Illustration: Robin Cowcher
The political year has started. I am lying in a holiday rental that sounds like it is about three metres under the path of the Sunshine Coast Airport, wondering if a call will come telling me to go home to fight a fire.
The week at the coast is a ritual that has always been the calibration that prevents the years running into one another. It is the treasured time as a family that you know is one year closer to the children going their own way and you euphemistically having ''more time to yourself''. It is a time of renewed, and often identical, resolutions about health, weight, soul and mind - resolutions as tenuous as the last decade's or so since a reflective annual analysis became the ritual,about the same time the case of holiday beer was replaced by a few whites.
There is also that depressing calculation of doubling your age and assessing whether you are still sailing out on the ship of life or have passed the half-way buoy and turned for home. Time and circumstance are ruthless. There is no point in ignoring the inevitable, but how you prepare is completely at your discretion; the events that lie on the path to be travelled are not.
For our nation, too, there is a definitive buoy that looms in the swell of the coming year. The choice is quickly approaching whether we continue with the encumbered crew or place our faith in the alternative.
It is not an easy ocean. The global markers are changing and some have disappeared altogether. The United States has half-kicked, or more aptly tried to roll, its dented and creased financial can down the road. Europe, financially, is about to welcome a visit from Odoacer with a similar incredulity as had Rome in 476AD when it struck a new coin stating ''Roma Invicta'' (''Rome Unconquered''). China's defence spending will be the largest in the world within 10 to 20 years and radical Islam will continue to prosper as a philosophical threat to the struggle for the individual liberty of all, regardless of sex, faith or other convictions.
Political correctness may demand thrusting our thinking part deep into the sand at the Sunshine Coast for comfort, but for our nation to prevail and prosper requires bitter pragmatism. It is implausible to state that our nation's vessel is shipshape and Bristol fashion, ready for the rather stormy seas ahead, when the apparent reality is a national leadership fascinated with climate change, speeches on misogyny, over $260 billion in gross debt and reliant on an alliance with a party which places a greater worth on selected vegetation than on people.
Be brutally honest, if Wayne Swan was an accountant would you take your business to him? If there was a major and difficult crisis that could cost you your house or more, do you think Julia Gillard would be the person you would pick to work you through the problem to a successful outcome? If you were picking a partner with whom to go to the bank manager to borrow money to grow the business, would it be Christine Milne and the Greens?
The peculiarity of the 24/7 media cycle has turned politics into a kind of reality TV show that in no way reflects competencies. The Australian public has as part of its duty to vote a requirement to observe the political players with the same critical reserve as to how we would pick a dentist.
It is all about competency and track record. Promises are meaningless if the dentist has never kept any, nor are projections to be given any credibility if no previous targets have ever been met.
History is accelerating. Rome fell after almost a millennium Whether because of a change in the social mores, the overburden of bureaucracy, debasement of the currency, the loss of a Roman core to the army replaced by foreign troops, the loss at Adrianople in 378 AD, the sack of Rome in 455 by the Vandals or Odoacer in 476. Whatever, it fell. The Soviet Union came and went within 100.
Australia will need to pick the management team for the difficult times that will challenge our entrenched views. Away from Martin Ferguson and a couple of others, there is no chance of that with Labor. Australia has given them a more than fair chance; it was a disaster.
>> Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the federal opposition's spokesman for regional development.