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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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