Freelancing Gods 2015

20 Nov 2010

The Changing State of Leadership in Australian Politics

I’ve just devoured the latest Quarterly Essay, titled Trivial Pursuit: Leadership and the End of the Reform Era, by political journalist George Megalogenis.

It’s an interesting read – it’s filled in a few holes in my political knowledge (though that’s not too hard to do), and it’s provided an intelligent take on the current leadership crisis Australian politics is facing.

There’s plenty of thoughts from it that are buzzing around my head which I’d like to share – and would appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Generational support in the Major Parties

The Greens are building a considerable supporter base within Generation Y – and people often don’t switch parties as they get older, so this could lead to them being a serious player in Australian politics within the coming decade. However, the Baby Boomers are predominantly Coalition supporters. Keeping in mind our ageing population, in our most recent federal election 46% of voters were aged 50 or older.

Then factor this in: the ALP have dominated in the eastern states in particular – and yet there’s a decent chance that all three of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland will swich to Coalition Governments over the coming two years.

So: where does this leave the ALP on a Federal level?

Red and Blue States

Another divide is through the middle of the country: South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT all had swings towards the ALP in the most recent election. NSW was rather ambivalent, whereas Queensland and Western Australia favoured the Coalition.

Yes, inner city electorates have always been progressive in comparison to their rural siblings. But arguably this is a little more distinct. How would you go about being a leader for all of Australia?

Lead by Example

Hawke, Keating and early Howard were seen as true leaders – they led by action (ie: reform). Later, Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott have all played by the polls, instead of leading with their own ideals and conviction. The abandoning of the ETS is a prime example of how the second approach failed Labor.

Playing to the polls is not healthy – far better to lead, and bring the country with you. Give them something to vote for, instead of being the least-worst option.

Stick to your guns – people are more willing to forgive you if you’ve got clear convictions. Consider Howard’s GST policy as an example. I’d quote others from Hawke and Keating, but I really don’t have the history chops to be confident in what I’d be saying.

Faster! Faster!

The pace of the media cycle is dangerous – there is the expectation of constant news. Our political leaders must push back against this desire. They need to plan out policy carefully, and not bombard people with a whole lot of small pieces of information.

Depth instead of breadth should be the focus – but that’s a hard thing to manage given our short attention spans. (A curse of the internet, perhaps?)

Be Prepared to Negotiate

This isn’t something from the book, but I think hung parliaments are going to become far more common. The Greens are coming into their own, and the combined ALP and Coalition vote hasn’t come close to 90% since 1993, when Keating beat Hewson. When 15-20% of voters are regularly looking beyond the two major parties, that makes a majority far harder to capture.

Does this all sound reasonable? Are my biases clouding my own perceptions? Is there anything you’d like to add?

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