End of Year Wrap and Other Mayan Calendar Predictions

13 / 12 / 2012

By Sarah Capper

The world may be about to end in approximately a week’s time, on December 21, if doomsday Mayan calendar interpretations are to be believed.  And it seems Prime Minister Julia Gillard has got into the ‘End of the World’ spirit by posting this video for ABC youth radio station Triple J. Tongue-in-cheek-interpretations aside, others view next Friday as marking the end of a 5000 year era and beginning of a new dawn and calendar.

So with that in mind, it’s timely to re-visit some of the burning, and not so burning issues which have dominated the Australian political landscape in 2012.

It’s been a big year. Consider this. This time last year, Peter Slipper had spent less than a month in the job as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. Slipper had resigned as a Liberal Party member to become an Independent, and with some manoeuvring by the Prime Minister, shored up another vote for the Labor Party’s slim hold on the minority government.

ABC Political correspondent Annabel Crabb wrote at the time, “Peter Slipper’s acceptance of the Speaker’s position changes this knife-edge equation noticeably. Let’s hope that if Slipper’s time in the chair generates any legacy beyond a sheaf of entitlements investigations and some very good dinners, it will be an end to the rigor into which both parties have been forced and the beginning of some genuine debate.”

Ah, if only! While Slipper’s role as speaker was largely applauded, the buffer of an extra vote thanks to the defection was always going to be a gamble. Especially if that gamble [boom-tish] included reneging on the deal struck with another Independent, Tasmanian Andrew Wilkie, on pokies reform.

It was a Catch 22. Monash University politics lecturer Dr Zareh Ghazarian wrote on the Conversation at the time: “The withdrawal of support from independent Andrew Wilkie means that, like this time last year, the government holds a one seat majority in parliament. Indeed, the government could not be able to hold its majority had Peter Slipper not been made Speaker last year.”

In a few different ways, slippers and shoes have proved a little problematic for the PM this year. At an Australia Day medal ceremony, the Prime Minister lost one of hers after being hurriedly escorted by security when Tent Embassy protestors surrounded the building where she and Opposition leader Tony Abbott were gathering. The images of the PM being ushered out by security were broadcast around the world, initially garnering a sympathetic response, until it was revealed that Tim Hodges, one of the PM’s staffers, had tipped off Union secretary Kim Sattler about earlier comments made by Mr Abbott in relation to the Tent Embassy (Sattler then talked to Tent Embassy representatives, one of whom ‘retrieved’ Gillard’s slipper, errr, shoe).

In March, Anna Bligh, the first female Premier elected in her own right, was washed out of office in a scene reminiscent of the Queensland floods the year prior (and an event in which the Queensland Premier rolled up her sleeves and had the nation shedding a collective tear with her rallying “We’re the people that they breed tough, north of the border,” speech. In her place, Campbell Newman swept the LNP Government to office, so furiously that the Labor Party was reduced from 51 seats to a mere measly 7, spurring on a number of jokes about how the entire party could ‘car pool’ together when parliament is sitting. The March state election also saw the emergence of federal independent Bob Katter’s ‘Australia Party’ which won two seats in the poll (and picked up a third recently with a defection from the LNP).

Katter’s foray in creating a political party also produced arguably one of the most scary campaign song launches – with the man in the hat ‘break-dancing’ to a mangled version of the song, ‘Bad Boys’. Word. Watch it and shiver indeed.

Since the election, Campbell Newman has perhaps lost his Brisbane Lord Mayoral moniker of ‘Can Do’, announcing such widespread cuts to Queensland’s public service which even drew criticism from some of the staunchest LNP supporters. Queue mining magnate, Titanic II builder and Jurassic Park enthusiast Clive Palmer.

During the campaign, the ‘colourful’ (euphemism for ‘rich’ and ‘a bit crazy’) Queensland identity launched a bizarre attack on environmental groups (principally Greenpeace, but also Greens party members Drew Hutton and Bob Brown), accusing them of collaborating with the CIA. Many jokes later, Palmer tried to explain the tirade by saying he simply made up the remarks as a distraction – and solely for the benefit of ‘Can Do’ Newman’s campaign. Still, some worthwhile parodies popped up in the brouhaha – notably this video by GetUpAustralia in which the “CIA” issues an apology to “Cleve Palmer”:

“It may surprise some to hear that rather than fighting the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, or the war on all the other terrible and nasty things, we’ve instead been focusing our attention on Australian businessman Clive Palmer, and his child minding business.. er, what? Mineral minding business”.

While federal Greens leader Bob Brown may have been around to laugh off Palmer’s crazy accusations, it wasn’t for long, with the Greens Senator of 16 years announcing his retirement from politics and passing the baton to fellow Tasmanian Senator Christine Milne.

It was a year of much political movement, or even just the threat of it.

In late February, after months of denying the bleeding obvious, the federal Labor Party was forced to thrash out their party leadership tensions with a challenge launched by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The Rudd forces had denied ‘canvassing’ other party members for potential votes in the months leading up to the contest (and as the ABC’s Barrie Cassidy wrote at the time: “Rudd is campaigning. Rudd is talking to journalists about the leadership despite his astonishing denial.”).

Prime Minister Julia Gillard thrashed Rudd (71 -31 votes), but despite this resounding show of Party support, was still dogged by media reports questioning her leadership abilities. When she announced former NSW Premier Bob Carr as Rudd’s replacement in the Foreign Affairs portfolio, even seasoned Canberra Press Gallery ‘God’, the Age’s Michelle Grattan, couldn’t be entirely impressed, writing at the time, “At their joint news conference, Carr gave Gillard a lesson in leadership panache. His easy rolling approach contrasted with her edginess.” Sighs.

Despite the leadership challenge early in the year and the coup to woo Bob Carr to Canberra, leadership speculation continued for the Prime Minister, particularly in the first half of this year. A lot of it led by the Opposition, but this relentless questioning was also led by forces in the media. The ABC’s Barrie Cassidy again:

“One of the Prime Minister’s problems is that if you were to take a straw poll of federal parliamentary press gallery, probably 80 per cent on my soundings would predict the demise of Gillard before the end of the year. They are, of course, only guessing. They don’t know. How could they know? How could they know with any clarity whether Rudd’s numbers will grow to where they need to be? But that kind of mind set has a self-fulfilling prophecy to it. The journalists don’t want to be wrong, whether they make the predictions in public or in private conversations among their peers. They become willing participants in what to many of them is the only game in town.”

One big mid-year event which seemed so pivotal to the leadership question surrounding Gillard was the introduction of the Carbon Price package. So much of the discussion on the package leading up to its introduction had previously focused on what Gillard ‘promised’ to not introduce prior to the federal election (and indeed prior to when she could not have foreseen negotiating with independents and minor parties to form government).

This was the policy that, according to the Opposition, was going to fast-track the doomsday Mayan calendar interpretations with causing the end of life as we know it! According to Opposition leader Tony Abbott, Whyalla would be wiped off the map! According to Barnaby Joyce, roast dinner would become a thing of the past! Oh. The. Horror.

Instead, what did we get on July 1 with the introduction of the carbon price package?

We discovered that Trade Minister Craig Emerson should never be allowed to sing in public ever again. ‘Emmo’, as he’s fondly known, murdered a rendition of Skyhooks’ ‘Horror Movie’, swapping the chorus line with “No Whyalla Wipe-Out There On My TV” (an extra jarring syllable if we’re to be extra picky. And we are. Because it really should never be sung – not ever again).

One month later, federal Treasurer Wayne Swan declared he’s more of a Bruce Springsteen fan, while acting as ‘The Boss’ while Gillard took leave. Memo to Peter Garrett – please have a quiet word with both Swannie and Emmo.

But for some issues, 2012 proved the ‘song remains the same’. In August, retired Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston led an expert panel in making recommendations to the Government on how to process asylum seekers. The Government’s policy on asylum seekers – an area in which the former Howard Government seemed to relish flexing its muscles over – can sadly best be explained through a Kudelka cartoon published in the Australian newspaper last month.

The cartoon is entitled ‘STOP THE BOATS! THE REBOOT’, “STARRING Julia Gillard as John Howard, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as Former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock “without the amnesty badge”, Tony Abbott as Pauline Hanson, Opposition Immigration Spokesperson Scott Morrison “also as Pauline Hanson”, Labor’s Doug Cameron “as Petro Georgiou or possibly the Greens”, and “also starring the Greens … as the Greens”. More sighs.

Yet the Gillard Government’s fortunes certainly have improved in the second half of this year. In a sense, 2012 was the year of women fighting back. In the US election, women played a key role in electing other women representatives and in rejecting ultra-conservative members who had been vocal in their opposition to women’s reproductive rights.

Back home, Sydney shock jock Alan Jones made headlines on more than one occasion. First, in claiming that women were “destroying the joint”, which inspired women to take to social media – Jane Caro tweeting under the hashtag and Jenna Price heading up the popular ‘Destroy the Joint’ Facebook page.

And of course, Jones’ other ‘claim to fame’ this year was his recorded remarks at a Young Liberals event in Sydney, where he suggested the Prime Minister’s recently late father had “died of shame”. Jones was forced to issue an apology of sorts (check out this parody by the Chaser’s Hamster Wheel – language warning yes), and advertisers of his program (at least temporarily) pulled out right, right and centre right.

The PM maintained a dignified silence, until on October 9, when in parliament, the Opposition leader (and mate of Alan Jones) uttered similar words – that the Government should die of shame. Abbott was calling for Speaker Peter Slipper’s resignation following sexual harassment allegations (since sensationally dismissed in Court yesterday).

What happened next created news around the world – the Prime Minister launched a cogent 15 minute speech attributing a list of comments by Tony Abbott as examples of sexism. Gillard will be remembered for this speech – it has been watched by millions and it will go down in history as one of the great parliamentary smack downs.

The final couple of months of the year have been dominated by the ‘AWU Non-Scandal Scandal’, concerning the PM’s actions when she was a young-ish lawyer in the 1990s, in her legal work with the Australian Workers Union (and with AWU official at the time Bruce Wilson, Gillard’s ex-boyfriend).

As Mike Seccombe writes in the Global Mail, “there is no evidence whatsoever that she had any active involvement in any wrongdoing. There just isn’t. As she pointed out repeatedly in her press conference, this alleged scandal has been dragged up repeatedly over many years; you have to think the likelihood that any smoking gun will be found now is extremely remote.”

The ‘scandal’ has seen the Opposition Deputy leader Julie Bishop leading the questions surrounding the setting up of an AWU ‘slush fund’, but Gillard has been quick to point out that Abbott is behind the Opposition’s line of attack (eg. referring to his presence in the House for radio listeners). Abbott’s past has also come into question most recently, thanks to a welcome return from veteran journalist Margo Kingston who wrote about Abbott’s own ‘Slush Fund’ in her 2004 book ‘Not Happy John’. A chapter in the book details Abbott’s involvement in the dubiously named ‘Australians For Honest Politics’ fund, used to attack Pauline Hanson.

On November 30, Kingston wrote on website Independent Australia: “My mouth fell open when I heard Abbott’s final flourish in Thursday’s speech denouncing Gillard as unfit for office. I remembered, suddenly, vividly, Tony Abbott’s very own slush fund. Could he too have forgotten? It’s ancient history now, Abbott’s slush fund ― but less ancient than the slush fund now in the news. And there’s many unanswered questions about it, and him.” Questions that may follow us into next year.

The relentless pursuit over Gillard’s involvement in the AWU story has come at the expense of debating other issues much more critical to our future – as such, it’s meant a lack of “genuine debate” (nod to Annabel Crabb reference at the start of this piece). The year is ending with Peter Slipper back in the news, with former staffer James Ashby’s sexual harassment claims dismissed by a federal court as being politically motivated.

When our federal representatives could have been discussing the NDIS, the Gonski report follow up, the historic agreement over the Murray Darling Basin plan, the Act of Recognition for Indigenous Australians, the Royal Commission into sexual abuse, we’ve been instead left with sleaze and slush. And still yearning for substance. Bring on the new Mayan calendar – let’s hope it truly ushers in a new dawn.