A column about 2007

Well, it’s that time of year where we put our feet up and look back at the year that was. We don’t get a lot of time for quiet contemplation during the Australian summer, since there are barbeques to fire up and beers to be drunk. And besides, there’s only a brief window available before we all head to the beach and we become incapable of any meaningful reflection because the cricket’s on.

Only a few days into January of this year, though, cricket set the tone for what has turned out to be a year of transition. Many old campaigners have shuffled off the stage this year, and the simultaneous retirement of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer was just the first in a series of grand departures – although we can be relieved that Warne has not yet retired from his primary career as a sex scandal participant. John Laws has packed away the golden microphone, Channel Nine is no longer Still The One, and even more remarkably, is no longer owned by the Packers. And I can scarcely believe that Gretel Killeen isn’t hosting Idol, nor that it hasn’t yet been axed. These are strange times indeed.

The biggest change, of course, we made a few weeks ago when we put an end to the Howard Government. I’ve written a lot about Kevin Rudd in these pages recently, and don’t wish to sound like a broken record. Or like Prime Minister Kevin himself, who views the ability to repeat exactly the same phrase over and over again as the most worthy of political virtues. But even though it’s still only days old, the new government is hitting the ‘undo’ button with gusto. We’re no longer global warming pariahs, and before too long we won’t have AWAs, full-fee paying students, nearly as many troops in Iraq or even – in the unlikely event you believe the Rudd hype – surgery queues.

And history was made only the other day, when we had a female Acting Prime Minister briefly, and the sky didn’t fall in. Then again, in recent years that role has regularly been filled by Nationals leaders, so it’s clear that not much can go wrong on a Deputy PM’s watch. We’ll have to wait a while yet before we can genuinely pat ourselves on the back for our progressiveness in having a woman in charge.

But change is in the air, and since the new PM no longer needs to avoid frightening the horses by minimising his differences to John Howard, we might see even genuine reform. Our Federal arrangements leave a lot to be desired, and with Labor in control everywhere, this is a once-in-a-century opportunity to do away with the ridiculousness of seven different health and education departments for a population of twenty-one million. There is a rare chance to remake the foundations of this country, and make it better.

And yet many commentators have suddenly started predicting gloomy days ahead for our economy. Before the election, it seemed we were in fabulous shape, with John Howard campaigning on his supposedly brilliant economic legacy. But suddenly, the doomsayers are warning that necessary tough decisions were ducked by the Howard-Costello dream team, so now inflation has to be urgently curbed, interest rates will continue to rise sharply, and we could be heading for another recession. Some have even suggested that this “was not a good election to win” for Labor. How strange to think that we may one day fondly look back on the Howard era as “the good old days”.

Our former Prime Minister was last seen on the golf course, which I’m sure is very nice for him. But I hope he spares the occasional thought for his “fellow Australians” who don’t have the luxury of a massive Government pension and an unlimited supply of golfing-buddy toadies to tell us what wonderful leaders we were. The rest of us had better strap ourselves in. Because even if the economy doesn’t completely go down the toilet, there is turbulence ahead. The new Government has much to do, and just as importantly, much to undo. It will be fascinating to watch whether Kevin Rudd is up to the job in 2008. But for the time being, let’s do what John Howard would do, and watch the cricket.