Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Question of Leadership

New Year’s Day saw the release of Cabinet Papers from the Hawke era and a revelation that then Prime Minister Bob Hawke had unilaterally decided to extend student visas to Chinese students in Australia who otherwise may have been caught up in the melee of Tiananmen Square if forced to return to China.

That Bob Hawke made this decision without reference to his Cabinet colleagues or the Labor Party Caucus signifies either one of two things: the abuse of power by an ego-driven megalomaniac or the astute exercise of executive power by a compassionate leader.  Compare and contrast this to the frankly bizarre nomination by the current Prime Minister of Prince Philip, the Queen's consort, for an Australian knighthood on Australia Day.  The motivation for which is being thoroughly questioned by almost everyone.  Also a "captain's call.

Clearly, this commentator regards the former as visionary; the latter as, well, misguided.

Compassionate leadership, decisive solutions and an ability to “bring the people along” with them are rare and valuable attributes in a profession that has suffered an incredible downturn in its public profile in the last decade: namely, politics.

A recent Australian National University study has shown that under 45% of people regard it as relevant which of the two major political parties are in power and, by inference, wish “a pox on both their houses”.  Politicians are held so much in disdain that the old adage about knowing when a politician is lying by seeing their lips moving has never been truer in the public’s opinion. (

The rise of “personality” politicians: everyone from Pauline Hanson to Jackie Lambie, may be one response to the general demise of the political class.  And this is exacerbated by the rise of the Presidential-style leadership model that has become the norm in modern Australian political parties.

The phenomenon arguably began with “Honest John” Howard and his gratuitous appeal to the “Howard’s Battlers”.  A carefully managed persona, heavily scripted talking points and carefully stage-managed public “events” beginning with the Lazarus-with-a-triple-bypass accession to the Prime Ministership through the morning walks in Australian tracksuit to appearing in front of the gun lobby in a bullet-proof vest following the buy-back scheme.  And this careful image management has carried on until today.  Indeed, it could reasonably be argued that the Abbott Prime Ministership is the most heavily controlled or presidentialized performance ever seen in the Australian Polity. 

And the Australian public have seen through it.

Wary of three-word slogans, zingers and scripted lines delivered like automatons reading straight off the autocue, Australians have turned off in droves to the political debate in this country.  And who can blame them.  Australians don’t like politics but they are savvy enough to know that politics affects them every day.  They don’t want choreographed responses to problems they don’t even know exist in the first place.  What Australians want, and, I would argue, need given the concerning state of the nation’s moral compass, is strong, compassionate and decisive leadership.  Leadership that: identifies problems; proposes reforms; and, shapes the future direction of the nation.  A future direction that inspires us.

And I'm absolutely convinced that the conferring of a knighthood on the Queens Consul is not in resonance with the general mood of the Australian population and does not reflect the kind of leadership we are looking for.

It remains to be seen if there is a leader from either side of the political spectrum out there who can bring the people along with them and provide the decisive leadership that Hawkey showed in 1989.  There are always some glimmers of hope but it would indeed be a tragedy if another Tiananmen Square was required to flush one out.

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