||Issue No. 150||30 August 2002|
Shut It Down!
Interview: Australian Worker
Unions: Morning Ambush
Cole-Watch: Grumpy Old Men
International: Arrested (Sustainable) Development
History: Illegal Alien
Economics: The Trouble With PPPs
Poetry: Is This 'My Country'?
Review: Garage Days
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Is Simon the Likeable?
"Change excited him. In what others saw as comfortable and familiar, he saw decay and lost opportunity. ....He liked movement, progress, crashing through, overturning, giving the slip to history and his enemies in a single bound."
There is no intellect required in quoting another person's words yet, looking ahead a bit, there may be a valuable lesson in absorbing them. The passage above appeared in a recent biography of a dear departed political leader.
The words are such that they could have been written about a capitalist go-getter like Chris Corrigan, an inspiring trade unionist, a corporate ladder climber, or a dyed in the wool communist. Love them or hate them, leaders of high calibre have the ability to grip the imagination; to make people feel that they've been swept up and carried in a direction of great promise.
Some of the people might feel a little uncomfortable along the way -even scared - but it's the sort of fear that can also inspire. Others will, and should, provide strong opposition and line up against a leader's direction. In the end, there is only one standard of proof for those that claim to be a leader.
Depending on who you talk to, this animated portrait of leadership could have just as easily captured the 'firebrand' former Trotskyist and NSW Labor Council secretary cum Police Minister, Michael Costa, as readily as it might apply to a crime crusader, quasi-legislator and shock jock, in former Liberal candidate and social agitator, Alan Jones.
And it leads me to ask? What happened to the easeful knowledge that the 'ants in the pants' radical agitators sat gingerly on the left side of the table while the stodgy, immovable conservatives took up comfortable lodgings on the right side?
That's the problem with politics these days. The more you look the more it's getting difficult to find a lazy conservative. Or a sluggish fat, cigar-smoking capitalist. Or an idle boss content just to be powerful and rich.
Nor can you find a slow-moving, complacent trade union official whose daily thoughts were captured by ambition. But it hasn't always been the case - has it Simon?
So Simon the aspiring PM says that we need to "modernise" the ALP if it is to be electable-and you'd be hard pressed to argue against that. There is no doubt if ol' Ben Chifley appeared today, his electoral appeal would be hampered by his role as a trade union official. Howard and Abbott would continually lampoon his past; call him a dinosaur and that'd be that. It'd be back to the locomotive sheds for Ben.
But then again, the photo of Ben with the first ever Holden (and every other modern car that followed it off the production line) might never have been seen nor would the nation's bankers never experienced that rare bout of fear.
In a newer political environment Simon has lead us back to the drawing board for the ALP to consider - not how to leap the enemy -but to measure the electoral implications of their teasing. Apparently a period of cowering is needed prior to contemplating crashing through. So while the exhausting process of questionable internal reform is carried out 19 million voters are waiting for the great leap forward.
Putting that aside, if we accept that everyone from every corner of politics is now wide-eyed, modern and on the move the contest is no longer one of sorting the radicals from the conservatives. Many could be forgiven for believing that everyone in a position of influence today has given up their traditional positions in favour of smoking crack, such is the penchant for change- and I'm sure many do.
Believe that, I mean.
Its 'game on' everywhere. The challenge for the rest of us should be to turn our minds to the next layer of scrutiny, to (Jargon Alert) drill down to the bedrock and determine who amongst the champions of change is going to improve our lot, as opposed to improving their own lot.
To do so we need to work out where the benefits of good leadership will flow, how far and to how many. And even before that we have to work out whether that leader is capable of looking through the windscreen whilst checking the rear view mirror without writing off this thoroughly modern new car.
"Politics was full of them: people, he said, with brains like sparrow's nests-all shit and sticks."
An insult of that severity is designed to wound. It is also more than capable of providing encouragement for those in the upcoming generation but not yet involved in politics. Nobody wants to think their brains are made up of shit and sticks. That withering assessment of politics was made when the ALP was last in power.
But maybe that's what Simon means by 'modernising' the ALP. Getting rid of all the sparrows' nests. And quite possibly the sparrows as well, by giving the hawks a look in.
Like Beazley in the election before, Simon is looking for answers. Along with his opponents on the other side, the only recognisable target spelt out so far to the media by Crean has been trade union influence. With all that sorted, some believe, modernity is all but achieved.
Sadly for another political leader in young 'Tash, she was about as modern as politics gets and yet she was ruthlessly crunched by the new radicals with a history of warming to the energy of Peter Reith, Tony Abbot and John Howard.
So maybe us trade unionists should gasp our last breath while we can. It's all done and dusted now and we are quietly told that a challenge to the 50-50 rule will be read as a challenge to Simon's leadership. Oh dear... A combination of external blame, guilt and threats is what passes for modern political debate. Anything to avoid any questioning of the leadership and a close look of what made the party the preferred government.
George Dubya wheels out the same maxim in saying that anyone against the killing tens thousands of innocent citizens is against the President, against the US and certainly against peace and freedom.
Trade Unions are very much part of the ALP's tradition. Through that relationship we have delivered electoral success and a strong contribution whilst in government. Equally important to success, is strong purposeful leadership. In any review you cant look at one aspect of tradition whilst ignoring another.
As a firefighter of a couple of decades standing I've never feared the light and heat of a roaring flame as much as I fear being led away towards the certain death that follows blinding, choking smoke.
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