What We Learned About Australia in 2016

Trump, Turnbull, and lessons from Ben Cousins.

by Royce Kurmelovs
01 January 2017, 1:58am

This time a year ago I thought Australia, as a nation, had finally hit peak stupid. Back then, we were all looking to 2016 with a sense of hope. There was this feeling that this whole big dumb island was making a decision to do better. 2016 was going to be a kind of reset. A blank slate. People thought: Sure, okay, maybe things got a little bit nuts for a while, but now we've got this handled.

We could not have been more wrong.

Now we're at the end of another year. Instead of trying to predict the future though, maybe it's time to look back—to reflect on how things went so wrong in the ongoing battle against our worst instincts. Of course, some things may never change. Australia, as a nation, is still really hung up on its borders. There are now even less jobs than before, and our Triple AAA credit rating is at risk.

But what's new? What did we learn about Australia and Australians in 2016?

We Are Going to Be Unhappy, No Matter Who Is Prime Minister

Image via Flickr/Adam Carmichael

When Malcolm put Tony out of a job, he took on all the hopes and aspirations of a country that wanted politics to get its shit together. He didn't.

Instead we learned that some things never change. The same people who put Tony in power were still around and still kicking when the votes were counted in the 2016 election. The PM may have changed, but nothing else did and it didn't take long before Australia caught on. Going into 2017, Turnbull's approval ratings are sinking while the country is wondering whether it will make it a year without another election being called.

Australia Isn't Immune to Trump and Brexit

Image via Flickr/Gage Skidmore

As Australia watched our overseas cousins vote for Brexit in the UK and the US braced to deliver Trump the White House, few believed it could happen here. It was impossible. Then the Australian Federal Election was called and we traded in a Tony for a little bit of Pauline.

So 2016 saw One Nation come back with a vengeance, pandering to a wave of Islamophobia and climate change denial at a time when people are more dissatisfied with politics than ever. Now, the Party that says climate change is a NASA conspiracy and that Australia should withdraw from the UN is a real political contender and with One Nation polling at 16 per cent in Queensland, the party is expected to run 36 candidates at the next state election.

Australia Still Takes No Shit, and Gives No Fucks

Early one November morning, Daniel McConnell woke to the sound of a car ploughing into his friend's restaurant. It may have been 2 AM, but with a moment's notice, McConnell pulled on his underwear and went out to investigate. What he found was an unlicensed driver who had crashed his car, and when that driver tried to flee, the semi-naked McConnell gave chase, with an iron bar stowed safely in his Excel for protection.

The interview he gave to a reporter that morning instantly went viral. In that moment, McConnell became an Australian hero. He took the message to the world that Australia doesn't care what you think. When called upon, every Australian will get shit done, no matter the circumstances.

Australia Cares About Injustice When it's on TV

Image via 4 Corners/YouTube

When Australia watched the footage of a Dylan Voller shackled to a restraint chair, his head covered in a spit hood, the whole country was moved to outrage. Australia was having its own, personal Abu Ghraib moment which sparked all kinds of conversations about the treatment of prisoners.

That is the power of the image. The death of Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman and victim of domestic violence never received the same coverage because the CCTV in the case was never released. When the Coroner finally released the footage with its decision in late December, it was too late for it to have any real impact.

Ben Cousins Will Show Us All the Light

Image via Flickr

Ben Cousins' story is the stuff of late-night Netflix binges. When Cousins, the former West Coast Eagles star and Brownlow Medal winner fell from grace, Australia watched the one-man soap opera with a kind of glee.

December 2016 marked with latest chapter in the drama. When reporters found him, he had no money left, no family and was living out of a backpack while couch-surfing between friends. When he stood before a court for breaching a restraining order and drugs charges, the judge told him if he didn't straighten out, he would soon be dead. Even the taxi he booked wouldn't stop to pick him up.

If it were at all possible to hoover up all the political, social and economic troubles of Australia 2016 and mould them into a single human being, it would look like Ben Cousins. At his best, or at his worst, he proves what is possible, so if he is capable of finding some measure of redemption in 2017, we all just might.

Australia Can Still Surprise You (For the Right Reasons)

Image via Flickr

When people think of Australia, the first thing that comes to mine isn't the country that gave the world Wi-Fi, but rather the place responsible for skippy, Rupert Murdoch and the White Australia Policy.

Yet this year, a 25-year-old PhD student from Melbourne University may have found the key to stopping anti-biotic diseases returning the world to a time before penicillin. Shu Lam's solution, known as SNAPPS (structurally nano-engineered antimicrobial peptide polymers), physically rips apart the drug-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria kill 700,000 people a year and are expected to kill as many as 50 million by 2050 and Lam's solution, while it hasn't yet been tested in humans, may just stop at least one nightmare future from happening.

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