The decade in review

There have been reviews aplenty. This one is based on Twenty years to 2020 published in the AFR, with some enhancements.


Bitcoin was born and we had the Black Saturday bushfires. The Copenhagen climate talks failed, ratf*****d by the Chinese, according to Kevin Rudd, who spent the summer break writing a children’s book while Wayne Swan read to Henry Review into taxation.


My wife and I walked the Milford track. 16 year-old Jessica Watson sails around the world. Kevin Rudd squibs a double dissolution election on climate change, and is turfed out in favour of Julia Gillard.

30 asylum seekers drown when their boat crashes into the rocks at Christmas Island.

Scientists develop a functional synthetic genome.


A 6.3 magnitude earthquake hits Christchurch, killing 180. A tsunmami hits Fukushima, blowing up the nuclear plant, killing 15,840. Osama bin Laden is killed, and Qantas grounds its entire fleet in an industrial dispute.

Australia did pass ‘world leading’ climate change legislation, courtesy of the Gillard government, working with the Greens and independents.

The AFR forgot the Brisbane floods, the Toowoomba cloudburst and cyclone Yasi.


Gillard made he famous ‘misogyny speech’, Uber launched in Australia, a Royal commission into child abuse was announced, and Australia introduced plain cigarette packaging.

Not mentioned by the AFR the Bahnisch family had a reunion.


Rudd turfs Gillard out, then loses the election to Tony Abbott, instituting a new dark age which still prevails.

Prince George was born and analog TV was turned off in Oz.


Malaysian Airways flight MH4370 disappeared with 239 people on board, Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine with 298 killed, Gough Whitlam died and two hostages and a gunman were killed in the Lindt Cafe siege.

Some of us had a Red Centre holiday and crossed the Simpson Desert.

Also the blog Climate Plus came into being.


The Charlie Hebdo shooting saw 12 killed and the birth of the slogan “Je suis Charlie”.

The Apple watch is launched and Malcolm Turnbull turfs out Tony Abbott.

The Bahnisch family did a trip from Prague to Budapest, via the Danube which ran out of water at Bratislava. Plus various other European places of interest.

Not mentioned by the AFR, but Germany experienced the VW stuff-up, plus absorbed about a million refugees.

Nor did they mention the Paris Agreement on climate change and the death of a bloke called John Malcolm Fraser.


UK votes 51.9% in favour of Brexit.

Augmented reality game Pokemon Go is released.

Donald Trump is elected 45th POTUS.


Women’s march is the largest single-day protest in US history.

Grenfell Tower fire in London kills 72.

GMH ceases manufacturing in Oz.

Same sex marriage is legalised in Oz.


The Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Super and Finance Industry makes a stir.

Kim Jong-on crosses into South Korea.

Apple becomes the first trillion dollar company.

Malcolm Turnbull got the chop, making way for Scott Morrison.


Cardinal Pell was found guilty of sexually abusing two boys in 1996.

Scott Morrison wins an election with a little help from Clive Palmer, Bill Shorten and the ALP election team. (There is a rumour that former Greens leader Bob Brown and a coal mine in Central Queensland had an effect.)

Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg inspires the school climate strikes. (Actually that started in 2018, she sailed to New York and addressed the UN in 2019.)

Australia burnt.

Did they miss any?

Of course any list is somewhat arbitrary. I would have noted the rise of social media other than blogging, which I think dates from around 2012.

Then there was the Me Too movement from 2017.

Also in 2018 there was the Thai cave rescue story, and the Christchurch massacre.

Any others?

Where are we now?

According to Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens at The Minefield we’ve reached a point where nothing really matters any more. There are no consequences for bad behaviour, truth has no enduring meaning and can be changed with a tweet to become whatever you want.

All that could be changed if we could clone Jacinda Adern and get her to run every country on the planet. In 2019 she brought down a Wellbeing Budget:

After more than a year of curiosity and speculation, New Zealand’s Labour coalition government has unveiled its “world-first” wellbeing budget, to widespread praise from social agencies charged with looking after the country’s most vulnerable people.

The finance minister, Grant Robertson, unveiled billions for mental health services and child poverty as well as record investment in measures to tackle family violence.

“Success is making New Zealand both a great place to make a living, and a great place to make a life,” Robertson told parliament.

He said many New Zealanders were not benefiting from a growing economy in their daily lives, and this year’s budget had been designed to address the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots.

What will 2020 bring?

We’d best not talk about climate change here or we’ll never finish.

I don’t think killing Major General Qassem Soleimani of Iran was a smart move. After Iran did a deal with Obama on nukes the country could have pursued peace and prosperity, one would think. What happened was anything but. However, killing a military leader is unlikely to be followed by an outbreak of peace and love.

Now if Iran misbehaves Trump has threatened 52 strikes, including cultural sites, normally classified as a war crime.

Apart from that, any given year usually brings forth something entirely unexpected.

The New Scientist has a short article suggesting that facial recognition technology will be big, and on another front research on human origins may produce a more settled view on how we evolved from being just another ape.

Then medical research is on the threshold of producing two drugs which may make ageing redundant.

One new drug clears out “senescent” cells out of the brain. The second drug mimics the transfusion of young blood “which has been shown to increase cognition in animals and reduce biomarkers for cancer and heart disease.

They are about to enter phase 3 trials, but could be sold as al-purpose rejuvenation therapies by the end of the decade.

Probably too late for me, and that might be just as well!

The New Scientist asserts that most of us are materially better off, but that puts no price on ‘nature’ and the environment. As top predator we are still on a classic path of a plague species heading for a population crash.

Happy new year!

10 thoughts on “The decade in review”

  1. I have been a little surprised and pleased at the broad spread and intense criticism of politicians for their lack of climate focus. Whilst Morrison and the LNP are copping most of the blame, Labor seems to have asleep at the wheel as much as anyone. Both parties are supporting coal – LNP outright and Labor a bit from the side of their mouth.
    In any event, these terrible fires will ignite (sorry, tasteless pun) new thinking about climate change consequences on a broad scale. The criticism is international, Craig Kelly copped a hiding from London. A distinction was drawn when Kelly was renamed form a climate sceptic to climate denier by Piers.
    Perhaps the fires will be something of a mind-changing phenomenon. I think there could be a ripple of acceptance that climate change is not only real but can reach out and touch the community.
    We will see how our political leaders respond.

    Brian drugs that stop us ageing is a worry. Our world carries probably about 66% too many people already and if we stop dying that would be unhelpful. And what would it do to the succession chains in industry or any organisation, including political offices? Quelle horreur!

  2. Last did paid work May 2008 so, for me, the last 10 yrs has been about my switch to retirement and trying to find useful things to do. Still miss my technical fix and becoming more and more pessimistic re what the world will be like when my grandchildren reach my age.
    Capitalists and shareholders seemed to have understood what climate change is about and the changes they need to make if they are to continue growing profits. The Sydney Morning Herald (pp30, Jan4-5) had this to say:
    “US coal stocks dropped by 50% in 2019 and Exxon remained flat in an equity market that rose 28% overall.” and “Meanwhile, the share price of the worlds largest investor in renewables, the US utility Nextra Energy leapt by 42%
    Population increased by by about 0.8b in the last 10 yrs with most of it occurring in the poorest countries. Migration from these countries seems to have helped the prospects of anti-immigration right wing politicians like Trump, Johnston and Morrison.
    China has become more powerful and more inclined to throw its weight around.
    Then there are the bushfires and the prospect that wild decisions will be made about fire management with little consultation with relevant scientists.
    Felt more optimistic at the start compared with the end of the decade but hard to tell how much of this is just old age and too much of the decade with conservative Australian governments.

  3. “…. we’ve reached a point where nothing really matters any more” say Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens.

    Gentlemen, I beg to differ.
    Plenty of things matter.
    A few of them matter very much.

    The point Australians may have reached, is one where “Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens don’t really matter any more”.

    Sound and fury signifying 0.

  4. Ambi do you mean “most things mean nothing but some things mean every thing”?
    Not original, Ipinched that from a song.

  5. It’s a while since I listened to the Aly/Stephens thing, but my recall says they think things matter, but people, especially leaders, are carrying on as though the truth doesn’t matter.

    I think they were a bit pessimistic.

    I reached peak rhetoric on climate change back in 2009, and repeated the dose in 2011 in Climate crunch: the fierce urgency of now where inter alia I said:

      “I’d prefer to take Bill Hare’s stabilisation path and shorten it to reach zero by 2030. But I guess it will take the world at least 10 years to wake up. By then it will be desperately close to game over as far as our emissions budget is concerned.

      I think at least some of the European policy makers know. It’s the Americans, the Chinese and the rest of us that need to wake up.

      The Holocene has been good for us as a species, but right now I fear we are heading somewhere else – somewhere called Perdition.

    There is a graph in the post showing that high-emitting countries like Australia and the US should really hit zero emissions by about 2019. That’s what Prof Schellnhuber worked out as our fair share if developing countries were to be allowed to pollute their way to prosperity.

    Frankly, it’s all looking a bit worse than I imagined it might by now. I did say in 2011 that it might take a decade for us to wake up to ourselves. That may be happening, but as Herr Prof Schellnhuber says it’s truly an emergency when you realise you can’t turn the ship before it hits the iceberg.

  6. Geoff, yes anti-ageing drugs are a worry. We’ll have the place clogged up with ancient rich people.

    On Labor’s climate policy, Albo has said repeatedly that Labor will follow the science, and that we need to clean up our own act in order to be able advocate that others do.

    He has said that we’ll supply coal while other countries want to buy and burn it, and Labor will always adopt a policy that there must be ‘just transition’ plans.

    The election review did say that there will be a role for coal exports “in the forseeable future”. I’d rather they hadn’t said that.

    The Qld Govt is still releasing coal exploration tenements. I would hope that any mine opening now becomes a stranded asset, so I’d like to think that is problematic, even for coking coal.

  7. Brian: “The Qld Govt is still releasing coal exploration tenements.” I could understand Shorten’s dilemma re Adani and sovereign risk. But I cant understand continuing to release coal exploration tenements because it is the expenditure on these tenements creates new sovereign risk and more Adanis.
    Labor seems to be caught on a rather uncomfortable fence that doesn’t create confidence.

  8. Yes John, that seems to be the case. As I see it there is a chance here for any party, but especially the LNP and Labor, to grow a pair and put an end to coal, even if they ramp it down over say, five years.
    Standing in the way seems to be the financial benefits the parties receive from the mining lobby. A truthful register of donations would be helpful, and a clear account of the various subsidies mining benefit from would help to give a better picture of the hidden governance behind the scenes.

  9. I can’t get a reading on how well mark Butler understands the science. From what he says, I’d guess, as well as anyone in parliament, including the Greens.

    However, to be frank, I think Albanese and Palaszczuk would be talking and acting differently if they truly understood how dire the situation is.

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