Ashes loss, election woes: why it's a crook time to be Aussie

Aug 13, 2013
Richard A Jinman

It's called the Lucky Country, but right now they're down in the dumps Down Under

Strewth, mate: it's a tough time to be Australian. The cricket and rugby teams have choked against the Old Enemy – aka England – the Aussie dollar has tanked and the country is facing a general election in which both candidates are on the nose. Here are four reasons why it's a crook time to be True Blue.

The Ashes disaster: Back in the good old days, Australians could rely on their cricket team to hand out a regular dose of humiliation to the Poms. Not any more. Australia's calamitous fourth test defeat to surrender a third successive Ashes series to England, has been greeted with weary resignation rather than horror. Writing in The Times, Alan Lee says part of the problem is that the Aussie captain, Michael Clarke, is just too … nice. As he faces the prospect of becoming the first Australian captain to lose an Ashes Test 4-0 on English soil, Clarke has been resolutely chipper. "Even amid the pitfalls and provocations of this series, [Clarke] has affected a demeanour that must surely have baffled his more curmudgeonly predecessors as Australia's captain," writes Lee. "I scarcely saw Ian Chappell smile on a cricket field. His maxim as captain, indeed, was that there was 'no time to be a nice guy' and the animosity he developed with certain opponents, most notably Tony Greig, was genuine and intense."

The Aussie dollar: Just when Aussies were getting used to 'cheap' holidays in London and New York, the spectacular rise of the currency floated by PM Bob Hawke in 1983 was interrupted. Between 11 April and 2 August, the Aussie dropped 16 per cent. It's made a modest recovery since then, but the days of $US1.0394 to the dollar – a high achieved at the start of this year – seem a distant memory.

The general election: Few nations hold their politicians in such low regard as Australia. So, the prospect of the longest election campaign in the nation's history – former PM Julia Gillard announced a 14 September election on 29 January – had Aussies spewing. Gillard's replacement, Kevin Rudd, has brought the poll date forward a week to 7 September, but both he and his conservative rival, Tony Abbott, are hardly beloved by the electorate. Abbott, whose youthful ambitions to join the priesthood have seen him nicknamed 'The Mad Monk', confused the word 'suppository' with 'repository' in a recent speech and followed up by discussing the "sex appeal" of one of his young, female candidates. Meanwhile, Rudd is dragging plenty of his own baggage as the man who 'knifed' Gillard – Australia's first female PM – to reclaim the top job.

The economy: Australia used to ride on the sheep's back – when wool prices were high the economy boomed. China's insatiable demand for natural resources is the main economic driver nowadays and the resources boom helped Australia sidestep the global financial crisis. The Aussie economy is still strong, but there are fears the good times won't last. "The consensus is that economic growth will be below average over the next six months as non-mining sectors struggle to pick up the slack from a mining industry that has peaked, or is about to," says Unemployment is "creeping up" and consumer spending is rising at its slowest rate in 51 years. Still, the prognosis is far from gloomy. Economist Craig James says Australia "won't be headed for recession unless something catastrophic happens overseas". Fortunately for Australia, he's not talking about the cricket.

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To be fair, the 'knifing' Rudd took to Gillard missed the part how 'Australia's first female prime minister' got the job. She knifed him in the back when he tried to instill a 'super profit tax' to try to give some of the enormous amounts of money that multinational mining companies were taking from the country. Fresh from wiping the blood off her blade, Gillard dumped the super profits tax and instead turned it into a 'carbon tax' which effectively taxed nobody and instead made electricity costs in the country soar. While the mining boom has 'saved the country' really on the ground floor it has saved nobody, very few people of Australia actually profit from it. In reality it has made it harder for the general Joe on the street with rising costs, high interest rates and ridiculous land prices. The real winners are the resource companies.