For many Australians there has been a strange sense of vague disconnection through 18 months of stories detailing the bloody rolling collapse of the finance sectors of the US and Europe. Things, we were assured, were bad, but despite the gravity of the situation we seemed somehow removed, maybe even immune.

This week that little bit of once-hypothetical rubber hit the road with a flurry of job losses in key non-finance sectors and disturbing news of slowing growth in our major trading partners to the north. Still, it all seems a little unreal, despite the unstinting gravity of the Prime Minister’s We’ll All Be Rooned talking tour that has drummed home the message of impending difficulty.

Anyone left scratching for a helpful allegory to the current situation could do no worse than consult the ever-popular blog of Queensland economist John Quiggin, who this week reminded us of a post he made in November last year:

At the opening of Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel, On the Beach, a nuclear war has devastated the Northern Hemisphere. Australia has not been hit, but a lethal cloud of fallout is gradually drifting southwards. The current economic situation in Australia feels something like that. The evidence of recession in the US has been clear all year, and the EU and Japan have now joined the decline. Yet the impact on Australia has been slow to arrive and is still modest except in the most directly affected sectors.

And there we are, trapped at the bottom of the panet waiting for a slow but seemingly inevitable annihilation, our only compensation being the grudging presence of Ava Gardner. Happy Australia Day to you all.

Peter Fray

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