IT seems that 2013 was destined to become a year of untrammelled hyperbole, fallible soothsaying and poor judgment of an unprecedented kind. And so it came to pass. Month by month.
January. The new year commences with a certain foreboding. Revellers are aware of a Boxing Day warning by professor Hugh White, as told to readers of The Age, that they should not be “too surprised if the US and Japan go to war with China”.
In The Sydney Morning Herald, comedian and born-again Buddhist Anthony Ackroyd compares the “Christian charity” of Cardinal George Pell to that of Innocent III who (allegedly) “oversaw the slaughter of 20,000 men, women and children in one day back in 1209”. Just 20,000. In just one day.
February. The Crikey newsletter gives legitimacy to rumours that Peter Costello will return to parliament and that Malcolm Turnbull will become treasurer in a Rudd Labor government. In Daily Life, Alecia Simmonds describes Tony Abbott as “like a maniacal Neanderthal who has only just learned to use cutlery”. Mark Latham declares that Newspoll has “lost all credibility”.
March. Professor Marilyn Lake opines that “it is time now to say goodbye to the old men of politics”, including Kevin Rudd, and give the new team a go, “relieved of the heavy burden of a patriachal past”. According to Lake, “the future belongs to (Julia) Gillard, Tanya Plibersek, Penny Wong, Bill Shorten and others with talent and forward vision”. Her list does not include Abbott.
April. Writing in The Age, Michael Lynch gives credence to the view that Margaret Thatcher was a “heartless bitch”. ABC radio presenter Waleed Aly depicts terrorism as merely “a perpetual irritant” and suggests that the Boston terrorist attack may have been perpetrated by “self-styled American patriots”. Wrong on each count. Journalist Paul Bongiorno and barrister Julian Burnside condemn Thatcher for having invaded the Falklands in 1982, apparently unaware that the island in question is British territory.
May. Bob Ellis, the False Prophet of Palm Beach, looks into his electoral crystal ball and soothsays: “It’s Labor by a landslide.” The seriously alienated Simmonds returns to Hyperbole Land with a claim that “real Aussie chicks just giggle” and that “for men, carrying a book and using words longer than one syllable is a form of gender treason”. Simmonds is an academic.
Lawyer Michael Bradley links the absence of same-sex marriage in contemporary Australia to “slavery and serfdom” in times gone by.
June. Clive Palmer predicts that he will be prime minister come September. Julian Assange tells Lateline’s Emma Alberici that his WikiLeaks Party enjoys “between 25 and 28 per cent support” in Australia. On June 20, Latham writes in The Australian Financial Review that “Rudd has had no intention of resuming the Labor leadership in this term of parliament”. Six days later, journalist Mike Carlton tweets, following Rudd’s overthrow of Gillard, that he is “sipping chardonnay” – apparently in anticipation of a Rudd victory over Abbott in September.
July. An excited Peter FitzSimons reckons that the political game has “changed staggeringly” and proclaims that “right now Kevin Rudd has just that little of the magic about him” that he had in 2008. Carlton equates Rudd’s comeback with Napoleon Bonaparte’s 1815 “return to power and glory” and foretells an election on October 19. AFR political editor Laura Tingle assesses Rudd Labor as “at worst, within sight of being returned and, at best, already in the winner’s seat”. Tim Soutphommasane wonders whether “our collapse as a cricketing power may say something about the state of the nation”.
August. The Age’s Tim Colebatch theorises that the Liberal Party’s Arthur Sinodinos may lose his NSW Senate seat to Pauline Hanson. He won, she didn’t. Commentator Jane Caro calls the first political leaders’ debate “unequivocally for Kevin Rudd” who “wiped the floor” with Abbott. She assessed the debate with the television on mute.
Journalist Chris Johnson looks at two post-election scenarios. Both have Peter Beattie winning the Queensland seat of Forde. AFR journalists Matthew Drummond and Tony Walker contend that Abbott “would rather the economy be steered by the hand of God”.
September. As Newspoll accurately forecast, the Coalition comfortably defeats Labor on September 7. Catherine Deveny self-diagnoses as “feeling sick”. The comedian advises the Twitterverse that her 15-year-old son has a doctored photo of Abbott as Hitler on his wall. Bob Brown argues it is appropriate to “draw parallels between the actions of the Taliban and Abbott’s plan” for Tasmania’s forests.
October. PR hack Ian McClellan reflects on a violent protest and boasts: “What this is about is the great Melbourne tradition of demonstration.” He reflects glowingly on his youthful days as a demonstrator in Melbourne but says nothing about injuries inflicted on police.
Burnside surmises that the revelation that Australia spied on Indonesia in 2009 is a “perfect excuse for the fact that the idea of stopping the boats hasn’t worked and won’t work”. A cunning Abbott plan, apparently.
November. Waverley Council’s sustainability expert Michael Mobbs informs gullible ABC radio presenter Linda Mottram that his “modest breakfast” that morning was produced by “at least a thousand litres of water”.
Bongiorno reveals that he is “just wondering why Alan Joyce is bleating away in the way he is because he has to admit that Qantas has over 60 per cent of the business domestically (and) if he can’t be making a lot of money out of that what the hell is going on?” Bongiorno has never worked in business.
December. Frank Robson seriously maintains that the Prime Minister “compared” the Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam “to Jesus Christ”. Blogger Jeff Schubert advises his (few) readers that the professional relationship between the Prime Minister and his chief-of-staff “seems, in many respects, similar to the Adolf Hitler-Martin Bormann relationship”.
The year ends as Crikey readers vote Queensland Premier Campbell Newman “arsehat” of the year, comfortably ahead of Syria’s mass-murdering Bashar al-Assad. Hardly a surprise ending for the Year of the Snake.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of The Sydney Institute.