Reluctant as I am to use contemporary expressions that may not be understood by all, may I begin by offering the following ‘spoiler alert’: today’s post is mainly tennis, but the weighty politics of the moment will be its opening serve.
Decades before the ANZUS and AUKUS agreements had even been dreamt of, Australian and America forged a constitutional and political alliance that is far more enduring.
As a potential Federal nation, the drafters of Australia’s Constitution in the 1890s looked to the American constitutional Federation for inspiration and guidance. Our Constitution became dubbed a ‘Washminster mutation’ as we grafted many structural features of America’s federal system of government from Washington onto the Westminster principles of a constitutional monarchy.
Ironically, we adopted much from the American political model that was born out of its revolutionary rejection of Westminster rule.
Consider the following constitutional list:
-Australia’s Houses of Parliament are named, as in America, the House of Representatives, and the Senate;
-Australia’s Senate, like America’s, guarantees equal representation of each of the countries’ States in the Senate, irrespective of population. Currently every one of America’s 50 States has two Senators; every one of Australia’s States has twelve senators , with each Territory having two;
-Each nation’s Constitution expressly adopts the separation of powers doctrine by separating distinct roles for the Executive, Judiciary and Legislature;
-Each nation’s Constitution provided for the establishment of a primary national court- in America the Supreme, in Australia the High- that would have the critical role of determining the meaning of the Constitution; and
-Each Constitution divided lawmaking powers between their Federal and State governments.
Australia’s Constitution was written barely a generation after America’s Civil War that could have resulted in the death of America’s Federal Republic.
The near death experience of America’s federal system in the 1860s was not lost upon those writing Australia’s Constitution.
In the prosaic preamble to Australia’s Constitution, it is provided that the English Parliament grants its consent at the request of the Australian colonies, sans Western Australia, to the creation of “one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth.”
In other words, what the colonies had put together could not be dissolved or torn apart. Western Australia, which voted to join the nascent Federation, weeks after Queen Victoria granted the Constitution Royal Assent, sought to secede in 1933. Many constitutional opinions have been offered about whether the word “indissoluble” makes it impossible for a State to secede. The word has a ring of a national wedding vow about it: “what the people have put together, let no event render asunder”!
What a shame that contemporary politics offers us examples in both countries of cardinal principles dissolving before our eyes.
Last week in Texas, its State Governor openly declared war on the separation of powers doctrine and the rule of law. Faced with a ruling by the Supreme Court that conditions experienced by people seeking to enter America from Mexico were inhumane, Greg Abbott, wrote a letter indicating that he would ignore the ruling and ensure that his State’s para-military would “do what has to be done” to defend Texans.
The sacred principle of the rule of law provides that all governments and citizens are equally subject to the laws of the land as created and interpreted by its parliaments and courts. It seems that the Lone Star State is wishing to breach its nation’s Federal compact and go it alone by dissolving this principle.
As America faces the most bizarre Presidential election of its history, the last thing it also needs is the prospect of its structures of government dissolving, with the Texan Governor passing a law declaring illegal immigration a State crime.
Speaking of the rule of law, last week in Canberra saw both dissolving and dissembling.
Australia’s Prime Minister, announced that proposed tax cuts that had been legislated to take effect from 1 July were to be disassembled and remodelled. Having stated before the last Federal election that he was committed to implement the changes legislated by the previous government, and having repeated that claim as recently as a week ago, Mr. Albanese refused to admit that he had broken his word with the Australian people.
Faced with declining personal and party approval that he believes stems from his government’s failure to effectively tackle Australia’s ‘cost of living crisis’, The Prime Minister announced a restructuring of the proposed tax cuts to “give more to those doing it tough and less to the wealthy.”
This is a monstrously cynical and disappointing exercise. In addition to further dissolving public trust in our leaders, Mr. Albanese has created a chimera. He has provided a greater immediate tax cut to middle income earners; however, by creating a new marginal rate of tax rate of 37 cents for every dollar earned over $135,000.00 the government has guaranteed that bracket creep- the process whereby rising wages moves taxpayers into higher income tax brackets-will ensure that short term financial gains for many taxpayers will be returned to the government in the years ahead, long after Mr. Albanese has to worry about winning the next election.
To dissolve trust is one thing. To dissolve incentive and success is another. Every economic commentator in Australia will tell you that our personal taxation is flawed by having too small a percentage of the population pay too great a share of personal income tax.
In the financial year 2017-2018, the top 5% of Australia’s taxpayers paid 32.9% of personal income tax revenue. Under Labor’s new taxation rates, this figure will rise to 34.6%. Economist Chris Richardson estimates that the top 1% of taxpayers pay as much income tax as the bottom 71%.
We all know where this “soak the rich” mentality takes us. Resources are spent unproductively by taxpayers to minimise their obligations. The “cash in hand” untaxed economy flourishes, further increasing taxation pressure on those who cannot participate in such lawlessness.
Abraham Lincoln, the American President who went to war to prevent his nation’s political dissolution, remarked “that you do not make the poor rich by making the rich poor.” In other words, if you overly tax success, you will not encourage successful people.
Last Friday’s Australia Day confirmed that the national unity about the efficacy of the day continues to dissolve with citizenship ceremonies competing with protest rallies.
On the same day, the tennis world as we know it was dissolving before our eyes.
In a Shakespearean moment that afternoon, Novak Djokovic, the seemingly impregnable Australian Open champion, was defeated in his semi-final on Rod Laver Arena, the scene of his greatest number of Grand Slam triumphs, and where he had not lost a match since 2018. Djokovic. His conqueror was the 22 year old Italian, Jannik Sinner, who had defeated Djokovic in an epic Davis Cup encounter at the 2023 finals. Sinner’s heroic win, which saw him save three match points, was crucial to Italy winning its first Davis Cup, albeit in its new adulterated format, since 1976.
Many doubted, however, whether Sinner, who had not dropped a set en route to the final could best Djokovic in a five set match. Djokovic saved a match point in a third set tiebreaker, but could not resist Sinner’s march to his first Grand Slam final. Hailing from the northernmost part of Italy, close to Austria’s border, Sinner lists game hunting for wild boar as one of his pastimes. Away from the Alps he has claimed the biggest scalp the tennis world has to offer.
That evening in the second Men’s semi-final, more Shakespearean drama was provided. In 2022 Russia’s Daniil Medvedev squandered a two set to love lead against Nadal in the Australian Open final. Two years later, Medvedev avenged the ghosts of his tennis past, by rallying from two sets to love down to defeat Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
It was a German/Russian contest that lasted four hours and eighteen minutes. In the first set there were moments that had a siege of Leningrad feel about them. Exhausting and punishing rallies were the order of the night: one rally of 40 shots was closely followed by a 51 shot classic.
The match was also a reminder of how the fate of a player in a match lasting over four hours can be decided by a handful of points. In the fourth set tiebreaker Medvedev served a double fault to give Zverev a 5-4 lead. Two more points and victory was his. Medvedev hit an audacious forehand winner to level at 5-5 and then a mishit service return dropped over the net to give Medvedev a set point. Zverev’s heart dissolved. Suddenly, the match was two sets all. Medvedev won the final set 6-3, but still won fewer points in the match than Zverev: 161 vs.165. For Zverev, whose endurance is not diminished by being a Type 1 diabetic, it was an agonising loss, especially after he had played some of his best tennis to defeat an overly impetuous Carlos Alcaraz in their quarter-final.
If Sinner’s victory can be seen as the beginning of the final dissolution of the House of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, Zverev can be consoled that there will be many more opportunities to earn his first Grand Slam title.
Tonight, the Open’s finals continue, with the Polish/Chinese combination of Jan Zielinski and Su-Wei Hsieh having already won the Mixed Doubles title.
Taiwan’s Su-Wei may claim a second title if she and her Belgian partner, Elise Mertens, can defeat the Ukrainian/Latvian pairing of Lyudmyla Kichenok and the volatile Jelena Ostapenko in the Women’s Doubles final.
Will the mercurial Aryna Sabalenka continue her impressive form, which has seen her reach the Women’s final without dropping a set, win a second title against Grand Slam final debutant Qinwen Zheng?
Will Australia gain a sliver of the silverware if Matt Ebden, a spritely 38 and his 43 year old partner, India’s Rohan Bopanna win the Men’s Doubles title or will their Italian opponents, Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori, be inspired by Sinner’s success?
Will either Sinner or Medvedev become the newest Australian Men’s Champion? Medvedev has won six of their nine matches, but has lost the last three. Their Grand Slam final showdown will be their first meeting in a Grand Slam tournament. Sinner will start the favourite.
Speaking of favourites, the Australian Open, continues to break attendance records. Even allowing for this inevitability given this year’s tournament ran for an extra day, it is clear that notwithstanding expensive ticket prices, the love for the tournament shows no signs of diluting and dissolving.
Thankfully, until tonight and Monday morning there can be no spoiler alerts!