Curse After Curse
Earthquakes, hurricane, fire and snow—it all happened within one week recently in Australia. But the big news was about fire.
With the nation’s economy struggling, huge fires scorched great swaths of the country’s southeastern coastline to the north and south of the city of Sydney.
No sooner had the rain arrived to help the massive fire control effort than floods swamped north-coast towns south of the Queensland border. It was a raw start to a new year for a country already featuring a disproportionate basket of woes.
Prime Minister John Howard, enjoying his period of grace in a third consecutive term as the country’s leader, has even more to be concerned about. Post-September 11 worries plus deeper concern over how to control the increasing drift of “boat people” from the north have contributed to wipe out the budget surplus which he inherited from his previous term in office. The need to step up security against the terrorist and refugee threats have hiked expenditures in this area.
Meanwhile, the challenge to the establishment posed by the country’s black ethnic-minority aboriginal population has continued to nag and be a distraction in domestic politics. The agrarian component of the economy is on the skids in many areas following two decades of neglect, exacerbated by the anti-farm policies of previous socialist governments. Although Australia’s mining companies are among the most efficient in the world, competition is stiff and demand is suffering, while the economies of traditional customers are in trouble.
Australia’s flirtation with Asia during the socialist Prime Minister Keating’s regime was a disaster and only served to divert the country’s attention from strengthening links with more traditional customers. The Australian economy suffered in the wake of the East Asian financial meltdown of the 1990s as many saw it being an appendage of Asia’s economies.
Australia’s tales of woe are summed up in the value of its means of exchange, which tumbled to the equivalent of half the U.S. dollar last year. All in all, to the clear-minded observer, the once-touted “lucky country” is suffering its fair share of curses.