The omens for Australia point to a lousy 2019 – politically, economically, commercially and internationally. Fear that Coalition election defeats will bring anti-business policies locally while world-wide wobbles (Brexit and rumblings of discontent within the EU, the US-China trade spat along with their internal uncertainties) that damage confidence and economic growth have prompted gloomy forecasts with headlines like ‘Year of Confusion Looms’, ‘Stocks Face Bear Market’, ‘The coming year of living dangerously’; the WSJ’s ‘Less growth and more uncertainty – the global outlook is shifting, leading to more turbulence’; or Bloomberg’s ‘the balance of risk has shifted to the downside’ with signs of a global economic slowdown and unresolved trade tensions, with the prospect of Federal Reserve mistakes being a top risk
But there are also the less rational omens that do not involve the need to examine a chicken’s entrails while nevertheless having a persuasive veneer. For example, it is self-evident that years that end in 9 have, over the past 100 years, had a bad record for unpleasant news, broken only rarely with such good outcomes as Bob Menzies’ 1949 defeat of Ben Chifley to herald in 23 years of Coalition-led comfortable prosperity and Maggie Thatcher’s 1979 election win to become the PM who transformed a moribund Britain.
The evidence? It was just 100 years ago that the post-World War I Spanish flu pandemic (that killed more than the war did) hit Australia. In 1929 the Wall Street crash heralded in the Great Depression. In 1939, the appallingly destructive World War II began. In 1949 the USSR got the atom bomb, blocked off Berlin as the cold war hotted up and China became Communist under Chairman Mao. Then 1959 brought the first AIDS death in the Congo for a killer disease that spread world-wide. In 1969 Colonel Gaddafi took over Libya in a coup, Nixon was sworn-in as President and 82 died when HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Voyager collided. 1979 saw in the disastrous regimes of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeni in Iran and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, while 1989 brought Tiananmen Square and, for a pollution disaster, the Exxon Valdez. 1999 saw Putin as Russia’s Prime Minister first time around, and, far worse, the establishment of what The Spectator has described as ‘the most dysfunctional currency ever created’ when asserting that this year’s 20th anniversary of the Euro, ‘with its toxic mixture of depression, stalled growth, financial chaos and mass unemployment that eroded a generation of economic progress, is nothing to celebrate’. Then 2009 saw Australia’s worst bushfire that killed 181 and destroyed 500 homes in Victoria, North Korea going nuclear, the Sri Lankan cricket team shot at in Pakistan (ending visits by national teams) and another pandemic – swine flu.
So 2019’s bad omens involve more than just the prospect of wall-to-wall lefty, fiscally-incompetent Labor governments around most of Australia. Or the consequences of incoming Shorten and Daley governments reversing the record of economic stability, record job creation and border protection brought by the Coalition federally and in NSW as they cleaned up the mess left by Labor predecessors.
The lack of public trust in big business, in the whole political process, in the media and ‘worthy’ organisations like child-abusing churches and NGOs, will generate uncertain ‘social licence’ issues that are sure to be exploited, with Labor’s help, by the growing band of disruptive self-interested activists – to the community’s cost. This explains why the corporate world awaits, with trepidation, the consequences not only for the availability of bank finance, but also for their directorial reputations, of this year’s inevitably damning report of the Financial Services Royal Commission. Another risk is that the much welcomed and newly implemented Trans Pacific Partnership faces continued attack from the union movement (‘It’s a bad deal for working people’) and other left groups like the Greens and GetUp! (‘The dirtiest deal you’ve never heard of, driven by big business’) aimed at reversing Labor’s support for what is so clearly in Australia’s national interest.
But to me the most tangible omen that 2019 is a lousy year is that on New Year’s morning our beloved dog died.