Australia not as deserving of presents as it was at past Christmases
One of the intrinsic parts of Christmas in Australia is cricket. From backyard games on the day itself, to the Boxing Day Test, it is hard to imagine this time of year without it.
For almost two decades it was easy to be complacent that all was well with the game in this country. Coincidentally, for most of the same period it was easy to imagine that the Australian economy was in safe hands.
Before last Monday, Australia's most recent loss in a cricket Test at home to New Zealand, was 26 years ago. Not that it was in any way related to cricket, but a few months after Australia lost that 1985 game, Paul Keating declared that Australia was running a risk of becoming a banana republic.
Fortunately, just as the then Australian cricket captain, Allan Border and coach Bob Simpson rejuvenated Australian cricket, so Treasurer Keating and a few other key politicians of his generation, on both sides of the political divide, not only recognised that Australia had an economic problem, but also knew that it had to be addressed.
So for a quarter century Australia was just about the most deserving recipients of Santa's largesse. All Australians could sit around each Christmas knowing that not only would the cricket team most likely show its superiority come Boxing Day, but their nation's economy had been reasonably well-managed over the previous twelve months.
The cricket team might not have won every Test, and they might have irritated plenty of people with their boorish behaviour, but you felt that overall the game was doing well. Likewise, Hawke, Keating, Howard and Costello may have made mistakes, but it is hard to argue that their collective efforts meant that Australia was in significantly better shape in 2007 than it had been in 1982.
As On Line Opinion is suggesting, "traditionally Santa rewards good kids, and ignores the bad" - then, if judged by either its cricket team or its Federal Government, in 2011 it seems Australia will be struggling to secure many presents.
Now this might seem a bit unfair to the ordinary citizens, but in democracies Santa favours those who mange to elect governments, which shows some degree of political courage in pursuit of a positive end.
Twenty years ago this summer, the Australian cricket selectors stuck with a young leg-spinner who took 1/150 in his first Test against India in Sydney. At the same time, in the early 1990s recession, Keating stuck to his guns and kept his tariff cuts in place despite a chorus of opposition from interest groups.The big reforms of the twenty-five years to 2007 were all designed to make the Australian economy more competitive. In that period, we symbolically went from being a nation of striking metal workers to a nation of self-employed tradies.
These reforms also meant that when the Asian meltdown occurred and the dot.com bubble burst, Australia hardly suffered. Something similar could have happened with the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, but instead Kevin Rudd grossly overreacted.
If you go and blow the family budget on pink bats and unnecessary school halls, you can hardly expect to be able to afford too many big presents under the national Christmas tree.
If you tie up huge swathes of government funding for many budget cycles to come on the NBN, you can hardly complain when there is only loose change to spend on potentially economically beneficial transport infrastructure projects.
Perhaps even more than blowing the budget, what has made Santa consider Australia "naughty rather than nice" has been the dismantling of two decades of industrial relations reforms. The current Government's Fair Work Act rolled back not just the key aspects of Work Choices, but also aspects of the 1997 legislation, which the Howard Government negotiated with the Australian Democrats, and even some of Keating's 1993 reforms. Suddenly, the unions were back having a far bigger say in the Australian economy.
The decline in political courage is exemplified by the Liberal Party's lack of willingness to argue for industrial relations reform from the Opposition. The contrast with the 1980s is stark when both sides of politics regularly exhibited a crazy, brave approach to many of the big policy issues.
Of course, this year has also seen legislation aimed at imposing special taxes on carbon and mining profits, which are depressing enough in themselves, but are made more so by claims that they are examples of economic reform. Economic reform is when you do things that make your economy more competitive, such as floating the dollar or cutting tariffs - not when you impose extra costs on your economy.
It is almost as if Australians have taken a sudden dose of economic illiteracy tablets. Take the response to the RBA's decision to cut interest rates earlier this month, which had the tabloid media running a series of truly over-the-top attacks on the big four banks, for having the temerity to wait a couple of days to see if it was responsible to lower rates for borrowers. Given that the key cause of the GFC was the lax lending policies of overseas financial institutions, it hardly seems unreasonable for the banks to be cautious.
Politics in Australia seems to have become infantilised, as Government seeks more and more ways to deny citizens the right to make decisions about their own lives. So we get everything from the Bob Brown-inspired media enquiry threatening free speech, to the Andrew Wilkie-inspired attack on the freedom to gamble.
When Australia lost to New Zealand in 1985, there was the consolation that the Kiwis had been bowled to victory by one of the all-time greats in Richard Hadlee, and that with Roger Douglas as Finance Minister, their politicians were even more deserving of presents than we were. It is harder to identify sources for consolation now.
The one advantage that Australia does have is that because the grown-ups were in charge here for years longer than they were in many other countries of the world, and because we have been blessed with existing gifts such as the mining boom, we are in much better shape than other countries.
And after all, at Christmas time here we get warm sun and cricket; the basket case economies of Europe get neither. It is just our own recent naughtiness that causes us to get fewer presents than we otherwise might.