We are almost, almost, at the end of 2019. It’s been a big year. This corner of the earth has been pummelled. Well before the catastrophic bush fires kicked off, the drought continued to ravage the country and what’s been described as possibly the largest fish die-off in Australian history occurred at Menindee Lakes in the first week of January. Over a million fish died.
In politics the US President Donald Trump has continued to defy protocol, generate headlines and controversy and mark the White House with his unique style of “leadership”. The threat of impeachment became reality yesterday.
In June, the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May quit as the head of the conservative party, making way for Boris Johnson to take over the keys to Downing Street. Despite earlier saying it wouldn’t happen, Johnson pressed for an early general election to end the deadlock in Parliament and “get Brexit done”. Last week the UK had its first general election in December since 1923 and Johnson triumphed.
In February the Federal government became the first to lose a vote on its own legislation in almost 80 years, when the majority of the crossbench and Labor joined forces in the House of Representatives to pass amendments to give doctors a greater say on refugee medical evacuations. That Medevac legislation was reversed at the end of November thanks to Jacquie Lambie’s vote.
There was a state election in NSW in March that returned Gladys Berejiklian to the Premier’s office and a federal election in May that saw Scott Morrison emerge victorious. Bill Shorten resigned and Labor got a new leader in Anthony Albanese.
At the end of February it was reported that Cardinal George Pell had been convicted in December 2018 of sexually abusing two choirboys in 1996. In March he was sentenced to six years in prison following his conviction. Pell lodged an appeal that was dismissed by a majority of two to one in August 2019. But in November Pell successfully sought leave to appeal to the High Court. The matter will be heard next year.
Disgraced American financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested in July of 2016 for sex trafficking minors and was found dead in his federal gaol cell in August.
One of his former friends, the Duke of York, Prince Andrew, stepped back from public duties because of the association with Epstein which came to head after a disastrous television interview.
Earlier in the year the final report from Banking Royal Commission was tabled in Parliament with 76 recommendations, well before the CEO and Chair of Westpac were forced to resign after damning revelations the bank had violated money laundering and terrorism financing regulations.
There really haven’t been too many slow news days in 2019. From this vantage point I can recall a number of causes for despair, but, pockets of hope too. Shall we start with the bad news so we can end on a high?
Causes for despair
One of Australia’s most influential broadcasters made global headlines when he commented that the PM ought to ‘shove a sock down’ Jacinda Ardern’s throat. Jones really has a thing for physically silencing women he doesn’t agree with. Despite the blowback from advertisers, he remains employed and still enjoys a powerful platform.
The lack of leadership from the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been astonishing. From his diabolical comments on International Women’s Day that ‘we want women to rise but not at the expense of others, to withdrawing funding from the peak body for Indigenous survivor/victims of violence, to appointing Pauline Hanson as a chair on a Family law Inquiry experts have unanimously rejected, to telling Greta Thunberg anxiety about the climate is unnecessary, seeking to have Brian Houston invited along for the US state dinner, saying the RFS volunteers ‘want to be there’ working for free, or jetting off to Hawaii while the country burns. There has been no shortage of occasions during 2019 where the Prime Minister has given cause for genuine despair.
Between the heavily pregnant Rana Elasmar being physically assaulted by a stranger in a café in Parramatta, the vile Gold Coast Young LNP video from schoolies, to the ghastly footage of the Mildura couple abusing Robby Wirramanda’s family, there’s been shameful racism at every turn. And these are just the isolated incidents caught on film. Rana Elasmar said her attack makes her fear the world. This sort of bigoted hatred can only be feared.
Violence against women.
The register maintained by the Counting Dead Women Australia researchers of Destroy The Joint, which records every death due to violence against women in Australia, currently sits at 55 for 2019. We are now in the 51st week of 2019 so the toll is higher than the shocking statistic that on average a woman is killed each week by a current or former partner.
In September five women were violently killed in just seven days.
Just last month a national broadsheet printed an article about a woman who was found murdered that read: A woman whose body was found frozen “rock solid” in a freezer at her family’s Sydney had a “strong, aggressive” personality and often nagged her “quietly spoken” husband, according to friends of the couple.
This remains a national travesty that still doesn’t attract a modicum of the urgency, resources and commitment it warrants. What other national security threat is so readily brushed aside?
Between the drought, catastrophic bushfires and associated smoke, 2019 has been legitimately hellish for many Australians and there is no immediate relief in sight. A few weeks into what’s predicted to be a long dry summer, this clearly isn’t sustainable.
Medevac being repealed.
Removing the tiniest bit of humanity – necessary medical care – from refugees who have been so cruelly stripped of hope, mental & physical health, and dignity in offshore detention under Australia’s name is breathtakingly shameful. The damage is irreparable and it’s on us.
Cause for hope
Ok that was dark terrain. I wish it was trivial but none of it is. It’s all quite legitimately terrifying stuff that adversely impacts lives. But there is cause for hope too!
It isn’t just the humanity and compassion of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern that is so affirming. It is the fact that her leadership – in too many horrendously difficult times – has been almost universally extolled. Ardern embodies a very different kind of power and rather than being dismissed for it she has been lauded for it. Ardern is proof that there is no single way to lead or run a country.
She is proof that world leaders can have babies, stare down disasters, unite a population, act on the climate, be empathetic and credible all at the same time. May Ardern be the first of many big-hearted young women leading countries to change the world. Things are looking good in Finland too.
The rise of paid parental leave for dads
Employers competing with one another to release the most flexible and generous paid parental leave policies and have them taken up by men in large numbers, is the corporate feel-good story of the year. I’ve said it before (many times) but creating change on the homefront so that caring becomes a joint endeavour shared by men and women, rather than a solo mission for mum, is the gamechanger necessary to change work life for women. This is a tangible change that is underway. Corporates led the government in introducing paid maternity leave and I’m hopeful that in time this wave of change will encourage the government to follow the pursuit of parental leave equality.
Ellyse Perry. Ash Barty. Tayla Harris. Stephanie Gilmore. Sam Kerr. Moana Hope. The list of female athletes worth celebrating in 2019 is long, and the super news is that their worth is actually be assessed as such because of it.
Thanks to several landmark deals women cricketers, the Matildas and women in the World Surf League are among the female Australian athletes who are far closer to receiving equal prize money to men than ever before.
The rise of the WBBL, the AFLW and the NRLW isn’t just giving more women athletes the opportunity to play sport professionally but it’s creating a whole generation of young girls and boys who see professional sport as a gender neutral proposition.
After weeks of protests and bitter in-party fighting, the NSW Parliament finally passed laws decriminalising abortion in the state.
The change came 119 years after abortion was criminalised in NSW, and following months of emotional speeches, story-telling and public fighting, including a short-lived move to try and oust Premier Gladys Berejiklian from the Liberal party leadership following her response. In the upper house, the abortion reform debate goes on record as being the third longest debate in its history, hitting almost 40 hours.
Buy from the Bush
Founded by small business owner Grace Brennan, it has grown into a nation-wide movement. It now has an extensive and highly-engaged social media following, with the latest figures showing their Facebook page has over 153,000 likes, while their Instagram page boasts 149,000 followers.
Since the launch of the campaign in October, some businesses who have taken part in Buy From The Bush have recorded unprecedented sales. It is tangible proof that plenty of Australians are keen to make life a tiny bit easier for their fellow citizens.
Boycott Alan Jones
The Alan Jones Breakfast Show on 2GB has lost about half of its advertising revenue after a boycott over the radio host’s comments about New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
According to a report from The Sydney Morning Herald, sources close to the commercial dealings of the station have said that on an annual basis, the boycott could cost the show about $6 million in advertising. The top-rating show typically brings in $12 million a year.
Almost immediately after Jones’ comments about Ardern went to air, 80 companies pulled their advertising from the show. Recent reports from activist group Mad Witches indicate that there have been 278 advertising withdrawals in total since Jones’ comments made headlines.
The withdrawals are part of a steady campaign Sleeping Giants Oz and the Mad Witches, that have pressured companies to pull their advertising from the program.
May 2020 bring more causes for hope than despair.