Halley’s comet have many across our stars once every 76 years. Its next scheduled appearance will be in 2061.
Down here on earth there does not seem to be much that is predictable anymore.
Unprecedented and once in century events, in all areas of life, from politics to sport, seem to occur with an almost bizarre regularity
Americans, reeling as they regularly must from another primary school massacre, have to contemplate that their 45th President will be the first to be indicted on criminal charges, not forgetting that Gerald Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon in 1974 spared ‘tricky Dicky’ that ignominy. It says something about the decline of America’s political system that Donald Trump’s prosecution is already seen as a political contest, rather than a legitimate process of a stable ‘rule of law’ democracy.
It's been 101 years since an Australian government won a seat from an Opposition in a by-election. Rarer than Halley’s Comet! However, the voters of eastern metropolitan Melbourne have delivered the once safe conservative borough of Aston to the incumbent ALP Federal government, providing the Prime Minister with prestige, gloating rights, and an increase in his Lower House majority, with his government now holding 78 of its 151 seats.
There was a time when second and third marriages were frowned upon by most, conscious of their ubiquitous religious upbringing. Remember Edward VIII! As Easter approaches, this is no longer the case. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, arguably more influential in shaping cultural attitudes than many mainstream churches-the most recent Census indicated only 44% of Australians considered themselves of faith-has announced his intention to marry, at the age of 91,for a fifth time.
The game of Australian Rules football has been played for over 125 years, but, suddenly, it may never be the same again. A rash of class actions by former players who allege that their on-field heroics may have led to loss of quality of life because of their numerous concussions, could alter both the nature and spirit of the contest.
Russia, not content with its unlawful incursion in Ukraine decided to join the new superpower game du jour of shooting inconvenient objects out of the sky by destroying an American drone that was flying over the Black Sea.
The usage of language is undergoing arguably its greatest period of revision in centuries. From Enid Blyton to Roald Dahl to Dr. Seuss everything that once seemed acceptable is being excised and rewritten. Former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, reportedly once told a colleague in a Cabinet meeting “to shut up, you fat Indian”. More of Mr. Keating’s latest invective later; however, his outburst of thirty years ago would probably now disqualify him from holding office!
Putting the use of particular words to one side, we also seem to no longer be able to rely on the certitudes of phrases. Remember when we accepted that there was “nothing as safe as a Swiss bank”? As much as the alpine state is known for its neutrality, chocolate and chocolate box scenery, cuckoo clocks and Roger Federer, the security and prestige of its banks are arguably its greatest claim to fame. ‘Twas ever thus until Credit Suisse recently collapsed and had to be rescued by its commercial cousin UBS.
There was also a time when the annual Academy Awards honoured films and actors that delivered memorable performances and images. For mine, this year’s awards were homage to a contemporary zeitgeist where criteria of diversity and inclusivity trumped (another word of tenuous lifespan?) all other considerations. Am I alone in considering that this year’s ‘Best Film’ , Everything Everywhere All at Once, is singularly incomprehensible and unentertaining? It is everything but ‘My Beautiful Launderette’!
Thankfully, on the tennis courts of the world predictability is largely intact. Although Novak Djokovic must wonder why he bothered to seek entry to America to play in Indian Wells and Miami. It has made no difference to his place in the tennis world. Although Carlos Alcaraz was briefly reinstated as the world’s No.1 male player following his emphatic victory over Daniil Medvedev at Indian Wells, the pink clad Spainard’s failure to win at this week’s Miami tournament sees Djokovic once again numero uno as the European spring clay season approaches.
Speaking of which, the odds seem long that we will see Nadal play either at a casino or on the courts at the forthcoming Monte Carlo tournament.
And what are the chances that Parisians will have stopped protesting in the streets in unprecedented numbers by the time of the French Open?
In tennis the most significant opponent a player has is themselves. Games, sets, matches, tournaments and reputations can be won and lost by a player’s number of unforced errors and faulty serving. Anya Sabalenka won the Australian Open by limiting her errors in the final against Elena Rybakina, but when the two met again in the final of Indian Wells, Sabalenka’s service woes returned and the Kazak exacted revenge.
So it is with politics. When governments metaphorically ‘overhit the ball’ and make wild promises and/or commit to unsustainable policies, they can default themselves.
Barely a year into his term, Anthony Albanese has served up two major policy announcements that will dominate political discourse this year and, possibly, his political destiny.
The first is the AUKUS submarine deal. Announced in the sunshine of San Diego, the man who once described his life’s purpose to “fight Tories,” has transformed himself into a conservative Cold War warrior by announcing a $370 billion purchase order for a fleet of nuclear submarines. The aim is clear: to deter China’s aggressive tendencies. Luckily, Australia has to until 2042 to ensure that it can staff and service the nuclear vessels. China has until then to decide how aggressive it wants to be.
Maybe the superannuants with more than $3 million in their accounts will feel better that the increased taxes they will pay from 2025 may help fund the purchase of half a porthole. Whatever the defence benefits of the policy may be, the outlays involved can only add to the structural deficits of the nation’s budget. Let’s hope that China continue to buy our natural resources, despite their indignation.
Paul Keating lacerated all involved with the deal, describing it as “the worst decision of a Labor government in over a century.” Approaching eighty the bile and rancour Keating directs at his opponents have not dissipated; however, many believe that Keating’s assessment of China’s intentions is , at best naïve and, at worst delusional.
The second is this year’s referendum on granting Australia’s indigenous community a constitutional voice to the Parliament. A lachrymose Prime Minister recently outlined to the nation why he consider this reform is essential.
The success rate of referendums in Australia is lower than Sabalenka’s first serve percentage: only 8/44 have obtained the nation’s approval. Our last successful referendums were in 1977 when Bjorn Borg and Virginia Wade won Wimbledon! Proponents of referendums, like a successful tennis player, require many factors to align in their campaigns: there must be bi-partisan support for the proposal, a majority of voters nationally and a majority of States must support the proposal and the question itself must be understood by a citizenry who are compelled to vote.
There will be hundreds of thousands of words written about the proposed Voice; however, the tenor of arguments for the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ cases is already clear.
The ‘Yes’ case is based on a moral imperative to finally grant Australia’s indigenous people long overdue constitutional recognition and an ability to directly advise the nation’s government on policies affecting indigenous Australia. Proponents argue it is an unarguable question of decency that the Voice must be created to try and more rapidly ‘Close the Gap’ between the life experiences and expectations of non-indigenous and indigenous Australians. Proponents say a Yes vote is no less than a unique chance to right historical wrongs and found better futures.
The ‘No’ case has been argued on various grounds. First, it is argued that it is undemocratic for one racial group to be granted a constitutional authority to influence government over all others. Secondly, it is claimed that our Parliament is the one and only voice for all Australians and must remain so. The final, and increasingly most prominent point of opposition is that the powers granted under the Voice are excessive, unclear and potentially divisive, especially its proposed ability to advise the Executive government. It is argued that the words establishing the Voice once placed in the Constitution could result in High Court disputes about their meaning and effect. In tandem with these concerns, it is argued that the Australian people have no idea about who will represent the indigenous community on the Voice.
Opponents argue to vote Yes asks practical, pragmatic Australian voters to say yes to an overly powerful pig in a poke. Radical opponents argue that the referendum pays no more than lip service to systemic disadvantages experienced by the indigenous community and should be rejected on that basis.
In these polarising and polarised times, it is hoped that the debate itself will be civilised. A pivotal moment in the US Presidential election of 2016 was when Hillary Clinton labelled all those who supported her opponent as “the deplorables.”
Those advocating the ‘Yes’ Case must be careful not to dismiss all those who oppose them as “deplorable racists.” This would be the equivalent of serving double faults on break points. This referendum is as much about changes to our system of government as it is about remedying past injustices. People are entitled to know what these changes will involve given they will have to vote to approve them. Words in a Constitution have permanent meaning and power.
Let us hope that we are well served by the forthcoming referendum debate. Australians could do worse than look at the current fractiousness of the great democracies of England, United States and France and the crippled democracy of Israel to be reminded of the importance of civilised democratic discourse. Debates come and go, but democratic culture, or a worrying lack of it, lasts for ever.