The movements that gained momentum in 2016 continued making waves in 2017 – and policy makers are yet to come up with solutions.
As the year comes to a close, our local editors have selected what stories they felt packed the biggest punch in 2017.
Global populism — it hasn’t gone away
Paul Colgan – Editor-in-chief
There may not have been a Trump- or Brexit-style shock vote this year in which populist forces won a surprise victory, but that doesn’t mean the march of global populism is over.
Populist fringes in various countries — from Japan to Australia and in Germany and The Netherlands — continue to reshape political landscapes. As Nick Gartside, JP Morgan Asset Management’s head of fixed income and commodities, pointed out in an interview with Business Insider this year, centrist politicians have adapted their policies to stave off the electoral threats from populists attacking the traditional centre from the left (like in Japan) and from the right (as we saw in Germany).
In Australia, the Coalition government has adopted the Labor party’s proposal for a royal commission, an idea it long resisted. But as was reflected in the decision to introduce a new bank tax in the federal budget this year, the Coalition has been coming to grips with the notion that there is a level of public anger at work in the community on a range of issues that require policy responses which might previously have been anathema to core vales of centrist parties. This applies to both sides of politics.
The emergence of these forces is, as I see it, simpler than some would have you believe. The era of ultra-low interest rates has made existing asset holders very wealthy, widening inequality gaps, either perceived or real. Wages growth has remained stubbornly low, even in the US, where unemployment has continued to fall towards practical full employment, at least in part driven by the increasingly rapid automation of work. Add in the ability of new media channels to offer spaces for disenfranchised and angry voters to mobilise, and it is a powerful mixture driven by a range of realities confronting policy leaders and participants in today’s global economy.
The dual citizenship debacle in federal politics
Simon Thomsen – Associate Editor
What started with two overseas-born Greens senators falling on their swords and resigning from the Senate in July became an embarrassing and serious political crisis for the Turnbull government for the rest of the year, which will continue to reverberate into 2018.
It was a narrow escape for the Coalition after two MPs resigned – Nationals leader and deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and Bennelong’s John Alexander – briefly leaving the Coalition without a majority in the lower house before regaining both seats in by-elections in December.
The Senate president resigned suddenly after others were ruled ineligible by the High Court, which still has more cases to consider in 2018.
It was a reminder that too many in politics pay scant regard to the paperwork they sign – and Turnbull compounded the government’s woes when he was quick to pass judgment on the Greens gleefully declaring them guilty of “incredible sloppiness” and “extraordinary negligence” only to discover subsequently that several Coalition MPs and Senators had also failed to properly vet their heritage.
Even replacement Senators were ruled ineligible because they too were found to be in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution.
The whole debacle sparked a debate over the meaning of modern Australia and the qualities required to represent the nation. It also suddenly focused the minds of politicians who realised how easily their $200,000 a year jobs could disappear and after more than four decades of debates and reports on this very issue, which they’d failed to act upon, Turnbull has ordered another review in an attempt to prevent it happening again. But it will. Watch this space.
Gender Equality and #MeToo
Sarah Kimmorley – Associate Editor
2017 was a doozy. Trump, Bitcoin and housing were consistently top trending topics throughout the year. Big local events included Mike Cannon-Brookes daring Elon Musk to build a giant battery in South Australia. Musk delivered. And the country voted in a non-binding, non-compulsory plebiscite on same-sex marriage, and the legislation was passed in parliament.
But for me, the stand-out this year is the growing momentum behind equality for women. Stories such Lisa Wilkinson’s switch to rival network Ten after channel Nine refused to pay her the same as her male co-host. The domino effect that has resulted following the allegations made against Harvey Weinstein such as the #MeToo campaign has been a global phenomenon.
Following the sexual harassment accusations made against former Australian TV star Don Burke, women have taken a brave step forward. There has been global acknowledgment that disrespect and inequality will no longer be tolerated. Men too, have been champions in this movement, standing up for and supporting their wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, daughters, friends and colleagues.
The tide is turning and it’s been fascinating to write and read about, and to witness something that will be life-changing for future generations of women.
North Korea essentially completed its intercontinental ballistic missile program
Tara Francis-Chan, Associate Global News Editor
North Korea’s ICBM program has achieved its goal – its missiles can travel the distance required to hit any target in the continental US. Kim Jong Un is now an undeniable threat to the US.
While the presence of this threat has been the case for some time, some commentary following North Korea’s past missile launches focused on technicalities the missiles did not exhibit (such as the ability to travel to the US mainland) rather than the broader pattern of progress. And unsurprisingly North Korea soon developed missiles that overcame these issues.
North Korea can no longer be ignored – or underestimated.
Global market volatility
David Scutt – Markets and Economics Editor
The story of 2017 for financial markets was volatility, or a lack of it. Across many asset classes it fell to levels not seen since in decades, allowing riskier assets such as stocks to rally. A synchronised broad-based improvement in the global economy, improved corporate earnings and predictable interest rate policy from all major central banks allowed this to happen, counteracting geopolitical threats surrounding North Korea.
However, with most central banks either lifting or moving towards increasing interest rates, the question for 2018 will be how will that impact the global economy and corporate profitability? After a near-unprecedented quiet period for markets, the theme next year could well be a return of volatility.
The arrival of Amazon Australia
Chris Pash – Business Editor
The much anticipated full launch of Amazon’s range of products in Australia marked the start of accelerated disruption to the retail sector.
Some were impressed with the prices and range of goods offered, others not so much.
However, Amazon says first day orders on Amazon.com.au were higher than for any other country launch day in Amazon history.
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