As any useful prophet would have predicted for the Year of the Monkey, 2016 saw much exaggeration, false memories, self-regard and flawed soothsaying.
January. Fairfax Media’s Adam Gartrell kicks off the year prophesising “a comfortable victory” for Malcolm Turnbull in a September election. The poll was held in July and the Coalition won narrowly. Gartrell also predicted Bill Shorten would step down as Labor leader after the election. Triple J’s Zan Rowe declares: “You don’t imagine that someone like David Bowie can die.” On Radio National, Hamish Macdonald opines that women in Saudi Arabia have “in a sense, a very dynamic existence”. Economist Satyajit Das foreshadows an option of “basically a repeat of the Great Depression but on a much worse scale”.
February. The red-bandanaed Peter FitzSimons accuses the red-hatted “Cardinal Pell’s goons” of punching the “Australian media” outside a hearing of the royal commission in Rome. In fact, George Pell’s staff were not involved. Fitz just got it wrong. Senator Glenn Lazarus accepts the Prime Minister’s offer of a taxpayer-funded dinner at the Lodge but later complains the serving sizes were for “stick insects” and he had to fill up at Maccas on the way home. Jacqui Lambie left the dinner early, having found the company uncongenial. Her first port of call was not McDonald’s but the media.
March. Derryn Hinch tweets that “Cardinal Pell will offer (his) resignation on June 8 … and on health grounds will be accepted”. This prediction is as accurate as Hinch’s prophecies that Donald Trump would not win the Republican nomination or the US presidential election. Fairfax Media’s Elizabeth Farrelly advises readers she once had afternoon tea with Paul Keating at Kirribilli House. She alleges the former prime minister outlined “an intense moral chiaroscuro in which some folks frolic naked picking fruit and others are devoured feet-first by bird-faced monsters”.
April. Waleed Aly proclaims that “these days everyone seems to be outraged all the time”. British-born scholar Niall Ferguson suggests that any Brexit supporter is a “happy moron”. He becomes a happy moron himself by December. The Sydney Morning Herald boasts that FitzSimons, who was educated at Knox Grammar and the University of Sydney, had “humble beginnings as a builder’s labourer”. The McKell Institute’s Sam Crosby bangs on about the need for trust in his book The Trust Deficit, which contains invented quotes with respect to Julia Gillard and BA Santamaria.
May. British-born ABC TV Media Watch presenter Paul Barry decries the abundance of white faces on Australian television without mentioning that all the Media Watch presenters have been white. Novelist Richard Flanagan argues that the Turnbull government wants “to destroy” the local book industry and links the findings of the Productivity Commission to “ideological cant worthy of Stalin”. Environmentalist Tim Flannery tells The New York Times’ naive Roger Cohen that in Australia “people are determined to make it appear they are not working too hard”.
June. The Age runs a piece by Mark Hawthorne predicting Liberal frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer will lose her seat in the July election; polling, commissioned by the Greens, foreshadows a Greens victory. O’Dwyer wins with an absolute majority. Colin Steele, a former judge of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for history, condemns the panellists who replaced him as “elderly”. Steele is older than most of his replacements. One-time Liberal leader John Hewson, who is presented in the media as a Coalition-friendly commentator, spends part of the day of the Liberal policy launch demonstrating outside the PM’s Sydney residence.
July. The Sunday Age’s worrier columnist Martin Flanagan reckons he is worrying less these days because he does not “think Trump can win”. Your man Flanagan believes Trump cannot do well with African-Americans, Latinos, women and the young. Trump, readers are told, is “surrounded”. See November. The Saturday Paper editor Erik Jensen, on learning that he is too boring to be profiled in Australian Story, maintains that being interviewed for the program is “like waterboarding” and “like Guantanamo Bay”. Even so, he endured 20 hours of filming before being told “you’re fired”.
August. Channel 10 and ABC journalist Paul Bongiorno contends that actress Bel Powley is “not ugly enough” to play Monica Lewinsky in a TV movie about Bill Clinton’s presidency. Never one to let a year go by without a good scare, academic Hugh White announces that the rivalry between the US and China has a whiff of the lead-up to World War I and proposes that Australia should move closer to Beijing. In 2005, White raised the possibility of “a naval battle this year … between the US and Chinese navies”.
September. Fly-in, fly-out intellectual Diane Halpern, the former president of the American Psychological Association who opposes single-sex education, is interviewed by ABC radio’s The World Today. She tells listeners that on Australian radio “a while ago” she “heard someone say that boys and girls can’t go to school together because they need different room temperatures”. The source for the quote? Zip. NSW Education Department head Mark Scott (ex ABC) remembers the recently departed Richard Neville as “always a thoughtful, incisive, courageous voice”. Nice Mr Scott fails to recall Neville was a self-confessed pedophile who, in his book Play Power, boasted about having sex with an underage schoolgirl in London.
October. The Conservative-free zone that is the ABC decides to broaden its coverage of the US presidential election by interviewing leftist Australian comedian Dan Ilic, now based in the US. Ilic describes the Republican national convention as like “some sort of Nuremberg (ie Nazi) parody”. He foretells that the final Hillary Clinton-Trump debate will see more popcorn consumed than “at any other time in American history” followed by a Trump defeat. On the ABC’s Insiders Katharine Murphy, the peace-loving political editor for Guardian Australia, endorses Robert De Niro’s “I’d like to punch him (Trump) in the face” evocation.
November. ABC News Breakfast invites comedian Sami Shah to discuss the news of the day. He argues that Trump is “frightened out of his mind” and doesn’t want to be president”, and if successful would hand over the administration to Mike Pence. Good joke, eh? On the day before the US election, Fairfax Media’s Paul McGeough predicts a devastating Trump loss. The next day he reports the result without mentioning his hopelessly wrong prediction.
December. The year ends much as it began with lotsa monkey business. Leftist newsletter Crikey finds an academic from Charles Sturt University who alleges that there are “some striking points of similitude between the milieus that gave rise to Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump”. Really. Senator Lee Rhiannon’s Left Renewal faction in the NSW Greens rejects “capitalism” and “violent apparatuses like the police”. It seems the green-left comrades have yet to work out who pays their salaries or ensures the security of their property. The year ends with Fairfax Media’s columnist Tim Dick calling for all of us to “rediscover the fulfilment … in respecting others” just after referring to elected politicians as Trump, Nigel Farage and Peter Dutton as — wait for it — “buffoons”. Can you bear it?