Real leadership

If anyone outside Australia takes any notice of our national politics, they’d be wondering by now how the hell this country manages to keep going. Most of us who live here are wondering the same thing.

Our federal government for the past five years or so has been . . . well, I’d say a joke. But it’s just not funny.

We had a Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who swept to power as kind of new age heart throb. His boyish looks and cheeky grin made him a pleasant contrast to his rather drab and dull predecessor, John Howard. Rudd developed a thing for social media which made him very attractive to younger voters. And he talked-up his environmental vision which made him attractive to anyone wearing green-coloured glasses.

But Rudd broke faith with voters by breaking promises. At the same time he broke the hearts of his party colleagues by treating them utter disdain. He was a control freak who could not escape his obsessive compulsive desire to gluttonise ever greater volumes of detail at the expense of being able to take any decisions at all. The opinion polls slide more firmly and lastingly than his halo.

So, in the middle of the night as it were, a bunch of henchmen tapped him on the shoulder and told him to leave his title of Prime Minister at the front door on the way out. It was brutal and unprecedented in the Australian context. Voters – even those turned-off by Rudd – wondered just how a PM could be removed from office without an election or voters having any say in it at all.

Which gave us Julia Gillard as our new leader. Since she was the one who presented Rudd with his head on a platter, we should not have entertained any doubts about her ability to play rough. Still, she was our first ever female PM so thinking nasty thoughts about her was seen as somewhat misogynist.

She ruled for a while but then had an election and failed to win a majority, and ended up leading a minority government dependent on the votes of several independents.

Gillard has all the popular appeal of a serial killer shaking your hand while holding a carving knife in the other. Every time she tries to win hearts and minds, she alienates even more voters. It is a rare and frightening gift that absolutely no-one aspires to.

Then there’s the never-ending story of Rudd being cranky at his loss of face, authority and power and his never-ending agitation to get even with Gillard. We won’t even go into the ins and outs of the tragic farce that has unfolded as a consequence.

The saddest aspect of all this is witnessing the new breed of contemporary political leader. They generally have lived and played politics all their lives before they get to the top tanks of government so that they have little or no knowledge of running a business or living in the real world. They are true apparatchiks.

Worse, they yearn to become leader because it fulfils a personal need. They do it because they want to be boss. Gone are the days when aspiring leaders at least wanted to do the right thing by the country. Today’s version of leadership is a bastardised thing that has all to do with personal gratification and next to nothing to do with serving the people. It makes for poor decision-making and lousy government. It is bringing this nation to its knees and voters are desperate to deliver their verdict. But nowhere on the horizon are there genuine leaders who care enough about others to put the common good above personal aggrandisement. Selflessness is a forgotten quality in modern politics.

If we do not demand its return we will continue to suffer the poor governance that has plagued us now for so long. The fabric of our democratic institutions is being weakened but we are not recognising it. We need to demand better of our political class before it is too late.