Tag Archives: leadership

Book review: Keating, by Kerry O’Brien

The Conversation

Natalie Mast, University of Western Australia

Expanding upon his ABC TV interview series, Kerry O’Brien’s newly published conversation with former prime minister Paul Keating provides a fascinating study in leadership. By using a conversational format, O’Brien is able to provide a greater degree of focus on controversial issues than a reader would find in a straight narrative-style biography or autobiography.

Throughout the book, Keating is given ample opportunity to set the scene, explain the position of the major players and outline his strategies. The book’s strength is that O’Brien then draws in alternative points of view to challenge Keating’s position.

The apprenticeship

Keating makes it clear that, from a young age, he was interested in power and the gaining of it. He sought out mentors, including former NSW premier Jack Lang, seeking to learn from political triumphs and setbacks:

What I particularly picked up from Lang was his use of language, the force of his language.

Keating’s apprenticeship in the use of power ranged from learning the history of the ALP to developing an understanding of human nature. It is clear that Keating made an effort to understand the drivers influencing the various players he was dealing with.

During his time in parliament, and particularly while a backbencher, Keating sought out “subject matter experts” from bureaucracy and industry. He would absorb the issues in a particular sector and use that knowledge to aid in the policies he developed.

I was essentially sucking experience from them. Experience that was central to building a composite picture of the economy and the power equation.

No man is an island

Within the discussion, Keating credits those he worked with to bring about reform. ACTU secretary Bill Kelty is portrayed as a partner without whom reforms such as the Accord would not have been possible.

Numerous Treasury officials and Keating’s own economic advisers, many of whom were recruited from the department, also garner significant praise. Cabinet ministers in the Hawke government – such as Peter Walsh, John Dawkins, Brian Howe and Gareth Evans – all receive high praise at different points.

Keating repeats on a number of occasions his respect for the cabinet process:

I always believed in the cabinet process and treated the cabinet with great seriousness. You can’t make changes on this scale without the cabinet and caucus coming with you. And despite how some of the cartoons may have depicted me, you can’t rule the Labor Party like some sort of emperor.

Keating notes the importance of leadership in cabinet, which he felt was missing in the later Hawke years, and which he tried to engender during his own prime ministership:

Without being bombastic or overbearing, if the leader provides the intellectual framework and the uplift, it’s contagious. Properly arraigning the arguments and the authority can get an updraft that lifts the whole cabinet, and all perform.

There can be only one

The relationship between Bob Hawke and Keating dominates the first two-thirds of the book. Keating stresses how productive the partnership was for most of the period in which he served as treasurer.

Keating insists that for much of the 1980s he considered Hawke both a colleague and a close friend:

We were on such a roll in that first year and the economic changes we wanted were coming through. Bob luxuriated in all that and so did I. It was a genuine friendship, not just one born out of pragmatism.

In any high-stress situation tempers fray. And while Keating recalls the details of arguments with Hawke, he notes the relationship quickly got back on track. For example, on Hawke not supporting Keating’s attempt to introduce a consumption tax, Keating says:

Bob should not have sold me down the drain overnight at some motel without telling me, but he did. Even so, I pretty well forgave him and kept working co-operatively with him.

Keating claims that by 1989 he thought Hawke would not abide by the terms of the Kirribilli agreement:

… Bob never accepted that there were two leaders in the one government and that, at some point, he had to make space for the other. His vanity led him to believe he was the one and only one. In the end he was prepared to deploy a lie, a deception, to stay on unchallenged for three years.

Following a loss in his first challenge to Hawke, Keating outlines how he was planning to leave parliament at the start of 1992 and enter the business world. But Hawke’s decision to recall parliament for one day sealed his fate and elevated Keating to the prime ministership.

I felt a big weight fall on me. For all the issues between us, I didn’t want to see Bob go on these terms. I was sad to see Bob go down like that. You might think that’s strange, but there was a point of affection between Bob and me. You’ve got to know this. That’s why I used to think, “Do the right thing by yourself, Bob, and stick to the agreement.” When he didn’t, he opted to fight it out and lost.

Paul Keating planned to leave parliament after his first, unsuccessful challenge to
Bob Hawke for the leadership. 
AAP/Paul Miller

The visionary

A great deal of the section devoted to the Keating prime ministership focuses on the big ideas he was pursuing.

As much he was a political animal – in terms of being attuned to the drivers behind the opposition, the factions within his own party, business, the unions and the electorate more generally – Keating was prepared to gamble to bring about reform he believed in:

I was the outsider to win the 1993 election but you’ve got to practise what you preach. I always believed that you should burn the capital as you run to the poll rather than conserving it, being Mr Safe Guy. A seminal issue like this (native title) and its remedy provide the uplift that any political personality needs, doing what is right and good.

More than any other reform, the Native Title Act highlights the triumph of policy over politics. Facing a scare campaign from the Liberals and Nationals, significant opposition from the states and business, as well as battling ingrained racism within the Australian public, Keating ran with the High Court’s decision on Mabo. This, despite the fact that resolving the issue of native title was never going to be a vote-winner.

With – among other policies – APEC’s evolution into a leaders forum, the move towards a republic, the Native Title Act, the introduction of Creative Nation, compulsory superannuation, and the focus on the importance of Kokoda, Keating worked to redefine Australia – both as a middle power on the global stage and within the psyche of the nation itself.

A true Australian leader

Keating’s wielding of power, both as treasurer and prime minister, brought about a breadth of change the nature of which Australia is unlikely to see again.

Keating’s view of leadership drove his behaviour. During his “Placido Domingo” speech at the National Press Club in 1990, he opined:

Leadership is not about being popular. It’s about being right and being strong. And it’s not about whether you go through some shopping centre tripping over the TV crews’ cords. It’s about doing what you think the nation requires, making profound judgements about profound issues.

Over the course of the book, O’Brien has provided the platform for Keating to define his political career, explain what drove his reform agenda and cement his position as one of Australia’s greatest leaders. Between them, they have provided a gripping account of one of the most important periods in Australia’s development.

The ConversationNatalie Mast, Associate Director, Performance Analytics, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Frydenberg accuses grand mufti of an attempted ‘cover up’ and failure of leadership

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg has accused Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, of seeking to “cover up” his failure of leadership in the wake of the Paris attacks, and said Australians have to understand the “sheer nature” of the Islamic State (IS) threat.

Frydenberg said it was necessary to acknowledge that religion was part of the problem.

Those who preached hate in the mosques had to be disrupted, and “we have to focus on integration as opposed to segregation in the schools,” he said.

The Grand Mufti said the incidents highlighted that current strategies to deal with the threat of terrorism were not working and therefore “all causative factors” must be comprehensively addressed. These included “racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention”.

After much criticism, a follow-up statement said: “It is incorrect to imply that the reference to causative factors provides justification for these acts of terrorism. There is no justification for the taking of innocent lives.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was careful in his comments and welcomed the clarification.

But Frydenberg, in tough comments on Sky, said: “The Grand Mufti failed in his leadership with his statement. He sought to cover that up subsequently, but it was a graphic failure.

“And he has more of a responsibility, not only to the Muslim community, but to the community at large, because all our security is at risk,” he said.

“We need to acknowledge the significance of this threat, to acknowledge that religion is part of this problem and thirdly – because this is the key point – we need to deal with it at a hard edge with the military response but also we need to deal with a counter narrative.”

Frydenberg justified his allegation that the grand mufti was guilty of an attempted “cover up” by saying his first reaction “was his instinctive reaction”.

He would not be drawn on whether the grand mufti should resign. “That’s a question for the Mufti and for the Islamic community”.

The vast majority of the Islamic community appreciated the significance of this extremist threat and wanted to see the end of it, Frydenberg said.

There were wonderful members of the Islamic community in Australia “and I want to hear those moderate voices,” he said. “We need to hear more of those voices, because clearly we’re not winning the battle of hearts and minds, and we do need to win it.”

He said he would not accept that terrorism in our cities was the new norm. “Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said we have to accept that violent extremism is part of contemporary Australia. Well, I say no. That’s rubbish. I will not accept that.”

Saying this was a problem within Islam, Frydenberg said extremists were a minority – “but it’s a significant minority … and it does pose a challenge to our way of life in Australia”.

“As the Australian community, we have to acknowledge the seriousness of this threat, the reasons for it, and try to deal with it in a very considered and, as the prime minister said, calm and strategic way,” he said.

Frydenberg was in Paris after the attacks, and spoke emotionally about the experience.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, asked about Frydenberg’s comments said it was “important for all members of parliament to be leaders that bring our community together”.

“The most important partners we have in the fight against violent extremism is the Muslim community.”

The ConversationMichelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Why politics today can’t give us the heroes we need

The Conversation

Mark Triffitt, University of Melbourne

Churchill, Roosevelt (FDR and Eleanor), JFK and Thatcher – depending on your politics, they’re all political heroes.

We place them on a pedestal because their special qualities set them apart. Through far-sighted action, they persevered and succeeded (mostly) in the face of adversity and often ridicule.

It was American writer Joseph Campbell who first alerted us to the perpetual and profound influence of heroes in our daily lives. Campbell’s seminal book The Hero with a Thousand Faces – written more than five decades ago – highlighted how the “hero” story pervades every culture and creed.

While heroes come in various guises, the underlying themes that make their stories so compelling – daring, vision and strength – are largely the same. Heroes transcend the limitations of our world. In doing so, they give us a glimpse of our own potential and inspire us to achieve more.

For Campbell, such is the ubiquity of the “hero” story that it represents the central narrative of humanity. That’s why everyone – and every system – needs their heroes.

What has become of political heroes?

Much has been made of the depth of public disillusionment with our current democratic system. Campbell’s “hero” thesis may provide another guide to understanding this. It may also help us understand how and why we must address it.

After all, who would we say are our political heroes now?

On a global stage, some might point to Barack Obama or perhaps Angela Merkel. But generally the well is almost dry. This is evidenced by opinion polling showing trust in, and respect for, politicians at record lows across most Western democracies.

Kevin Rudd’s record level of voter support was an improbable and temporary state of affairs. AAP/Dean Lewins

In Australia, political heroes are non-existent. From time to time we believe we have one in our midst. Think of Kevin Rudd’s stellar rise to leadership. Likewise with Mark Latham, Malcolm Turnbull, Julia Gillard and even Tony Abbott (before things went pear-shaped for the current government).

The pattern has become depressingly predictable. The “next big thing” steps onto the political stage to intense hope and excitement. Finally, we hope, here’s the political hero we’ve been looking for.

Then they are ripped down in quick time. Some personal failing inevitably emerges, or some skeleton falls from the cupboard.

‘Gotcha’ politics tears down leaders

We blame the declining quality of our elected representatives for this chronically sad state of affairs. Their personal strengths and characteristics have seemingly deteriorated to such an extent that politics has become an arena almost exclusively of “anti-heroes”.

When they’re not ripping off taxpayers with shonky entitlements, they’re disconnecting themselves from the real world with arcane ideological and factional fights. When they should be fixing the big problems of our age, they obsess over childish finger-pointing and three-second soundbites.

Certainly, the argument has merit. Politics has increasingly become an echo chamber where many MPs have only ever been professional politicians, or emerged from a narrow band of professions that lead to politics.

Inside this bunker, individual behaviour and values gravitate to mediocrity and group-think – the antithesis of hero qualities.

John F. Kennedy’s 1963 speech in Berlin rang around the world, but he may never have become president in today’s political system. EPA

But consider this. What if JFK, with all his charisma and oratory, entered American politics now? How long before he would be tagged as a philandering creep riding into power on the coattails of his Nazi-appeasing father?

And Churchill? Would the English public and press allow the person responsible for the strategic farce of Gallipoli to become their leader in the second world war? And would Australia fight alongside him?

And what about Churchill’s “black dog”? Any sniff of mental instability in today’s political world effectively spells the end of leadership, or leadership ambitions.

Their times were far different. There were no social media or “liar” hashtags. There were much fewer “gotcha” campaigns aimed at carpet-bombing the reputation of rival politicians. There was no internet to instantly cross-reference and fact-check anything and everything a politician has ever thought, said or done.

But that is exactly the point. Today’s media and social environment no longer allows any politician – no matter how well-meaning, smart or brave he or she is 98% of the time – to be put on a pedestal for any length of time.

In this era of hyper-transparency, no potential political hero gets out of here alive.

No time or space for redemption

But heroes are more than just about reputation and credibility. In the hero’s journey, as Campbell highlighted, redemption is a central part of the story. Heroes overcome their personal flaws by acting decisively and strategically to create a better world.

But this means having the scope and time to think coherently and deeply about this future world. It means heroes having at their disposal the economic and social policy levers that they can deftly shift to deliver on their vision. It means taking control of the future by leading the rest of us bravely into a world where we otherwise would not dare to venture.

All this is basically impossible in today’s political environment. In essence, our system – and the politicians who inhabit it – is on the verge of being “de-futured” and “de-levered”.

Our political system still assumes the world around it moves in a comparatively slow way. So it shackles parliaments to drawn-out decision processes, which are meant to give our elected representatives time and scope to decide on policy action.

In the meantime, our hyper-sped 21st-century world passes it by, forcing politicians to retreat into the only sphere of action they can control, namely the short term.

Our system assumes that our elected representatives, despite their flaws, are still the prime decision-makers on policymaking. In the meantime, our hyper-expert world has turned them into comparative dunces.

It assumes that national parliaments will always be the predominant realm that decides what, in terms of policy, will have a major and ongoing impact on the citizens they represent. Yet our hyper-scaled, globalised world turns parliaments into bit players.

None of the assumptions our system depends upon to function make sense in the context of massive changes wrought by globalisation and the internet over the last two decades.

A leader afflicted today by the ‘black dog’ of depression is unlikely to tower over politics like Churchill did. EPA/Facundon Arrizabalaga

So, encased in a system that takes away the ability to act in a heroic way, would a Churchill or Roosevelt of today succeed as they did before? Or would they fail miserably? More likely the latter.

A new model may let heroes emerge

What this underscores is the urgent need to reform our current configuration of democratic politics.

There is any number of potential solutions. These include a shift to deliberative democracy, which effectively gives citizens much more direct input into policy-making. This recognises that politicians no longer have all, or even some, of the answers.

Other solutions include using collaborative, internet-based technology to promote quicker policy decisions that still allow for transparency and significant public input. They also include stronger transnational forums to address the problems of a globalised world, which no single country or parliament can tackle.

Under these proposals, political heroes may no longer come from the political class. What may emerge is a different kind of hero – the citizen-politician. They not only promote change like a Gandhi or Martin Luther King, but are also put into the driver’s seat to enact important policy and turn their vision of a brave new world into reality.

Either way, Campbell’s hero thesis should alert us to why reforming our political system is the most important challenge of our time. A system without heroes diminishes all of us. It is also a system that cannot survive.

This article was co-published with DemocracyRenewal.

The ConversationMark Triffitt is Lecturer, Public Policy at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.


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