Friday, December 23, 2016

Today by Sean Kelly

2016 is dead, long live 2016
This year just doesn’t let up, does it?

What’s larger than infinity? Infinity plus one, goes the cheeky and apparently accurate answer.

A week, as they say, is a long time in politics. A year, then, is an eternity. But 2016 was no ordinary year – and that’s before we even get to the by-now-standard worst-year-ever hyperbole. It was an election year. And not just one election, but, in this globalised age of ours, two, with the interminable warfare of the American election thrown in.

Infinity plus … several other infinities. It has been, in anyone’s book, a long year.

We like to think of years as containers, natural cycles in which trends, events and currents begin and end. But they’re not, of course. This is perhaps more apparent this year than most.

In the early days of December, when political chatter is normally beginning to subside, we had the brief flare of one last government emergency for 2016, in the form of a climate farce. Or we thought it was the last, until a minor spat over the republic. Which itself wasn’t the end either, because we still had the threat of Bernardi and Christensen defections waiting for us.

2016, rage, rage against the dying of the light …

Today, too, is doing its best to recall all of the genuinely frightening febrility, as well as the absurdist antics, of the past 12 months, while casting its shadow forward to the coming 12.

We saw, thankfully, the foiling of a terrorist plot in Melbourne, planned to unfold on Christmas day. It is only days since the tragic attack in Berlin, and the assassination of an ambassador in Turkey.

Close to home, our leaders pledged to do everything they could to keep us safe. But elsewhere, leaders with more power than our own seemed to be heading in the other direction. Both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin said they would strengthen their nations’ nuclear capabilities – after years of global work aimed at the precise opposite.

Back on Aussie ground, Liberal senator Eric Abetz offered expert knowledge on what was being discussed at most BBQs around the country. This popular topic was – but you knew this already, from your own recent experience of BBQs – section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In other words, the conservative wing of the Liberal Party remains concerned with its own culture wars, and sees no need to change. One might say the same of members of the hard left of the Greens, who have ended the year pledging to end capitalism.

Tony Abbott has concluded his year by deploying one of the oldest leadership tactics in the book: setting tests for the leader over which they have little control. “The first duty of the leader is to keep the party together,” he said [paywall], referring to threats from Cory Bernardi and George Christensen to leave the Coalition. Since Turnbull has given them everything they’ve asked for, it’s pretty clear their decision-making processes have nothing to do with him. And yet, if he fails, Abbott and others will say his reign is over.

And in another attempt to ensure the past is never really past, government trickery has raised the spectre of never-ending delays to what one might think of as an actual surplus. David Uren informs us today that the only reason there is a projected surplus in 2020–21 is as a result of a recently adopted accounting trick [paywall].

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and you would ordinarily assume that no news would make its way into the world. But then, slowing down seems a habit the world has shrugged off in recent years. Certainly 2016 never surrendered its capacity to surprise. And, as I say, there’s no reason not to expect that to continue into 2017.

But if that is true, perhaps the greatest surprise next year could pull would be to deliver peace, quiet, and predictability. That is a shock we can all hope for.

Wherever you are over the next few days, I hope you get some rest, and time with loved ones.

I’ll be away for the first few months of 2017, so might have even more reason than some to hope for a slow start to the year! The column will resume in late January, but I'll see you in late March. Thank you so much for reading this year. And a massive thanks to my editor, Michael Lucy, without whom I would not be read at all.  


Today’s links

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly was an adviser to prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. He is The Monthly’s politics editor.


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