There is a saying in politics and business… “the nation does not go back to work until after Australia Day”.
This year is different. The world's largest economy, the U.S.A, is inaugurating a new President and ushering in a new Administration. The era of Trump Republicanism has come to a close with Democrats now controlling both Houses of Congress and the White House. This powerful position will have a profound effect on the direction of the United States and the world.
In Australia, officials in Canberra have been working judiciously to determine what impact this shift in North American politics may have on Australia and our region. The usual Australian summer dominated by cricket and the beach has been disrupted, not just by Indian sporting prowess, but even more so by ongoing COVID-19 restrictions playing havoc with people’s holidays and businesses.
The response to COVID-19 - a response that is ever changing as the virus mutates and continues to spread - has once more impacted the already fragile tourism and hospitality sectors at this time of the year when revenue is typically up and small business is flourishing.
These two issues will dominate debate when Federal Parliament resumes on February 2. The economic stimulus packages of JobSeeker, JobKeeper and the housing initiatives continue to underwrite the economy. The challenge for the government in 2021 is seeking to balance the need to stimulate our economy while keeping one eye firmly on debt levels and the Budget as a whole. This is further complicated by the fact that no clear end is in sight for this pandemic and the economic, social and political implications it has wrought upon all across our society. There is also the possibility of a Federal Election being called for some time in the second half of the year.
So whilst the Prime Minister tours regional Queensland this week, revisiting drought and now flood affected areas, the real political pressure, as the year kicks off, is in fact on Federal Opposition Leader, Anthony Albanese. Will he hold his job and remain Labor Leader up to the next election? Some chat on the Hill has revealed some cracks.
Over the last weeks, factions of the militant trade union, the CFMEU, have leaked polling suggesting that two seats held in the Hunter Valley heartland are at risk of being lost to the Liberals. Union officials argue that the wishy washy approach taken by the Opposition Leader on climate change is losing the traditional blue-collar vote.
The toughest job in the Parliament is being Leader of the Opposition, to be sure, and it’s only going to get harder for Albanese as speculation intensifies on who might replace him – Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Tanya Plibersek or Queensland’s rising star, Shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers.
Whatever unfolds in domestic politics, the big issue for our nation in 2021 will be the new policy direction set by an incoming Biden Administration and any flow on effects this may have on trade investment, particularly keeping in mind China and climate change.
Whether we like it or not, Australia’s resilient response to COVID-19 largely supported the economic conditions of our strong trade balance sheet fed by a resurgence in commodity prices. This was particularly true of iron ore demand from our major customer, China.
And this is where it gets difficult. The Federal Government will need to position its best and brightest Minister to not just defend the stumps of the Australian economy, but someone willing and able to strike at the right time with the right shot as new conditions and players emerge on the global stage, as our relationship with China and with an early election in the offing.
The next 12 months, to paraphrase that old Chinese proverb, will be nothing if not interesting.