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Our hopes and fears for 2022

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Across the globe, in times of plenty and times of famine, homo sapiens used to huddle together around comforting fires to share stories and nourishment, all the while projecting their hopes for the coming season. The coming year: what would it allow or provide? New ways to hunt? New fruits to gather, quadrupeds to chase down, fish to splash after, flighty creatures to throw things at, or crops to plant?

We’ve been in a pressure cooker, these past two years. More than a score of historians had memorably described 2020 as the sixth-most ‘stressful year ever’. With that in mind, Eureka Street has entrusted me with a chance to prognosticate; I have looked dimly through the glassy eyes of New Year’s Eve towards the riches and perils of 2022, I have donned my baggy green thinking cap, consulted the familial spirits (enduring the spousal briefing on politely acceptable aspersions) and had a crack. Predictions and speculations look ahead; I looked at the past trends of the past two years and make these humble observations. With the stage set for dire times, here are six trends to look for. Here’s hoping.

 

More debt, less employment

Amidst the continuing COVID-19 uncertainty and economic instability, with projections that the federal and state governments will double their total indebtedness by 2024-25, there are the usual concerns that robots (read automation) will steal one in 10 Australian jobs. And, alarmingly for lovers of science fiction and excitingly for dystopians, artificial intelligence is touted as making our nation’s healthcare ‘more nimble, adaptive, personalised, safe and effective’. Will AI show any improvement on a federal government that has consistently under-ordered or slow-motioned products such as vaccines and tests? That remains to be seen. 

 

Less divisiveness, more kindness

We are scraping the bottom of the social welfare barrel, yet COVID-19 has apparently changed our nation’s social fabric, surprisingly, by seeing reports of higher rates of trust; this has been alongside peaks in social isolation and loneliness, with half of Australians reporting they feel ‘more lonely since the start of the pandemic’. If we can show kindness by sharing what we have as individuals, as friends, as families, as communities, subcultures and a society, perhaps we can start to address this. Unfortunately, that leads us to the next trend.

 

More scarcity, less equity

We will have less. And ‘we’ means poorer Australians. The pandemic has strained our capacity, rendering many people unemployed and the vast majority of us looking over our shoulder at what comes next. One in five of us has ‘experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress’, while 11 per cent felt ‘so sad that nothing could cheer them up’.

Ominously, ‘28 per cent of people 18 years and over felt nervous’ for ‘at least some of the time’. Thankfully, the sky has not fallen. That said, ‘through the worst economic crisis in a generation, the elite got richer while millions of Australians just hung on, or saw their slim assets evaporate’. This will continue.

Perhaps inevitably under our current federal government, ‘the challenges and burdens face by women are exacerbated with women’s economic security, participation in formal employment, political representation, health outcomes and educational achievement negatively impacted, and more so than men’. Predictable? Yes? Likely to change? Not without a change in federal government.

The big issue on equity in this COVID era is the number of countries that do not have access to vaccines to protect the elderly and the vulnerable. Until this is addressed new COVID strains are likely to continue to visit our shores.

 

More fearmongering, more hectoring

As we move into an election year, we’re in for rhetorical hailstorms, campaigning detritus and enough wedges to splinter parliament houses into gated living estates. The federal election is due to be held by 21 May 2022, South Australia votes on 19 March 2022 and the Victorian election falls on 26 November 2022. (Qld and the NT stayed Labor in 2020, Labor/Greens held on in the ACT in 2020 also; WA stayed Labor and Tasmania stayed Liberal last year; and NSW is due to vote in 2023.)

But who do we trust to inform us? While TV, online news and the radio still poll as the most trusted sources of information, thankfully social media (debatably the most widespread and consistent means of distributing misinformation) is described as ‘the least trusted media’ source. Other sources suggest that ‘no media source is trusted for news and information by Australians’, with ‘increasing media and information literacy [becoming] a greater priority for Australians over the last year, as did being politically aware’. The blame game will be bigger business than the Winter Olympics, the NRL and the AFL combined.

 

Less locking down, more getting about

We have largely entered into the social contract of getting jabbed; the better to avoid being locked down or locked out. With aspirations towards masterful understatement, I declare this has not been a universally popular course, nor has it been without sparking anger and dissent. Understandably, those most cheesed off by lockdowns have been those rendered jobless and those who have lost financial support. The mantra of living with the virus will be heard more loudly and often, alongside the desire to treat the virus with more drugs ‘soon to be administered’. The advice will be more and more to see COVID-19 as the flu, by resting and taking paracetamol. With the near-collapse of systems and people sleeping in cars waiting to get tested, something has to give.

 

Less anger, more love

Yes, I am out on a limb here, with reality busily sawing away at the bough, but perhaps we will start to mend fences as communities and as a nation. The anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine mandate rallies will continue in a desultory fashion, if governments continue to observe their side of the social contract. It is a powder keg waiting for detonation otherwise.

This is especially true regarding concerns over giving COVID-19 vaccinations to young children and possible side effects. What parents will cop for themselves does not necessarily translate into what they will accept for their kids. Dr James Best has referred to overseas data to show the need to vaccinate children against COVID-19, saying ‘the younger you go, the less risk of complications from catching COVID in terms of hospitalisation rates and serious complications…The problem is really trying to understand the exact impact of COVID infection on children and then weigh that against the risks [of vaccination]’.

Imagine if, at a local, state and federal level, we shared our resources and cooperated? That kindness is unlikely to be seen corporately in an election year, but the potential is there in individual lives. Simple responses include expressing gratitude, refraining from judging others’ motivations, seeing things from another person’s perspective, listening to friends and neighbours. Doesn’t sound likely at the moment, does it? But stranger things have happened. And if a stranger or a friend or a government can show compassion to us, then we have the capacity to go and do likewise. Good luck and Godspeed for 2022.

 

Barry GittinsBarry Gittins is a Melbourne writer.

Main image: (Getty Images)

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, 2022, new year, trends, predictions, hopes

 

 

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Existing comments

...nice article Barry, it's all about balance. Unless I miss my guess we'll have Albo's usual pre-election contribution to ES any time soon and it would do well to borrow from your prognostications but I fear his feverish limb sawing will be on the trunk side while he's already precariously positioned further out. Perhaps 2022 will herald less governance and more self-determination; after 2 years of lock-downs and public health edicts many of us are better equipped to take our own safety in charge than the "expert" advice. We've mostly had a long time with the warnings or reality of risk being remote; it was always someone else... a region somewhere far from home; now it's next door, our children or close family...and that desperate wait to get tested to see if we dodged a bullet this time. Despite Scomo's deliberate (and mis-timed) opening to "live with COVID" Australians are self-regulating their exposure; the community mostly know the RAT testing is limited in availability and doesn't define Delta or Omicron strains; statistics can't report numbers that can't be tested. Media trust? I resent the number of mainstream news hours since November devoted to a tennis player; just a huge, orchestrated distraction to the public...


ray | 18 January 2022  

I hope we experience the second coming. However, I fear it probably won't happen.


john frawley | 19 January 2022  

The old song, "Looking on the bright side" from Gracie Fields in 1932, has been followed since by many other singer/songwriters, with similar sentiments. The cruel "Great Depression" did bring about a change of attitude for most Australians, with more compassion shown to your fellow citizens than before October 1929, albeit there were some exceptions, as always.
I have seen some examples of the actions you recommend, Barry, among the people in my street and community. However, there are those whose anger and resentment is very poor behaviour. So, you will always have those who are selfish and unable to 'turn the other cheek'.


JOHN WILLIS | 19 January 2022  

From reading your article and the commentary on it I feel the appropriate theme song for the times is 'Always look on the bright side of life'. I think times will be hard in future. They already are. We need politicians of the calibre of Alfred Deakin; Ben Chifley and Sir Robert Menzies. Men and women who can make real decisions for the future. Ray is right, Morrison and Albanese are second division.


Edward Fido | 24 January 2022  

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