Kobayashi Issa, the 19th century Japanese master of the haiku form of poetry, generated an enormous body of work, much of which accentuated humility and the smallness of the individual in a vast world. He wrote:
oh New Year's god
this year too
Some 200 years later, we detect irony and humour, not despair, in this tiny meditation on the new year; we might even recognise a small part of ourselves in the poet's plea, pitched as it is against the mightiness of a long and uncertain year.
With that in mind, The Age today rings in 2013 with a call for each of us to consider how as a community we might generate some genuine change. We always have the opportunity to blaze new paths and set higher goals, and we should ensure we do not squander it.
This nation, after all, is in a benignly sweet spot. Our economy is strong relative to other industrialised nations, and our governance systems are stable and resilient. We are not bordered by war or torn apart internally, and we are generally a highly educated, resourceful and resilient people. We do, however, have serious and longstanding problems that demand urgent attention, most particularly the appalling conditions endured by indigenous Australians in some remote communities. Many languish in squalor comparable to the Third World. This, in modern Australia, is a national disgrace.
We also struggle as a nation to fathom the plight of asylum seekers. Successive governments, fumbling around trying to snuff out the multi-million dollar trade of people smugglers, have taken aim instead at those who seek refuge.
As The Age said a year ago, now is the moment to seize the advantages this country has in abundance, and to set some agendas for this nation. Let's start with the economy. We are fundamentally sound, despite softness in some industry sectors, especially retailing, and despite some roller-coaster movements in commodity prices that have diminished tax receipts from the mining sector and forced some miners to reassess capital expenditure. Government debt levels are well within manageable limits.
The economy is growing at about 3.1 per cent and, while slightly below trend, there are signs that faltering economies overseas have at least stabilised. As the year closed, the local sharemarket reflected a 14.6 per cent gain over 2012, although global markets are fretting now about the US economy. In Europe, Mario Draghi's declaration that the European Central Bank would do ''whatever it takes'' to protect the euro helped ease pressures on the Continent, and Germany's Finance Minister recently said ''the worst is past'' - from the country that worked hardest to steer Europe from a financial abyss.
None of this is to imply that we should rest on our laurels. We do need changes in the workplace that help us work more efficiently, and our cities need new infrastructure to ease transport bottlenecks. We want more opportunities opened across all industries for the thousands of aspiring people who are prepared to work or who want to start their own businesses.
At the same time, we must not overlook those who cannot work or who struggle to find a position. The government also must recognise that only so much can be done by a welfare sector that relies on charitable donations; cutting foreign aid and slashing local charitable grants is simply cynical.
Education, hospitals and health services are crying out for funding commitments and whole-of-government support. There is room to fall into deficit if the spending entails a stronger economy and a better society in the future.
Australia needs people of strategic vision who will rise above petty argument, the kind of people who are brave, compassionate and steadfast, who reach across political and social chasms to negotiate agreements because they want a stronger community.
So ring out the old year. We will learn from mistakes, cherish good memories and vow to do much better, but we will look forwards, not back. We leave you to enjoy this first day of 2013 with another Issa haiku that celebrates the road of life:
New Year's Day -
that I'm still on this journey