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  • lydiajulian1

For every action there are legacies

For my sins, but with constant delight, I have taught Australian students for over 30 years about the structures and processes of its political system.

Little did I think that the world of Grand Slam tennis would interfere with this mission. How wrong I was! This year in the final examination for Legal Studies a question was asked about the ability of Australia’s constitutional separation of powers ( legislative, executive and judicial) doctrine to restrain the law-making of the parliament.

I must note my frustration that 95% of responses did not spell the word separation correctly, notwithstanding it being correctly written in the question. Do not ask for whom Tik Tok beeps- it beeps for all of us!

Overcoming this lazy solecism of most students, I read through many conventional answers. Then a student wrote that the reason the separation of powers doctrine does not operate effectively can be seen in the treatment of Novak Djokovic before the 2022 Australian Open!

I have always thought that Djokovic’s experience in Australia was a good example- putting aside one’s view of the outcome- of the separation of powers working. Djokovic was detained under a law made by the Parliament; he exercised his rights to have an independent judge review his detention and the government was able to appeal to a higher court against the first judge’s decision. Transparency, accountability, dilution of power, all hallmarks of the doctrine, were seen to be working well.

Despite his inability to play in last year’s Australian Open, the Serbian has not been stopped from increasingly separating himself from the other greats of the game. The following is now his suite of achievements: 400 weeks at No.1, 40 Masters 1000 titles, 24 Grand Slam titles and now a record 7th ATP end of year title- his 98th overall- at the end of a year where he was ranked No.1 for a record 8th time.

At the end of year playoff of the eight highest ranked players, Djokovic suffered his first defeat since Wimbledon when he lost to Jacob Sinner in a preliminary match. However, Djokovic reminded everyone of his supremacy sweeping past Alcatraz in their semi-final and then exacting revenge against Sinner in a one-sided final.

Left alone amongst the game’s recent pantheon of greats, Djokovic is increasingly isolated in his range of achievements. However, there were hints that the man is not entirely indestructible in the Davis Cup finals.

Remember the Davis Cup? Alongside the Grand Slam tournaments it used to be the premier international teams event, culminating in a three day/ best of five, five set- four singles/one doubles-matches. For decades, all sets were played to advantage. The format is now ridiculously compressed. Nations play ties which comprise three best of three set matches, all played on the same day, with all finals taking place within a week.

Dokovic’s beloved Serbia won through to the semi-finals where his conqueror at the ATP finals, Jacob Sinner, was able to reprise his victory. An Italian victory in the Doubles saw Italy reach the final. Australia won its way to its 49th final, looking for its first victory since 2003.

Victory for Australia would have evoked memories of 1999 when Australia won both the 50 over World Cup cricket final and the Davis Cup. This year our cricket team upset hometown heroes India to win the 50 over World Cup cricket title for a sixth time; however, our tennis players could not upset the Italian team in the Spanish town of Malaga. Australia’s Captain, Lleyton Hewitt, who was a member of the winning 2003 team, could not hide his disappointment at the loss.

Led by Sinner, Italy swept to their first Davis Cup final win since 1976.

1976-close enough to fifty years ago: the year of the Montreal Olympics that the Quebecois are still paying for. Brezhnev was still leading the Soviet Union. Jimmy Carter won the Presidential election over Gerald Ford in November. Harold Wilson retired as the English Prime Minister, to be succeeded by James Callaghan. Margaret Thatcher was in her second year as Opposition Leader in England and Malcolm Fraser was serving his first full year as Australia’s Prime Minister. Henry Kissinger was serving as Gerald Ford’s Secretary of State.

Except for Jimmy Carter, who is now America’s oldest living ex-President, and whose wife Rosalynn died recently aged 96, all these political leaders have passed away. Rosalynn Carter was dubbed the ‘Steel Magnolia’ in an era when the world was less certain about how to characterise a purposeful, serious woman with political influence.

Kissinger died only last week, aged 100. Controversial in an out of office he was a towering influence in the Nixon and Ford administrations. For many his involvement in the secret bombing of Cambodia contaminated his legacy and made a mockery of him being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for working to end the Vietnam conflict.

As another year is set to elapse one is reminded of the advice in Desiderata to “take kindly the counsel of the years.” If only we could.

Australia, like many Western nations, is confronted by many challenges at various year levels of its population. Unlike an adolescent tantrum, these are not ephemeral. We need to counsel ourselves about their realities, which are far from kindly.

For our youngest, economic realities are altering their upbringing. Extortionate house prices have made it imperative that both parents work to realise the great Australian dream of home ownership. Paradoxically, this means that many children are spending less and less time in the cherished family home.

June quarter statistics tell us that 1,412,320 children are in government funded childcare programmes. 49.2% of children aged 0 to 5 and 34.4% of children aged 0 to 12 used approved care.

At the same time there is worrying growth in the number of children requiring government support for disorders, especially autism. A record 11.5 per cent of boys aged between five and seven are now receiving funding from the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Doctors report a surge in demand for childhood medication to manage attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders.

Why the dramatic increase in the rates of ADHD? Academic research repeatedly confirms that the greatest influence on academic success is “time on task.” Could it be that the economic demands of modern life are preventing too many parents having the time needed to give attention to the important demands of parenthood? Remember what the Jesuits tell us, “Show me the boy at 7 and I shall show you the man”. Have we created an economic and social disorder whereby parents have less and less time to give attention to their children?

Being characterised as middle class used to connote a certain degree of comfort. I am not so sure so many middle class Australians would agree. Economic pressures, reinforced by recent interest rate rises, are compounded by the demands of looking after the older generation who are becoming older.

The costs of private and government funded aged care continue to spiral.

For the government, these demographic pressure points are sharp and politically painful.

Let’s remember that national governments also have cost of living pressures. Even Australia’s first-term Labor government is starting to cut costs. There are only so many productive taxpayers to fund the childcare centres, the NDIS and aged-care centres. Oh, and did I forget the AUKUS submarines? Recent announcements about reduced Federal funding of infrastructure projects have sent the hares running. Brisbane is looking at having to scale down its ambitious 2032 Olympics building projects. Remember Montreal 1976! When Australian governments reduce expenditure on sporting projects and festivals you know that governments are losing the battle to have enough revenue to fund expenditures at every critical stage and age.

1976 is also the year when Australia had its last Men’s singles champions at the Australian Open- then sponsored by the Marlboro cigarette brand- when Mark Edmondson upset John Newcombe.

Will 2024 end Australian tennis agony? It seems unlikely. 2024 is the Chinese year of the Dragon; however, Alex de Minaur does not seem to have the firepower to challenge the world’s leading players. Nick Kyrgios, who has barely played this year, has just revealed that his mother cannot watch his games as it places her newly installed heart pacemaker under too much pressure. I suspect her cardiologist will not be too perturbed. Despite the tired hype that accompanies every Kyrgios appearance at the Australian Open, his chances of success appear minimal. Memo to Nick: you have not spent enough “time on task” to be a credible chance.

Coming into the Open, Djokovic is the Serbian dragon who continues to singe and char all other competitors. Just when you think he is faltering, he redoubles his intensity. He will not need reminding of the significance of winning a 25th Grand Slam title, an achievement that would further separate him from all others. Sentiment will accompany Nadal’s return to Rod Laver Arena, but the sun has set on the Spanish superstar, but who would deny him a sentimental swansong? Swiatek must start the favourite in the Women’s draw, with the caveat on her chances of success being whether she can manage fourteen days of potentially furnace like heat.

As always, the Australian Open will provide a fortnight of diversion from the world’s traumas. One can only pray and hope that the abundant and perennial hope of Advent for peace and goodwill will come to pass between now and then. The paradox and pathos of the Biblical lands being riven by despairing conflict and loss is overwhelming. So too is the disbelief at the torrent of wilful and vicious antisemitism that has flowed from the conflict. Regrettably, there has been a disappointing reluctance from too many leaders, including those in Australia, to unequivocally condemn the poisonous rants of the undemocratic.

To all my readers, compliments of the season. May optimism about what the new year and a new tennis season may bring never fade.

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