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A Message to Tony Abbott

For some considerable time I have bitten my tongue, not wanting to venture into the world of partisan politics. (As my gentle readers know I have tried to be ecumenical in most things and do not want to offend any of your sensibilities!)

We have an election next Saturday, and unless I, and many other observers of the political process, am misguided, in a week’s time we shall have a new government headed by Tony Abbott.

Forgetting politics, there is much to admire about Tony Abbott. (I am trying to introduce a new concept in political commentary of really and truly being positive!) He is a Rhodes Scholar, he has shown exemplary behaviour in supporting community service such as volunteering for the rural firefighting services, various charity causes and being a great advocate in a practical way for indigenous people.

Nevertheless in my idealism I would like to relay to Mr Abbott my expectations of him as prime minister.

1.       Level with Us

Be truthful with us. We are adults and in the course of our lives we have had to contend with good things and bad. Don’t be afraid to be up front with the bad news, but don’t confect it to score political points. Similarly we are happy to hear the good news as well but don’t artificially take credit for the good news when it is not deserved.

2.       Don’t Confuse Action with Words

Announcing stuff might give you a warm inner glow but achievements require more than announcements and good intentions. Show us some results on the ground before you crow too much.

3.       Keep the Long Term in Mind

I want somebody who is working for the welfare of my grandchildren. I will be incensed to see you making populist decisions with just the next election in mind. I want you to spend the taxpayers money prudently in ways to maximise the benefits. Forget about “pork barrelling” in marginal electorates. Do things that will leave a real economic legacy.

4.       Be Clear in What You Stand For

I want you to clearly articulate your values and be consistent in their application. I am sick of politicians who don’t seem to stand for anything and take up issues on an ad hoc basis to curry favour with various constituencies. I might not always agree with you but I will respect you more if I know what you stand for and you are consistent in support of your values.

Sure everybody’s entitled to change their minds every now and then but you will lose me and many more decent voters if you get behind every flavour of the month in an attempt to appear progressive or “with it” to win a few votes.

It might seem paradoxical, but I suspect that if you act according to your deeply held values not only will you be able to live with yourself more of us will be able to live comfortably with you also.

5.       Listen Well

It seems part and parcel of modern politics that politicians surround themselves with a multitude of advisers many of whom don’t have any real connection with the population at large. Do your own reality checks occasionally by talking to the shoppers in the supermarket, the old codgers at the pub, the mums and dad at the P&C meetings or whatever.

This is not to suggest that you shouldn’t listen to advice from other sources, indeed I would encourage it. You have many colleagues and associates who can contribute and I would encourage you to allow them to do so.

Canvas opinion as widely as possible before making your own conclusions.

6.       Show Humility

True leaders understand that no great endeavour is achieved by one person alone. Allow others to share your success with you. Collegiate leadership teams are far more enduring and far more effective than “one man bands”!

And of course without proper humility you cannot adopt the practice of listening well which I suggested above.

7.       Do the Right Things

The American author on leadership, Warren Bennis reminds us that managers are focussed on “doing things right”, whereas leaders focus on “doing the right things”. I believe you are more likely to be remembered as a great leader if you can isolate the four or five things the government needs to do to make the greatest difference in the long term. We would rather you concentrate on doing them well than calling a press conference every week to announce a new initiative. If you do this the government will lose its focus and little will be achieved. You have already committed the incoming government to a few headline initiatives. Don’t add too many more. Impress us by delivering on these rather than bewilder us with the broad scope of your initiatives. Save your press conferences for those occasions when you can point to real progress on the ground rather than making the next ephemeral announcement.

8.       Be Yourself

No doubt because of the negative attacks on you, during the election campaign, and indeed perhaps for the last few years as a result of such negative publicity, you have presented yourself in a very tentative way to the general public. I don’t believe you have anything to hide. You have been a successful politician and made a stellar contribution to our community. Other than a handful of feminist troglodytes, nobody really believes you are misogynist. Your opponents have seized upon your negativity. Well, in dealing with the worst federal government in my memory (I am sorry but I was avoiding having to say this) there was a lot of justified negative comment.

Your knockabout style and your strong family values would suggest that most in the general public could relate to you. Whilst I don’t subscribe to your religious points of view I think it is a point in your favour that you haven’t resiled from them and the fact that you have not sought to impose them on others is a strong point in your favour.

We know that in the long term you can’t pretend to be what you’re not. So I would hope that after the election you might show us more of the man your wife and daughters describe.

9.       Make a Difference for Indigenous People

I have had some experience myself in trying to advance the cause of indigenous people. This has, I believe, been the most problematic area of public policy in Australia. It is an indictment on a long succession of governments that progress in bridging the gap in economics, health and education between indigenous Australians and the rest of us has stalled. Wave after wave of government programmes promising ongoing benefits for our indigenous countrymen have achieved little.

You have had the courage to confront these issues personally and directly by working in indigenous communities. You have also had the courage to step outside the government welfare model to look at alternative solutions. You have co-opted the support of indigenous people with a history of success, albeit outside the conventional model.

The time has come to indeed make a difference. If you succeed in this venture, despite any other legacy you might leave, you will be remembered as a great Australian. I wish you well in this venture.

 

Well Tony, I could go on I suppose, but these are my essential expectations of you.

Now this is not to say I don’t have reservations. I have a concern about your Paid Parental Leave scheme. I don’t think it is affordable in the current economic circumstances. And as I intimated earlier, for most of us, you did not need such a grandiose gesture to prove you are not misogynist.

And I don’t like you committing more taxpayers’ money to artificially prop up an automotive industry in terminal decline.

And there is at least one other thing. You are wrong about the monarchy. It is a useless anachronistic hangover from our past. But I am mature enough to know that when we line up the pros and the cons in any decision making regime, there are the “needs” and the “wants”.

I “need” you to work towards a budget surplus, reduce debt and improve productivity.

If you can do that I will cut you some slack on the monarchy! It is not a top order priority, just as most Australians would believe same-sex marriage and the constitutional recognition of our original inhabitants are reasonably peripheral and cosmetic issues.

Well, there you are Tony – these are my first, somewhat ad hoc suggestions to you. I am not a “rusted-on” conservative voter and have varied my voting strategies a few times over the years. Perhaps if you can provide me some assurance regarding the above (I am sure you have nothing better to do) before next Saturday you might get my vote!

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  1. 3 Comment(s)

  2.   By Paul Gardner on Aug 31, 2013 | Reply

    Hi Ted,
    Well said. Unfortunately his minders are only focussed on the next election and are constantly filling his head space up with that chatter.
    In 2009 I travelled around Australia with my family and we witnessed the challenges indigenous people have. It seemed to be such a difficult problem to solve. The positive side was that in a few instances we found flourishing enterprises with happy contented communities. No surprise, these communities had a sense of purpose, managed effectively the alcohol, drugs and other social issues and didn’t rely on government handouts.
    If Tony could put his mind and his minders attention to a solution in this area that would be fantastic.
    I have been out of Oz for 2 weeks now attending a business school and your blog just reminded me how great it is not to have been bombarded daily with the election waffle!! Must remember to find an Australian embassy next week to vote.
    Cheers Paul

  3.   By Brad Carter on Sep 1, 2013 | Reply

    Hi Ted
    Like you I try to stay out of public political commentary these days but having spent a small amount of time in politics and through my limited experience as an independent politician, I have some comments that I would like to share with you. Overall, I commend you for taking the time to express these issues based on values.

    Your first point about honesty and truthfulness is interesting and should be a major focus of a National leader, but I believe that the public at large do not reward politicians for being honest when it comes time to vote. The public are used to spin and the public are quite often harsh when you present the facts honestly.

    The public seems to create an environment where political parties only present short term policies as our society has a bulk of people only interested in what policies mean to them in the short term rather than sensible long term policies for the benefit of future generations. However, in the circles that I currently mix in I am seeing an increase in desires from people for major political parties to have ten to twenty year plans and policies.

    I am not sure that the term leadership and politician are compatible. There are many successful politicians who are not leaders and survive because they do not take on the tough and hard issues and tend to fence sit. In my short term in politics I was amazed at the numerous number of fence sitters that I came across. A Prime Minister though must stand up and be a leader as you suggest which will create an increased risk in surviving long term as a politician.

    Doing the right thing right is a great point, and we do not need weekly new policy announcements. But again we have a public who expect to continually hear new things from a government rather than key policy initiatives being reported on regularly in terms of their successful implementation.

    We have seen a subsidized auto industry start to fail in the last ten years even with significant Government support. But what is the alternative as manufacturing industry in Australia is in decline and likely to remain so until we can become internationally competitive in manufacturing. Are our wages too high in certain sector when you compare us to the rest of the world and what would long term policies look like to address this issue? This is probably where National and State leaders tend to be evasive as the truth is not what the public (voters) want to hear.

    I thought I would share a couple of my views with you, but in summary I agree with your intent of encouraging a future PM to stand up to these sorts of values.

    regards
    Brad

  4.   By Di Tinkler on Sep 8, 2013 | Reply

    You have articulated my thoughts to the letter, Ted – with the possible exception of the Monarchy issue, about which I am ambivalent. Can you tell me of a republic that is better than Australia?

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