The Australia of 1951 was a nation of 8 million people, overwhelmingly with an Anglo-Celtic heritage, inhabiting an island continent at the foot of Asia. The country was supported by a giant flock of 120 million sheep and rural goods accounted for 85 per cent of the country’s earnings. The ’50s marked the start of the two-decade “golden age”, where real GDP grew by more than 4 per cent a year with inflation about 3 per cent and unemployment under 2 per cent.
August 16, 1951 — The Australian Financial Review was born in response to a competitive threat after publisher John Fairfax got wind of a rival’s plan to launch a weekly Financial Times. The new national business paper started as a 28-page tabloid that published every Thursday with a cover price of one shilling, 15¢. “We want it to become a forum for the expression of opinion about the subjects with which it deals,” the front page declared. “Too often those in power take decisions without a full appreciation of the viewpoint of those whom those decisions will most vitally affect.”
September 1, 1951 — Australia signed the ANZUS treaty with America to put its people under the security umbrella of the world’s new superpower. Since the end of World War II, Pax Americana in the Asia-Pacific region provided the security framework for one of the greatest eras of economic development.
October 1, 1951 — The ANZ Bank was created from the merger of two heritage companies. In 1959, the Reserve Bank was created and took over the central banking functions of the government-owned Commonwealth Bank. The RBA, which started operations on January 14, 1960, got a new board including a governor, deputy governor and the secretary to the Treasury, a structure that still exists today.
October 3, 1951 — The Korean War sparked a phenomenal increase in demand for wool that quadrupled prices. Treasurer Artie Fadden resorted to massive tax increases to slow down the runaway economy, just as American buyers deserted and the wool boom burst. The Financial Review slammed the “horror budget” on its front page. “No more disastrous series of financial proposals can ever have been presented to Parliament than the Budget for 1951-52.”
December, 1951 — John Gandel, his older sister Eva and her husband, Marc Besen, take over the family fashion business, which started as one lingerie shop on Collins Street, and grew it into the Sussan fashion giant, which for years showed women how “this goes with that”. The two families’ business interests now encompass a sprawling retail empire that includes fashion and commercial property, worth a combined $8 billion on the 2021 Financial Review Rich List.
October 4, 1952 — Rupert Murdoch was 21 when his father, Keith, the famous war correspondent and newspaper owner, died unexpectedly. Returning from Oxford University, Rupert ran The News in Adelaide, becoming a mini-mogul in Australia before going on to fight print unions in England and regulators in America to build a global media empire that would dominate Fleet Street, Hollywood and US television.
November 15, 1952 — Lang Hancock, 43, was flying in a light plane over Western Australia’s Pilbara region when, forced low in a storm, he noticed the rust colour of the wet gorge walls, which, as he later told a television reporter, “showed it to me to be oxidised iron.” Those red rocks became the cargo of a great seaborne iron ore export industry that surpassed even that of wool, providing the base for Lang Hancock’s only child, Gina Rinehart, to become Australia’s richest person by a huge margin; she is worth $30.06 billion on the 2021 Rich List.
April 30, 1957 — Ray Lawler’s play Summer of the Seventeenth Doll was a global smash hit and one of the lead actors was Polish-born Richard Pratt, who returned to Australia to work in his father’s company Visy Board. Richard took over in 1969 when his father died. His son, Anthony, has expanded the business into a global packaging giant and built a family fortune of more than $20 billion on the 2021 Rich List.
April 1958 — Dutch immigrant engineer Dick Dusseldorp founded Lendlease, a company that went on to make its name building the Snowy Hydro and the Sydney Opera House. Dusseldorp, who escaped a Nazi forced labour camp in Poland, arrived in the country soon after the government had committed to an immense hydroelectric and irrigation scheme that would power the nation’s capital, Canberra, by taming the Snowy River, and usher in an era of modernisation for the young Federation.
August 1959 — Ford started making Falcons at its Broadmeadows plant in Melbourne’s north. Like Kellogg’s, General Motors, Heinz and Coca-Cola, Ford had set up Australian operations in the 1920s but US direct investment tripled during the ’50s, and grew fastest in Australia. Led by the Americans, foreign ownership of Australia’s oil refining, car and pharmaceutical industries was estimated to be more than 90 per cent by the 1960s.
Australia in the early 1960s was a land of new opportunities. The old family dynasties were giving way to a new breed of self-made entrepreneurs, many of them starting from scratch in a new homeland. The economy was powered by immigration, a mining boom geared to Japan’s post-war industrialisation and a spectacular nickel frenzy. Truckies, builders and miners laid the foundations of modern Australian business.
September 1960 — Frank Lowy, 30, lists Westfield Development Corporation with the issue of 300,000 ordinary shares at a price of five shillings each. The name came from its first location in Blacktown in western Sydney on subdivided farmland. A $1000 investment in 1960 would be worth $440 million by the Unibail-Rodamco takeover in 2017. He’s worth $8 billion on the 2021 Rich List.
November 14, 1961 — Financial Review editor Max Newton introduced Australians to seasonally adjusted statistics, a new analytical technique. The effort infuriated the federal government because the seasonally adjusted data showed the government was applying a credit squeeze after the economic boom had peaked. Economic policy dominated the 1961 election and Labor came within a handful of votes from power.
December, 1961 — The American-owned Union Oil struck oil in the Surat Basin in the Darling Downs in December 1961. Oil production started in 1964, peaked in 1966 and still flows today. Australia’s first commercial oil strike, Moonie spawned a generation of petroleum exploration and production people who contributed to discoveries around the country.
November 23, 1962 — The 26-storey AMP building at Sydney Cove is the tallest building in Australia when it is opened by then Prime Minister Robert Menzies. The Australian Mutual Provident Society started providing life insurance to miners and farmers in 1849, listed on the ASX in 1998, and then proceeded to stumble from one crisis to another for the next 20 years. The shares are down near 100 per cent since listing.
October 1963 — Harry Triguboff, 30, starts his business with a block of eight units in Sydney’s inner south. “Cash for your flat site: Builder wants centrally located flat sites. All suburbs,” the advertisement in the Sydney newspapers read. Since then, Meriton has built more than 75,000 apartments, along with a fortune estimated at more than $14 billion, on the 2021 Rich List.
October 21, 1963 — The Financial Review becomes Australia’s first national daily newspaper after 12 years as a weekly and a bi-weekly. The reference to the paper being a Sydney Morning Herald publication was removed from the front page of the paper in 1960.
March 12, 1964 — The Financial Review predicts the workforce revolution resulting from the big push by women into jobs in the ’70s and ’80s in the analysis of census data. Unequal pay was enforced by Australia’s unusual wage setting process, which assumed that men had a family to support until the equal pay decisions of 1969, which established equal pay for equal work and 1972 stipulating equal pay for work of equal value.
December 21, 1964 — Rio Tinto starts the iron ore boom, signing a deal to export the first Pilbara iron ore to Japanese steel mills. After Japan, Australia supplied South Korea, Taiwan and then China as our economy became integrated with the new steel-making and manufacturing centre of the world.
June 24, 1965 — The Financial Review predicts mining exports will overtake wool as Australia’s major foreign exchange earner within a decade. The 1950s and 1960s were a period when major new mineral discoveries were made in Australia. The growth of the ASX All Mining Index reflected the overall effect of these major discoveries on the market, growing by 25 per cent per annum, on average, over the 11 years from 1958 to 1968.
March 24, 1966 — The federal government takes the first steps to remove restrictions on non-white migrants to Australia. While the policy was not renounced until 1973, Australia is now home to people from 200 countries and is one of the most diverse populations in the world. Before the pandemic in 2020, international students were the country’s fourth-largest export industry, and Chinese students made up 30 per cent.
June 9, 1967 — The BHP-Esso partnership discovers the Kingfish oil field in Bass Strait in Victoria – the biggest oil deposit ever found in Australia. BHP topped a table of the 10 largest companies published in 1952, a position it would hold for each of the next seven decades bar two. The mining company, with its roots in the 1880s in a small outback town called Broken Hill, has become the world’s biggest diversified resources company.
December 10, 1969 — Macquarie Group’s predecessor, Hill Samuel Australia, opens its doors with three staff and will go on to receive a banking licence in March 1985. Chanticleer reported that chairman David Clarke was “pitching the banking operations at what is generically termed as the ‘high net worth individual’.” Today, Macquarie’s sprawling global empire spans 28 countries, includes 14,000 staff, has posted 54 years of unbroken profitability and makes 68 per cent of its profits offshore.
The economic boom of the 1960s hit the wall in the 1970s amid high inflation, wages blowouts and high unemployment, though successive oil shocks stimulated a Queensland-based coal boom. But this boom, too, went bust, sending Australia into a deep recession.
March 18, 1970 — At the start of the decade, Australia was in the middle of its most spectacular mining boom and the star was Poseidon after it struck nickel at Windarra. At its peak Poseidon had a market capitalisation of $700 million, not bad for a company that only had one mine. As the Financial Review’s Trevor Sykes wrote: “The mining boom of 1969-70 developed into a form of mass hysteria. This may be deplorable, but until we can change the fundamentals of the human psyche, people will be prone to mass hysteria occasionally and the stock exchange is probably the most harmless outlet for it. After all, it’s only money.”
January, 1971 — Kerry Stokes was adopted, left school at 14 and got his first job in Perth installing television aerials. While he is best known for controlling the Seven television network and WA newspapers, it was property developments in the 1960s and 1970s that carved out his initial bedrock. Anticipating the shift to suburban life, he listed a shopping centre company on the Perth exchange in 1971. Now the resources sector is fuelling the bulk of his wealth, which was $7.18 billion on the 2021 Rich List.
July 15, 1971 — While the first Australian-made Holden rolled off the line in 1948, it was the Kingswood that went on sale in 1971 that became the biggest-selling model ever. Seven years earlier, Holden posted a $42 million profit, the largest profit shown by a company in Australia at the time and bigger than BHP’s. Holden was selling 14,000 cars a month and couldn’t keep up with demand. It shut down manufacturing in 2017, a year after Ford and Toyota.
February 18, 1972 — The first Pierpont column conceived by Trevor Sykes to report financial scandal with humour is published. Sykes came up with the idea of an elderly fictional character enjoying Bollinger with men of wealth and power in the “Croesus” Club. The column was hugely popular and Pierpont didn’t put down his pen until January 6, 2017, 44 years later.
May, 1972 — Italian immigrant Carla Zampatti opened her first boutique in Sydney’s Surry Hills after launching her label in 1965 with £600 in savings. The pioneering designer created nothing less than a new aesthetic for Australian women – and forged a path for them in business like no other.
December 2, 1972 — The Labor Party led by Gough Whitlam wins the federal election and enters office for the first time in 23 years. While Whitlam was spectacularly dismissed in 1975, he brought radical changes, introducing national health insurance, Aboriginal land rights, the Racial Discrimination Act, no-fault divorce and the Trade Practices Act, and abolishing university fees. He recognised China, cut tariff protections and abolished conscription. “Without this old man the land and human rights of our people would never have seen the light of day,” Indigenous activist Noel Pearson eulogised at Whitlam’s funeral.
October 17, 1973 — OPEC declares an oil embargo against the US which supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War. By the end of the embargo – in March 1974 – the oil price had almost tripled. Australia’s inflation rate, which had been about 4 per cent in the mid ’60s, reached 10.4 per cent in the year to the September quarter of 1973, before the oil crisis compounded the problem.
July 8, 1974 — Robert Gottliebsen launches the Chanticleer column, which he was going to call “Chancellor” until then Financial Review editor Max Walsh suggested: ‘Not Chancellor – Chanticleer’. “The Chaucer character was a brilliant choice,” Gottliebsen recalled... “although I knew I had to perform or be tagged with ‘a lot of cock’.” Still Australia’s premier business column, it is now written by Tony Boyd and James Thomson.
September 30, 1974 — As interest rates hit 17.5 per cent, five major property companies failed in four months and “September 30, 1974 was the blackest day on Australian stock exchanges this century,” journalist Trevor Sykes recalled in 1988. Further property crises followed and the cycle was repeated in the ’80s. “It’s amazing that the banks and other financiers learned so few lessons from this long and quite traumatic string of failures in the second half of the ’70s,” Sykes wrote.
December 24, 1974 — After Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin on Christmas morning, Qantas established a world record for the most people ever embarked on an aircraft when it evacuated 673 people on a single Boeing 747 flight. The airline has evacuated Australians from many overseas emergencies including Cairo, Sri Lanka and Wuhan.
July 26, 1975 — After 104 years as an all-male club, accountant Jean Gordon becomes the first female member of the Sydney Stock Exchange. Gordon’s advice to young women in business: forget you're a woman. “You have a job and you set out to do it to the best of your ability.” The ASX was formed in 1987 and listed in 1998.
The ’80s were all about opening up Australia’s closed economy under Labor’s Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. The new business opportunities were grabbed by a breed of stirrers such as Alan Bond, Robert Holmes a Court and John Elliott. These “entrepreneurs” mostly ended up crashing – and Bondy ended up in jail. But, by exploiting the new access to debt financing, they shook up Australia’s lazy corporate structures.
December 1, 1980 — Financial Review journalist and later editor Colleen Ryan reveals the existence of “bottom of the harbour” tax avoidance schemes. Treasurer John Howard was forced to bring in special retrospective legislation banning the schemes and extracting back taxes. The law still exists today.
August 3, 1981 — Cochlear is formed as a division of Paul Trainor’s Nucleus Group with finance from the Australian government to commercialise the implants pioneered by Dr Graeme Clark and hires its first employee. In 1995, Catherine Livingstone floated Cochlear making history as the first women to lead an ASX100 company. Today, the company holds more than two-thirds of the worldwide hearing implant market, with more than 250,000 people receiving one of Cochlear’s implants since 1982.
November 18, 1981 — The deregulation of financial services spawned by the 1981 Campbell report recommendations laid the foundation for Australia’s relatively sophisticated, competitive and efficient market-based finance sector. These reforms transformed the financial sector into a pillar of the modern Australian economy that has supported the unbroken prosperity of close to the past three decades.
April 14, 1982 — After the oil price shock, the Financial Review predicted the deep recession of 1982-83. Editor-in-chief P.P. McGuinness warned: “The Australian economy is plunging into recession. And between them, the federal government and the arbitration commission are likely to ensure that the recession deepens into a genuine depression.”
February 1983 — The “prices and incomes accord” was a series of agreements between Labor and the ACTU where unions would moderate their wage demands in exchange for improvements in the “social wage”. Wage increases, for example, were brought under control through the Accord process and inflation declined to an average rate of about 8 per cent.
September 26, 1983 — Alan Bond was the ultimate bold rider of the 1980s. His victory in the America’s Cup was celebrated as a national triumph. The English-born Bond, who arrived in Australia in 1950, left school at 14. Starting as an apprentice signwriter in Perth, he built a global empire, becoming Australia’s biggest corporate larrikin. By 1988, Bond was the world’s fifth-largest brewer, owned the Nine Network and paid $70 million for Van Gogh’s Irises. His empire collapsed in the ’90s and he went to jail in 1997.
December 17, 1983 — The Hawke government floated the Australian dollar and abolished most restrictions on the international movement of capital, one of the most profound economic policy decisions in Australia’s modern history. “There is no doubt the market has endorsed the government’s view of what had to be done,” the Financial Review’s front page reported. Two years later, foreign banks were granted full banking licences. Other restrictions were relaxed and loans became much more freely available. The increase in credit available to the business sector fuelled expansion in corporations and increased takeover activity.
September 20, 1985 — Treasurer Paul Keating announces a fringe benefits tax, capital gains tax and dividend imputation. To sweeten the deal, the top tax rate was cut from 60 per cent to 49 per cent. “Labor’s national ambition for Australia was a world-competitive economy underpinning an egalitarian and inclusive society,” Paul Keating said.
October 20, 1987 — The Australian market fell by 516 points or about 25 per cent. It continued to fall for the next couple of weeks before troughing at 1151 on November 11. In all, the market fell by 50 per cent from its peak. In October, immediately before the crash, Trevor Sykes wrote: “On fundamentals such as net tangible asset backing and price-earning multiples, there is hardly a stock on the boards worth buying. But many are still going to rise and the trick is to pick the runners in the market.” In the following years, many entrepreneurs who had expanded rapidly in the bull market went under, including Alan Bond and Christopher Skase.
June 1989 — The government announces it will cut tariffs for most imports, recognising that a protected, inefficient manufacturing sector is a luxury we can no longer afford. Industry is more exposed to competition from international best practice. Australia is gradually, but surely, turning itself into a clever country and exporting its clever ideas to the world.
August 15, 1989 — Property, in particular commercial property, boomed after the sharemarket crash. In Sydney, prices soared to around $9000 per square metre from below $4000. The eventual collapse, coinciding with the 1990 recession, caused greater financial distress than the earlier sharemarket bubble. Two of the largest banks in Australia, Westpac and ANZ, experienced significant losses as a result of their exposure to bad debts from failed commercial property developers.
The decade started with a recession when the commercial property bubble burst, signalling the end of the 1980s’ speculative enthusiasm, and ended with another asset bubble when the dotcom boom burst.
November 1990 — Labor’s wage accord strategy with the ACTU was blown up by a spending, credit and asset price boom in the wake of financial deregulation. The Reserve Bank lifted its cash rate to 17 per cent, burst the bubble and crunched the economy. After a second successive quarter of economic contraction was revealed in November 1990, then Treasurer Paul Keating called it “the recession we had to have”.
December 1990 — Fairfax appointed receivers after a disastrous takeover bid by Warwick Fairfax jnr saddled the company with unsustainable debt. The aftershocks from that family bust-up were felt for the next 30 years.
September 13, 1991 — First-time stock investors rushed into the equity market for the float of the Commonwealth Bank, which gave the Australian Stock Exchange its busiest day since the 1987 sharemarket crash. The sale kicked off $30 billion in sales of former Commonwealth assets. Qantas followed in 1995 and Telstra in 1997. “In terms of sheer mass Telstra was the most successful float in Australia’s history. Anybody who wanted the shares could have got some, nobody lost money and every shareholder was sitting on handsome gains as the year closed,” Trevor Sykes wrote.
November 1991 — Media baron Kerry Packer was the richest man in Australia when he made his most famous public statement to a Senate inquiry. “I am not evading tax in any way, shape or form. Of course, I am minimising my tax. Anybody in this country who does not minimise his tax wants his head read. I can tell you as a government that you are not spending it so well that we should be donating extra.” By 2021, the family’s political power has faded and the family will control no major operating businesses in Australia for the first time in nearly 90 years.
June 17, 1992 — The Keating government introduces compulsory super. “Superannuation has revolutionised Australia. It is the greatest reform to capital markets in the history of the country,” Keating said. The $3 trillion superannuation pool has become the nation’s largest source of capital formation.
October 1992 — Victoria is in a state of crisis when voters elect Jeff Kennett, a man never encumbered by a sense of fallibility. Over the next eight years, his bulldozing, break-or-bust government privatised essential services and commissioned major projects. “He made Melbourne dynamic and, with the benefit of hindsight, the state is better for his tenure,” The Age editorialised 20 years later.
March 1993 — RBA governor Bernie Fraser first articulates a medium-term target for inflation in a speech to a group of Sydney economists, in the aftermath of the recession. Since then, inflation targeting has been endorsed by each change of government and widely used as the framework for monetary policy. It contributed to keeping the unemployment rate lower and less variable than in earlier periods.
May 2, 1994 — The former Commonwealth Serum Laboratories floats at $2.40 a share. “We were a company under extreme threat,” former CSL boss Brian McNamee recalled in 2016. “The government had done a review and said it [CSL] was of very little value, we had 23 unions on site and a public sector mentality.” Founded in 1916, while World War I was raging, to provide vaccines, serums and antitoxins, today it is worth $131 billion.
March 2, 1996 — John Howard is elected Prime Minister in a landslide and goes on to become the nation’s second-longest-serving leader. He helped set the scene for the longest economic boom since the gold rushes of the 19th century. His government balanced the national books, wiped out government debt, reformed welfare and cut taxes as it implemented a GST.
March 17, 1998 — The Wallis review created the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, which was to be responsible for the supervision of all deposit-taking institutions. Policy was narrowed to prevent a merger between the four major banks only and became known as the four pillars policy. Successive governments have maintained the policy.
Australia was reshaped in the 2000s by a massive China-based resources boom. This bookend to the 1960s Japan-based boom turned Lang Hancock’s daughter, Gina Rinehart, into one of the world’s richest women; allowed Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest to build Australia’s third iron ore major; and cemented BHP and Rio Tinto as two of the world’s great resources companies.
June 2000 — John Howard’s bold decision to take a structural tax reform agenda to the 1998 election came to fruition with the introduction of the goods and services tax. This was, as former treasurer Peter Costello says, the “last great reform”, which marked the end of the era of the dynamic 1980s and 1990s, and the start of the era of political system complacency, underwritten by Australia’s resource boom prosperity.
March 2000 — The dotcom bubble, where businesses struck it rich with little more than an idea and fancy presentation, finally burst wiping $US5 trillion off the market value of companies and dragging the US into recession. Of the 27 tech companies that listed on the ASX in 1999, only six remained four years later.
March, June, 2001 — HIH Insurance collapses in March 2001 with debts of $5.3 billion, triggering a royal commission that changed the face of Australian corporate governance and ushered in a new regulatory paradigm for superannuation, banking, insurance and the securities markets. A few months later, two of the country’s wealthiest families were ensnared in the spectacular failure of One.Tel.
September 11, 2001 — After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, Prime Minister John Howard formally invoked the ANZUS treaty for the first time and immediately committed Australia to what would become its longest war. “In sheer scale, the death and destruction are almost incomprehensible in a time not regarded as a time of war,” Howard told Parliament.
July 18, 2003 — Andrew Forrest, a former stockbroker, starts Fortescue shortly after he was forced by Anglo American, his business partner, to stand down as chief executive of Anaconda Nickel, his first big venture, when it came close to collapse. Anglo American blamed him for mismanaging the company. Shunned by sceptical Australian investors for his next big idea, Forrest went to the US and raised billions of dollars of debt to create “Australia’s third force” in iron ore. By 2008, he was one of the country’s richest men.
August, 17, 2007 — Gail Kelly makes corporate history as the first female CEO of a big four bank, after she started working life as a Latin teacher in South Africa. She left Westpac seven years later with over 40 per cent of senior management female and as the country's highest paid banker. Her advice to women in business was to be bold. "It’s been trouble for me all my life, the sense of gosh, ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not adequate, I’m not going to do this well. I might fail, what happens if I fail?’"
November 24, 2007 — Kevin Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former senior bureaucrat with lots of new policy ideas, surged to victory over an ageing and stubborn-sounding John Howard. He became only the third Labor leader since the war, after Whitlam and Hawke, to capture government from opposition, a considerable achievement. “It is hard to recall the optimism that Kevin Rudd brought with him at his election as Prime Minister in November 2007. Political time and tide ran strongly in his and Labor’s favour,” the Financial Review wrote. But it wasn’t to last. “In little more than 2½ years into his first term, he was axed from the leadership by his own party.”
June 2008 — The start of the global financial crisis in Australia was signalled by the troubles of infrastructure investment giant Babcock & Brown. Within a year, the post-war economic order and even capitalism itself would be shaken to its foundations as financial institutions around the globe unravelled as well. In Australia, Kevin Rudd heeded the advice of his Treasury secretary Ken Henry to avoid a recession: “Go hard, go early, go households.”
December 2008 — Ken Henry led the last attempt at tax reform and released a discussion paper in 2008. However, major parts of the plan were rejected by the Rudd government and the centrepiece, a super profits tax, was killed by the mining industry and triggered Rudd’s political downfall in June 2010. Ten years later, Henry declared he was “absolutely stunned” so little of his blueprint had been implemented, adding the tax system remained “simply unsustainable” to fund government services in the longer term.
October 2009 — Australia makes history by being the first Group of 20 country to raise interest rates since the global financial crisis began. “The period of greatest weakness in the Australian economy has probably passed,” Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens explained.
November 7, 2009 — After huge controversy, a special inquiry and prolonged legal battles, James Hardie agreed to a special compensation fund for payouts to people who had contracted disease after using its products that contained asbestos. Payouts continued, the company survived and by 2021, Hardie had turned around its fortunes.
In the years after the financial crisis, Australia recorded non-stop economic growth and politics lost its head, resulting in six prime ministers in eight years. “The collateral damage on the Australian electorate, let alone our international reputation, from eight years of political brutality has been incalculable. It’s been a conflation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Julius Caesar, and just a touch of the Keystone Cops, in scheming, lying, two-facedness, treachery, blood-letting and ineptitude,” the Financial Review’s Andrew Clark wrote.
June 24, 2010 — Julia Gillard replaces Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in a late-night challenge. The result was not just chronic instability but deep divisions at the highest levels of government. In October 2012, Gillard’s attack on Tony Abbott for misogyny reverberated around the world. “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not. And the government will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. Not now, not ever.” By the 10th anniversary of the coup, the Financial Review wrote that the country’s first female prime minister achieved more than her critics acknowledged.
October 30, 2011 — In a high-stakes gamble, Qantas boss Alan Joyce grounds the airline to break the resolve of unions which were trying to halt the offshoring of jobs. The airline’s recovery can be traced back to that moment. By 2020, Qantas was the world’s most profitable airline and Joyce was a celebrity CEO, recognised for his role in the same-sex marriage vote, and one of the country’s highest-paid bosses.
January 1, 2012 — Melanie Perkins and Cliff Obrecht started a graphic design software company in 2008 while at university in Perth to help schools automate the design of their yearbooks. But they had a bigger dream to remake the future of publishing and founded Canva in 2012. The pair are today among the 10 wealthiest Australians after their company hit a valuation of $19.6 billion in 2021.
November 25, 2013 — The Financial Review celebrates 50 years as a national daily with a recounting of how it influenced national reform. “It took 100 years for the Commonwealth of Australia to become a common market,” wrote Vic Carroll, a former editor. “The first 50 years were spent in the trenches of two world wars, two huge droughts and the currency’s attachment to sterling. In the second 50 years, Australia opened up to itself and the world. The AFR was first to concentrate on this story.”
September 2015 — Malcolm Turnbull remains one of the more interesting figures to grace Australian politics, the Financial Review’s Andrew Clark wrote in 2020. “A centrist by nature, a man with unquenchable ambition and energy to match, he ushered in a more plural society, and was the first Australian leader to effectively call out China’s raging regional ambitions. From his election as MP for Wentworth in 2004 to his dramatic resignation from Parliament within a week of his losing the prime minister’s position, Malcolm made his mark.”
December 10, 2015 — Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar list their enterprise software maker, Atlassian, on the Nasdaq. The company, founded in 2002 using $10,000 in credit card debt, closed its first day as a public company worth $7.9 billion, or about the same amount as Qantas. By May 2021, the company was worth $72 billion, which would make it the eighth-largest listed company in Australia if it were listed on the ASX.
May 2017 — Indigenous leaders ask the country to enshrine a First Nations voice in the Constitution “to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country,” the Uluru statement says. Former High Court justice Murray Gleeson backed the plan in 2019, saying: “What is proposed is a voice to Parliament, not a voice in Parliament.”
November 15, 2017 — More than 61 per cent of Australians vote “yes” in the historic voluntary postal survey. “The vote makes clear that Australian society retains a tradition of enlightenment that values reason, individual liberty, religious tolerance and human progress,” the Financial Review said. “Rather than race, gender or sexual oppression, the enlightenment story of western civilisation is one of human rights and progress.”
July 25, 2018 — Shemara Wikramanayake lived in three countries and went to five schools by the age of 13, an upbringing she says helped her live a “no-regrets life” and rise to the top of Macquarie Group. “You shouldn’t restrict yourself to the box that you come in ... I am not the ethnicity, skin colour, gender or height, or lack thereof, of the typical Australian business person. But that has all been irrelevant to my ability to contribute to the things I think are important to me,” she said.
July 27, 2018 — The legacy companies of the Fairfax family’s almost 150 years as newspaper proprietors and the Packer family’s 56 years at the helm of Nine announce a merger. The new company will take the Nine name, extinguishing one of the oldest names in newspaper publishing in the English-speaking world.
August 24, 2018 — Scott Morrison emerges as Australia’s 30th prime minister and its fifth in as many years after a boilover result in a Liberal party room ballot. Josh Frydenberg is the new deputy leader. A year later Morrison pulled off one of the most memorable victories in Australian politics to secure the Coalition a third consecutive term.
February 1, 2019 — Judge Ken Hayne finds the banks put their profits and bonuses ahead of customers’ best interests after a year-long royal commission marked by drama. The problems emerged in bank wealth businesses, the Financial Review said, “with complex and alien cultures that traditional banks had bought into during the golden age of booming property markets and profits, clearly without putting adequate governance and controls in place”. The royal commission shredded the reputation of the banks.
The decade started with a year unlike any other. The coronavirus pandemic created the most extraordinary crisis in living memory and the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression. Governments unleashed $311 billion in emergency spending and the Reserve Bank slashed interest rates to practically zero.
March 10, 2020 — Three Australians had died of the novel coronavirus called COVID-19 when Scott Morrison addresses the Financial Review Business Summit. By the end of the year, Australia’s toll would be 910. “Whatever you thought 2020 was going to be about. Think again,” the Prime Minister said. Days before announcing a massive stimulus package, he warned the economic blow from the global health crisis would be worse than the GFC.
March 20, 2020 — Australia officially enters a seven-week lockdown, shutting millions of businesses. Within a month almost 600,000 jobs had been officially lost, while 3.5 million were being propped up by the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme as the government unleashed $250 billion in budget stimulus. The banks agreed to loan repayment holidays, avoiding a wave of defaults that would have compounded the economic carnage.
June 6, 2020 — Australia’s first recession in 29 years was forced on the economy by the pandemic. Instead of the first budget surplus in a decade, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg presided over the biggest government spending program in Australian history to cushion the sharpest economic downturn since the 1930s Depression. The Financial Review called it “the virus recession we had to have”.
August 24, 2020 — AMP chairman David Murray, director John Fraser and banker Boe Pahari resign over a sexual harassment claim, underlining the “time’s up” message of the sexual harassment controversy at one of Australia’s oldest and traditionally most respected financial institutions. The exodus showed tolerating sexually harassing behaviour is no longer acceptable in the modern workplace.
November 27, 2020 — This was the year that technology ate the Young Rich List. Spurred on by the pandemic lockdown, a staggering 81 per cent of the $39.6 billion wealth represented by the 100 people on the list owes its existence to binary code. Altogether, tech entrepreneurs make up more than half the list for the first time, showing the online world is an egalitarian pathway to wealth, in theory for anyone with an idea and an internet connection.
December 21, 2020 — Afterpay, a payments company loved by Millennials, enters the elite club of top-20 listed companies after one of the most volatile but transformative years in the history of the Australian sharemarket. One of Australia’s great corporate success stories, Afterpay’s share price exceeded $122 on the day it entered the top 20, just five years after it was started by Nick Molnar and his former neighbour Anthony Eisen, catapulting the pair onto the Rich List. Afterpay announced its sale to Square for a stunning $39b in August 2021.
May 11, 2021 — Australia pulls off an astounding recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. After the mass layoffs of 2020, the biggest shortage now is not of jobs but of workers. The Treasurer claimed the economy was “roaring back to life” as he handed down $29 billion in surprise tax cuts and $33 billion in spending. The Financial Review criticised the budget spendathon and lack of reform. “To have a budget for the recovery still with so much Keynes and so little Milton Friedman is a worrying comment on the inability of Australia to manage its own recovery.”
The Financial Review has provided the first draft of the history of Australian business, and the nation, over the past seven decades. We will continue to explain their story in the decades ahead.
Andrew Clark, Fiona Buffini, Financial Review archives
Les Hewitt, Michaela Pollock
David Esplin, Lauren Oldfield
Ben Beilharz, Daniel Stephens, Chandana Kalupahana, Prafful Jagtap