Sunday, 31 May 2009

Intellectual Politicians - Success or Failure

In the last 30 years, we have perhaps had 2 political leaders in Australia possessed with intelligence somewhat higher than that of a normally intelligent person. They are John Hewson and Kevin Rudd.

John Hewson was a leader of outstanding intellect. While his economic credentials were without peer in the Parliament at the time, his intelligence was best illustrated by his ability to be across the detail of a range of other topics and he became a most capable orator particularly on issues of Foreign Affairs.

Kevin Rudd on the other hand has a head start on Foreign Affairs, Health and Education but has managed to turn himself into a competent analyst of matters economic.

Both Men have reputations as work alcoholics and both drive colleagues and staff to distraction with the demands they place upon them, and themselves.

There are some fundamental differences though including that when as Opposition Leaders, Rudd won the un-losable election while Hewson lost the un-losable election.

Hewson was the academic who became an economics policy adviser to John Howard before himself moving into Parliament.

Rudd was the career diplomat who became Chief of Staff to Queensland Premier Wayne Goss before standing for Federal Parliament.

In a politically brave move, Hewson took a detailed radical policy platform to the electorate in March 1993. The policy was a Goods and Services Tax. Then Prime Minister Paul Keating destroyed him and in doing so, ensured it would be a long time before another Prime Ministerial challenger would take detailed policy to an election.

In November 2007, Rudd took a largely “me too” policy along with a great deal of rhetoric to the electorate and achieved a comfortable victory.

John Hewson ignored political reality in a world where politics is unfortunately of equal or sometimes greater significance than policy. He believed he had the weight of “right” on his side and that he could convince the electorate of the “correctness” of his belief of a GST being good for voters personally, and the country as a whole.

Rudd primarily took the concept of the need for change to the election together with creating significant doubt about work choices.

Hewson was all policy and little politics; Rudd was all politics and little policy.

Our three most recent Prime Ministers prior to Kevin Rudd appear to have understood the need to combine both Policy and Politics. Whether or not you agree with their politics, they were all part of major reforms in Australia, be it Keating primarily as the key Minister in the Hawke Government.

The Hawke/Keating years included the de-regulation of the Australian Dollar, massive manufacturing reform, introduction of a retirement savings system envied by much of the rest of the world and a consistent approach to achieving a balance between income growth and productivity improvements.

The achievements of the Howard Prime Ministerial years included firearm reform, an overhaul of the tax system, consistent approach to revenue distribution to the States and work place reform (be it ultimately un-successful).

Hawke, Keating and Howard understood that in addition to the politics, they had a responsibility to lead and govern and in doing so, regularly made un-popular decisions. They all generally respected the Parliament and accepted the reality of traditions such as question time.

My concern is that Kevin Rudd has decision reluctance and lacks the ability or willingness to drive a reform agenda for fear of the impact such reforms may have on short term popularity. He also seems overly sensitive.

Last week during question time he labored for 25 minutes answering a “Dorothy Dix” question .
The Government has initiated Community Cabinet meetings in rural areas where the public attend and participate in the forum. Inevitability only Mr Rudd gets to say much at all and rarely is it about the subject raised.

I don’t know if the following is factual but it does serve to illustrate the problem:

On a recent trip to North America Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was invited to address a major gathering of the American Indian Nations in Kitimat BC due to his experience in handling the indigenous situation in Australia.

He spoke for almost an hour on his ideas for increasing every First Nation's present standard of living.

At the conclusion of his speech, the tribes presented the Prime Minister with a plaque inscribed with his new Indian name Walking Eagle. The proud Rudd then departed with his entourage, waving to the crowd as he left.

A news reporter later asked the chiefs how they came to select the new name given to Rudd.

They explained that Walking Eagle is the name given to a bird so full of shit it can no longer fly.

With a little courage, self belief and leadership, Prime Minister Rudd can be a long term successful Prime Minister who retires from office with a track record of achievement to be proud of and in doing so, leave Australia in a better position than he found it.

Or, he can focus on simply winning the next election, racking up debt and taking us to the brink.

Perhaps he could do worse than study the legacy of the Fraser years. Malcolm Fraser was a Prime Minister seemingly intent on the next election and who achieved very little in real or any other terms. He has arguably achieved more since he left Government than he ever did as Prime Minister.

“ITS TIME” is a famous ALP slogan from the 1972 election and it is now time for Mr Rudd to use his intellect for the good of the country by getting the political balance right. Ultimately, this will guarantee his success and his legacy.

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