Predictions for 2011
Not yet two weeks old, 2011 has already made a mockery of predictions. Who would have thought that Queensland would have experienced such awful flooding? They have continued this week, of course, with some especially violent and frightening flash floods in Toowomba. Now the rising waters are rolling south towards Brisbane, the country's third-largest city, although the Queensland capital is much better equipped to deal with them than it was in 1974, when 14 people were killed and 6,700 homes inundated.
So here are a few predictions for the next 12 months:
The political cringe: Of the changes to have overtaken Australia in recent years, two are by far the most glaring to the international eye. The first is the decline of Australian cricket. The second is an equally steep fall-off in the quality of Australian politics. Just as the Australian test team was never going to withstand the loss of so many world-class players, nor has Canberra. John Howard, Peter Costello, Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. Retirement, retrenchment and relegation has taken out some strong performers. So I suspect the debate will intensify about the quality of Australia's polity, and the performances of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott. Is it now possible to talk of Australia's political cringe?
Political battle royal: The roll out of the National Broadband Network will be the hot-button political issue of the year, and a highly emblematic one at that. Labor will point to it as proof of an ambitious reform agenda, while the Liberals will argue that it is a colossal waste of money and that cheaper technologies would be adequate. Malcolm Turnbull, one of the Liberal party's most effective communicators, will lead the charge.
Safest political bet: The deeply unpopular Labor government in New South Wales will be ousted from power, although the Liberal-led coalition will fail to generate much enthusiasm from voters. The election will offer more proof of Australia's political cringe.
Secession: Given that the Queensland economy will take months to rebound from the floods, Western Australia will race even further ahead than the rest of the country as Australia's most economically vibrant state. Could talk of secession move from the fringes to the mainstream in WA?
Economy: The Reserve Bank will continue its policy of hiking interest rates from their post global financial crisis emergency levels. Australian retailers will be badly hit, heightening demands for the GST, the Australian sales tax, to be levied on internet shopping. It could become the business lobby's cause of the year, although Julia Gillard has already indicated that she plans to leave internet shopping alone. Organic food is apparently slated as the big growth industry of 2011.
Tourism: With her Australian shows to be broadcast early this year, the much-vaunted "Oprah Effect" will vie with the "Strong Aussie Dollar Effect."
Culture: The veteran Australian actress Jacki Weaver will win a major Hollywood award, perhaps the Golden Globe, for her mesmerising performance as the matriarch of a Melbourne crime family in Animal Kingdom. Geoffrey Rush will no doubt win his second Oscar for his role as an Australian speech therapist in The King's Speech.
Sport: After last year's disappointment, St Kilda will win the Aussie Rules grand final. Queensland will win the State of Origin yet again, while the Melbourne Storm will rebound to take the NRL grand final. The Wallabies will lose out to the All Blacks in the World Cup, but play some very attractive rugby in the process with the youngsters Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and James O'Connor emerging as three stars of the tournament. I have a strange feeling that Ricky Ponting will survive the year as the captain of the Australian cricket team, partly because Cricket Australia will want to blood his possible long-term replacement, Tim Paine of Tasmania.
On that front, thanks for all the responses to that last Ashes blog; a real Matt Prior of the genre, a quick-fire century on the comments front, in the wake of a few Michael Clarkes. A highly entertaining thread, and some fiercely divergent responses.....