Political praxis is never clean or simple. There are few examples of a golden age anywhere, or for very long where it is perceived. It seems to be a business of cut and thrust, a very dirty game to play in. It has been no dirtier than with the fall of PM Julia Gillard to third time challenger and former PM Kevin Rudd.
On the one hand I don’t want to lionise Gillard as suffering victim, nor on the other vilify Rudd as vexatious usurper. Politics is, apparently, like this.
Of course it has left some opining for those golden good old days. And there were some hopeful moments as when Whitlam brought us into the modern world, or when Don Chipp founded the Australian Democrats to keep the two main parties honest! When Hawke and Keating commanded real international respect (as opposed to the sycophantic Menzies or the weakness of Howard). Or when Bob Brown and the Greens had some leverage that mattered. But if you were looking for great moments in integrity and really fine leadership you’d be sorely pressed to find it.
What the current leadership wrangle demonstrates to me is the complexity of how unhealthy ego and party machinations towards survival dominate the process of actual leadership and government. Rudd has challenged three times. Those challenges in themselves have surely been debilitating, they take time, energy and focus. Both sides have also spent time in manoeuvring for factional and public support, surely this too is leadership sapping and distracting.
In the midst of it all where is the leadership? Where are the policies?
We are living in a time when our agricultural sector is in deep trouble, not just because of perennial or local weather issues, not just because of global warming, but because there are depressed markets, debt and financial\structural issues, competition and trade problems, labour supply and more. But who in Canberra is bothered?
For me the response to refugees has been devoid of compassion, but this has been lost in inter-party and intra-party wrangling. Refugees were both a factional Labor as well as Liberal casualty. People’s lives have been diminished by party ego taking centre stage and determining the tenor of debate, defence and strut.
Mining is currently sexy, but there is yet no policy for the future of mining, will it eventually suffer like agriculture?
Education is another sector. The Gonski reforms are at the very least an attempt to get beyond the the oh so clever petty State games of playing off the Commonwealth and at the same time moving towards a real national standard. The states opine, but look at the standards in some states! The public have begun to be seduced into thinking ill of it, and lately because it is attached to Gillard’s leadership.
The reforms that Gillard spearheaded were not sexy and have surely been a factor in her downfall, voters don’t like cod liver oil no matter how good it is for them. The mining tax would be an example, after all the corporate whinging about it few miners paid any substantial monies out of their hefty profits, which I would point out are derived from crown land (and therefore belonging to the government and therefore the people).
But in the end Gillard herself has suffered only what she herself brought upon Rudd when she challenged earlier. However, what is very different has been the spiteful narking about gender, it was never been overt, but it was there and it was subtly nurtured in the public. No male politician has been demeaned because of their gender, and no PM has been so harassed as Julia Gillard.
When leadership issues dominate ego clearly drives, but in politics it rarely seems to be healthy ego drive. There is little room for integrity, and there is little room for an attending to real public needs. Generosity and compassion are junked for toughness and testosterone.
Somewhere I\we have a responsibility in all of this, because we vote and so we do have some say. Yet as I look out on the political landscape in Australia (and indeed across the world) I feel less hopeful, for me there seem to be no real contenders worth my vote in the things that really matter.
My political fantasy is one where leadership draws from mindfulness and awareness, and holds the praxis of compassion to be the highest, and where all people matter. What would it cost to have an emotionally intelligent leader?
Perhaps when we cross the Rubicon (but never the Styx).