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Looking back on 2002

Frank Stilwell

The year has been dominated by international security issues - the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the war on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the Bali bombings, and the threatened war on Iraq. These international concerns have overshadowed domestic economic and social policy issues.

Outpourings of grief and anxiety are understandable in the circumstances. Racism, xenophobia and militarism have also had a field day. But many people have sought constructive responses. Thousands have joined in anti-war demonstrations in cities and towns all over the country. All eyes are now on the effectiveness of the weapons' inspection process in Iraq.

Significantly, many people are now recognising that some resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict is a necessary condition for restoration of greater global security. The consistently biased position taken by the USA in relation to that conflict is in the spotlight and can be expected to be more so in 2003.

Meanwhile, the global insecurities have created conditions conducive to the resurgence of US military imperialism, with US Present George W Bush benefiting significantly from the continual backing of British PM, Tony Blair. The insecurities have also created conditions for further restrictions on civil liberties, an opportunity currently being embraced by the Howard government. Mark you, Howard has played a strange game on this, refusing to support the amended bill dealing with extended ASIO powers which was debated by Parliament on its last sitting day on 14 December. Evidently the government would rather leave the issue in limbo than work in tandem with the ALP. So much for the need for unity in protecting 'the national interest'!

The treatment of refugees has also been a running sore on the body politic. One might have thought that conditions of global insecurity would provoke more compassion for the victims of the conflicts. Evidently not so in the Australian case, with Howard and Ruddock sticking by their tough line, emphasising the internment of illegal refugees behind razor wire and in Pacific Island concentration camps. Yet glimpses of more positive attitudes are discernable elsewhere in the community. In the country town of Young, for example, about fifty Afghan refugees, working in the local abattoir, have been warmly accepted by many of the townspeople.

What about the economic conditions? The drought has been a major blow to many parts of rural Australia. More generally, there are growing anxieties about the global and national conditions. The fear of global recession following September 11, 2001 and the downturn in the US economy has not materialized with the severity many expected a year ago. However, there has been a shake-out of some large capitalist corporations, some the consequence of dubious financial practices if not downright fraud. There have been major plunges in the values of shares traded on the stock exchanges, wiping out a considerable proportion of the unearned wealth that had accumulated in the 1990s. This has important implications for savers, including workers who have been drawn into shareownership, either individually or through compulsory superannuation. Workers' expectations of good retirement incomes have taken a major jolt i