane Warne. His reported dalliance with the British actress Elizabeth Hurley was tabloid heaven both here and in Britain. How about that for an Australian punching above his weight?


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  • 1. At 1:30pm on 27 Dec 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    Australia seems to be like the Western governments. No real direction. Main thrust has been to secure the wealth of the wealthy. Citizens do not view governments as anything related to their interests or well-being. As the US and EU come to terms with the robbery by the banks and financial institutions and the people start to feel the pain things will get more interesting. There is a great imbalance in government and the interest of the people and the nation are undermined by the interest of wealth and big business. Governments only do what is right when they have no other choice.

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  • 2. At 6:42pm on 27 Dec 2010, Cassandra wrote:

    I think Nick has been in Australia too long or he is not spending enough time reading and thinking beyond the shores of that fair country. A year of indecision is a nice idea for an organising concept to describe the year in Oz but the trouble it is just too narrow and insular. We should be able to expect more from an international correspondent based in Sydney.

    Consider the following:

    - The UK having its first hung parliament for 40 odd years.

    - During the election campaign the Tories promised to take back power from the EU, to be tough on crime and to be strong on defence. Within six months we have Cameron being much more EU friendly, promising to cut prison populations and scrapping the Ark Royal and the Harriers.

    - The EU has spent many months twisting and turning trying to work out how to deal with the currency crisis.

    - The Irish said they did not need a bail out and then within a couple of weeks had taken one.

    - The G20 was constantly criticised by commentators for being unable to make any firm decisions.

    I could go on but the key point is that the entire world and particularly the US and the EU have faced a year of indecision.

    The simple fact is we are in a global interegnum. Since the 1980's America and the EU have dominated the world agenda and in one form or another promoted free markets and the growth of democracy. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis of 2008 bought that era to a close.

    It is not yet clear what will come in place of the 'Washington consensus' but it seems reasonably clear it is going to involve more economic and political power for the emerging economies particulalry in the Asia Pacific.

    In my view it would be helpful if the BBC's Australia correspondent could give some thought to how the new world order might impact on Australia, how Australians are reacting to it and whether they are equipped to deal with it.

    Of course if that is too hard perhaps Nick could just do a piece on the wave of new migrants to Australia from austerity hit UK and Ireland.

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  • 3. At 7:45pm on 27 Dec 2010, Cassandra wrote:

    Another idea for a useful blog post from Oz would be to consider the impact on the national discussion of Murdoch owning so much of the media.

    This would be particularly instructive given that it now seems likely that despite the protestations of the Indepenedent, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Guardian and the BBC the Coalition will give the green light for Murdoch and Son to buy up the rest of BSkyB.

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  • 4. At 05:18am on 28 Dec 2010, Eliza_nsw wrote:

    Cassandra - arh correction for you. Oz is where Dorothy went. I live in Aust. And Nick is The Aussie correspondant to report on the fair land. Of course thats the local news.

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  • 5. At 09:32am on 28 Dec 2010, Cassandra wrote:

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

  • 6. At 9:06pm on 28 Dec 2010, Treaclebeak wrote:

    I doubt that the problem is indecision,a more plausible explanation is political ineptness, the voters certainly made a decision-a hung Parliament. Gillard just doesn't seem to be able to cope with Tony 'The Wrecker' Abbot,so unless the parliamentary balance of power changes expect 3 years of glacial politics.

    Since WA and QLD are basically 'company towns' Australian governments will not take any significant action on climate change until, and if, we're forced to do so by the international community.

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  • 7. At 12:29pm on 29 Dec 2010, Oz Dave in London wrote:

    Good article Nick and good point on Julian Assange, he certainly has been the name of late 2011, it surprised me that he was beaten to Time Person of the Year by Mark Zuckerburg. Hopefully 2011 is the year of getting things sorted.....

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  • 8. At 2:40pm on 29 Dec 2010, worcesterjim wrote:

    1@2 seem to be closest to the target.
    What you don`t own you are unlikely to be able to control in more than limited indirect way.
    Nations and their voters don`t own countries like Australia and the UK because our global financial system and free trade mechanisms leave us all subject to the power of "the markets" and those in control of them.
    The silence that has fallen over the world`s political institutions is once induced by uncertainty about who they are now working for after years of fantasy party politics maintained a fiction called representative democracy.
    The big question is whether the sort of shysters who triggered the 1929 Crash have managed to do it again and got away with it richer than ever.....or whether governments have the power and courage to regulate and put them on trial.
    First signs are that it`s 2-0 to the shysters!

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