Movers and shakers
We mourned the loss of two icons, while the rescue of two underground miners and the Socceroos’ World Cup glory captured our imaginations this year. DOUG CONWAY reviews the major news of 2006
With violence escalating and no exit strategy in sight, American voters deliver a stinging protest vote to President George W. Bush, Australia’s key international ally, by taking power from his Republicans in both houses of congress. The rebuff forces President Bush and Prime Minister John Howard to discuss new strategies for Iraq at a meeting in Vietnam, ironically the country nominated by war critics as a prime example of futile and costly foreign intervention. America’s commitment stretches beyond the time it fought in World War II. In more than 3+ years of war in Iraq the death toll among coalition troops climbs close to 3000, passing the number killed in the September 11 attacks which prompted Bush’s war on terrorism. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths reach over 50,000. An inquiry into Australia’s first military fatality in Iraq finds that Private Jake Kovco was shot with his own handgun while skylarking in his Baghdad barracks. The return of the Victorian soldier’s body is bungled after the body of a Bosnian carpenter is sent to Australia instead.
2HOWARD and BEAZLEY:
Labor dumps its federal leader Kim Beazley for his foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd, as Prime Minister John Howard consolidates his decade-long grip on power. Rudd wins a party room vote 49-39, with Julia Gillard replacing Jenny Macklin uncontested as deputy. Labor MPs grow restless after Mr Beazley fails to gain ground on Mr Howard in the polls, despite the quagmire in Iraq, a fourth successive interest rate rise since the 2004 election, the AWB scandal, tough industrial relations changes and perceptions of a tardy response to climate change in the midst of the worst drought for decades. Labor’s cause federally is not helped by a succession of sleazy scandals at state level, including the charging of NSW minister Milton Orkopoulos with drug and child sex offences. Mr Howard, meanwhile, thwarts his ambitious heir apparent Peter Costello by declaring he will seek a fifth successive election victory in 2007. Mr Howard digs his heels in after Mr Costello airs claims of a 1994 leadershiphandover pact.
3CROCKIE AND BROCKIE:
Australians are shaken by the sudden, tragic deaths of two national icons, Steve Irwin and Peter Brock, in the same week. Irwin, 44, television’s internationally famous Crocodile Hunter, is pierced in the chest by a stingray’s barb while filming off Port Douglas, Queensland. Brock, 61, a nine times winner of the Bathurst 1000 touring car race, dies when his silver coupe slams into a tree during a rally in Western Australia.
Tasmanian gold miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb provide the good news story of the year by surviving for two weeks trapped almost a kilometre underground following a cave-in which kills their workmate Larry Knight. The two colleagues become national folk heroes and sign a lucrative media deal which means they will never have to work below ground again.
Sydney architect Faheem Khalid Lodhi, 36, becomes the first person convicted of preparing a terrorist attack on Australian soil. He is sentenced to 20 years for plotting to blow up the national electricity supply system. Victorian Jack Thomas, a suspect without a charge, becomes the first Australian to have his movements restricted by a federal control order. Al-Qaeda’s chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is ‘terminated’ in a US air strike. Britain foils a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic jets. Jemaah Islamiyah’s spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir is released after 26 months in jail for his part in the 2002 Bali bombings. Australian
terrorist suspect David Hicks spends his fifth year under American detention in Guantanamo Bay as the US Supreme Court declares illegal the military commission system which was preparing to try him.
Eleven former executives of wheat exporter AWB, including ex-chairman Trevor Flugge, and one former BHP executive, could face criminal charges after the Cole inquiry finds they were part of a deception that illegally channelled $290 million to Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. The scandal casts a pall over Australia’s international trading reputation. The inquiry finds nothing to implicate Prime Minister Howard, any of his ministers or any government bureaucrats, although serious questions remain over the government’s competence.
7The Socceroos provide Australia’s sporting highlight with storming performances at the World Cup in Germany after a 32-year absence. Coached by Dutch master Guus Hiddink, they come from behind to beat Japan 3-1, lose unluckily to Brazil 0-2 and draw with Croatia 2-2. They reach the last 16 only to fall victim to an infamous lastminute ‘dive’ which hands 10-man Italy, the eventual winners, a penalty and a controversial 1-0 victory. The Socceroos’ showing eclipses another wildly successful Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and provides some compensation for the shock retirement of Australia’s most decorated Olympian, swimmer Ian Thorpe, and the end of Shane Warne’s career as Test cricket’s most successful bowler.
8Extreme weather in Australia — including a oncein-a-century drought, Queensland’s cyclone Larry and simultaneous snowfalls and bushfires in November and December — underline the catastrophic environmental warnings of Britain’s Stern report. Climate crusader and former US vice-president Al Gore hammers home the theme on two visits down under, and Prime Minister Howard signals both a softening of his opposition to the Kyoto protocol and his vision for a nuclear power industry.
9Australia sends troops to the Solomon Islands, East Timor, Tonga and to the waters off Fiji as riots, unrest and coups continue a worrying trend of instability around the Pacific. Two Australian soldiers die when a Black Hawk helicopter ditches off Fiji as an ADF contingent stands by to evacuate consular staff ahead of the fourth military coup in Suva in 19 years. Commodore Frank Bainimarama is condemned internationally for seizing power from Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. Violence also forces Solomons leader Snyder Rini out of office. For its troubles Australia is accused at the Pacific Islands Forum of ‘bullying’ countries in the region.
New laws prompt a shakeupof Australian media ownership. James Packer’s PBL sells half of its media interests for $4.5 billion to an Asia Pacific private equity group. Kerry Stokes’s Seven network follows with a similar $3.2 billion sale of half of its TV, magazine and internet businesses to a US group. Fairfax Media swallows rival newspaper publisher Rural Press Ltd to create a $9 billion media empire, the country’s biggest, in a deal which makes it harder for potential suitors to buy Fairfax. This comes after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corpand Seven buy strategic stakes in Fairfax.
BIG STORIES . . . clockwise from top, Bindi Irwin reads her tribute to her father Steve Irwin; motor racing legend Peter Brock died; the Socceroos celebrate a World Cup goal; miners Todd Russell and Brant Webb greet their families after
two weeks trapped underground