There was much hope that the Year of the Rooster would usher in a time of honesty and moral fortitude, which would fit in with the search for individual and collective wellness throughout the land. And there were good signs when it was realised that, contrary to many a prediction by Canberra academic Hugh White, another 12 months had passed without a military conflict between the US and China.
Alas, it soon became evident that 2017 was a bit like any other time — replete with hyperbole, historical distortion, wish fulfilment and false prophecy. Month by month:
January: London-based Australian economist Steve Keen is fawned on by Fairfax Media’s Patrick Commins for his foresight. It’s almost a decade since Keen predicted a 40 per cent drop in home prices following the global financial crisis. Keen seems to hold the view that he is so far ahead of his time that his prophecies are yet to be fulfilled. Writer George Megalogenis praises former Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam for having Justin Trudeau-like progressive policies on refugees. Megalogenis overlooks the fact Whitlam tried to stop Vietnamese refugees from coming to Australia when he was in office.
February: Federal parliamentarian Bob Katter appears on Sky News’ Paul Murray Live and alleges that, as treasurers, Labor’s Paul Keating and the Coalition’s Peter Costello “doubled the dollar in value”. He just made this up but was not corrected by the presenter. ABC Radio Sydney presenter Wendy Harmer, a member of the eco-catastrophist club, rails against the construction of Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek on environmental grounds. She reckons it will add to the heat in western Sydney, making the area “unlivable”. Harmer also predicts that the tarmac will melt — which makes you wonder how people live and travel in, say, Dubai.
March: ABC journalist Eric Campbell announces that not only is President Donald Trump a “dreadful man” but he has a “dreadful family”. Campbell asks, how did this nightmare happen? The answer is, Trump got elected. Australian National University astrophysicist Brad Tucker tells Leigh Sales on ABC’s 7.30 that it would take about 750,000 years to reach a recently discovered new solar system. Asked about any qualities that would make the planets in it habitable for humans, Tucker replies, “Firstly, you don’t have Donald Trump as president.” Journalist Paul Bongiorno tweets that “everything” about Nauruans is “undemocratic, unaccountable and offensive”.
April: The Sydney Morning Herald opens up on the NSW Liberal Party. Heath Aston declares that Bronwyn Bishop’s grip on her seat of Mackellar had once been considered “North Korean in its dominance”. Which makes it unclear how she lost preselection. Aston describes Margaret Cunneen SC as part of “the conservative Catholic mafia” that supports Tony Abbott. The use of a term such as “Muslim mafia” would not be cleared for publication at a Fairfax Media newspaper. Meanwhile, journalist Sean Nicholls suggests that there was an attempt by the NSW Liberal Party’s right wing to derail the moderate candidate in North Sydney in a “suicide bomber-like” move. Really.
May: ABC TV’s Media Watch presenter Paul Barry tweets: “No idea if this is true — claim that Trump impeachment process has begun.” It hadn’t. Bongiorno tweets: “There has been a death at Buckingham Palace, world awaits for an official announcement.” The vibe is that Prince Philip had died. He hadn’t. OnRadio National’s Breakfast, Fran Kelly and Alice Workman agree that the Perth-based Liberal MP Andrew Hastie is part of the “Catholic right”. He isn’t a Catholic.
June: Visiting British political operative Alastair Campbell advises a supportive audience on ABC’s Q&A that he told his former boss Tony Blair that where Adolf Hitler “took a few years before he started to go for journalists and judges, Trump did it in week one”. Blair thought this “over the top” — but not, apparently, Q&Apresenter Tony Jones. Meanwhile, on The Drum, guest panellist Rory O’Connor supports his 80-year-old uncle’s view that Trump is “doing the same thing” as Hitler did. Harmer expresses surprise that a terrorist attack occurred in an up-market suburb such as Brighton in Melbourne.
July: News emerges of ABC management setting up a staff meeting where those assembled are asked to sit in a ring and talk “through” a plastic toy about how they feel. This attempt at corporate wellness has still not led to the appointment of a conservative in any of the ABC’s prominent programs. The ABC’s Marius Benson opines that “the Trumps look too much like Ceausescus” — a reference to the murderous Romanian communist dictator and his wife. Late at night, Sky News’ Ross Cameron tweets: “In a world where trust seems hard to place, the moon will never let you down.” Now, that’s handy to know.
August: Sky News presenter Kristina Keneally declares that she would “like to think that Jesus, who excoriated the scribes and Pharisees, would have been a fan” of Tim Minchin. Jesus claimed to be the son of God, Minchin is a proud atheist. Failed environmental prophet Tim Flannery reckons that in China “the air’s unbreathable, the water’s undrinkable and the food’s inedible”. Yet there are more than a billion Chinese. Melbourne barrister Julian Burnside QC links Malcolm Turnbull’s warning on terrorism with the propaganda of Nazi Hermann Goering. On Twitter, Van Badham foretells that Trump will be just like Hitler.
September: Senator Derryn Hinch fesses up that even a “close friend … doesn’t like me”. Some time after Peter FitzSimons praised the Italian health system, his wife Lisa Wilkinson complains of her medical treatment in an Italian hospital that “was like walking into a building in Beirut”. The Age’s Julie Szego sees similarities between Turnbull’s language and the “wilful distortion worthy of Uncle Joe” Stalin. Sky News’ David Speers reflects that Labor has “held more positions on coal than the Kama Sutra” — opening up a whole new way to interpret Vatsyayana’s tome.
October. Erik Jensen informs The Drum that “racism is the reason” he is editor of The Saturday Paper. Writing in Fairfax Media, Steve Biddulph preaches against “dysfunctional men” such as Trump, John Howard, Abbott, Peter Dutton and Eric Abetz. He describes Howard as a “dismal human being”. This is abuse posing as argument. Journalist Sarah Macdonald “just can’t get over how much smarter Hillary (Clinton) is than Trump”. But not smart enough to campaign in Michigan or Wisconsin, it seems. Peter Greste reckons it would have been better if the September 11, 2001 attacks had been classified as mass murder, not terrorism.
November: The Yes case in the same-sex marriage postal survey prevails by about 62 per cent to 38 per cent despite a Griffith University analysis of Twitter that concluded the No side would gain a narrow victory. Two reporters on the influential ABC radio AM program claim that in Rhodesia, which became Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe “led a guerilla uprising against the British”. At the time, the country was not a British colony. Greens MP Adam Bandt reports that when he “heard that a head of government was cancelling parliament … I thought I was hearing about Zimbabwe, not Australia”. The reference was to the Prime Minister’s decision that the House of Representatives would not sit for one scheduled week. Just one.
December: The year concludes much as it began with so many media types presenting with Trump-phobia. On Late Night Live, presenter Phillip Adams and his panellists David Marr, Laura Tingle and Tony Windsor all agree the US President is a dud. According to Marr he’s a “buffoon”. According to Tingle, Trump is “bringing the world to the edge of nuclear disaster one week and being a buffoon the next week”. Meanwhile, The Saturday Paper ends the year with an explanation for the present state of the vale of tears in which we live. Its front-page declares: “It’s all John Howard’s fault.” Well, at least we know.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.