Phil Ruthven Columnist

Phil is founder and chairman of IBISWorld, an international corporation providing online business information, forecasting and strategic services. He is considered one of the nation's most respected strategist and futurist on business, social and economic matters.

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In search of statesmanship

Published 09 May 2012 14:08, Updated 10 May 2012 04:16

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In this second decade of the new century, the world is not blessed with many statesmen or stateswomen in its 230 nations or among the 34 wealthy members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that account for more than three-quarters of world gross domestic product.

Fortunately the more incompetent leaders in nations afflicted by the global financial crisis have been ejected. Sadly, corrupt, tyrannical or incompetent leaders across Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Asia Pacific and other regions are still a reality.

The most powerful level of government is the national level (where the money is), with regional government possibly emerging as the most powerful by the middle of the century, supported by a better financed and empowered United Nations (or replacement organisation).

World governments have about 30 per cent of world GDP, or $US20 trillion, at their disposal, much of it squandered through misdirection, wastage, corruption, inefficiency and bureaucracy. But a measure of that will always accompany democracy.

The goals of a modern well-run democracy are many and complex. They include: the constitution, legislation and judiciary; safety (defence and police); welfare for the temporarily or permanently impaired; equality of opportunities in health and education; nation-building support and more.

In Australia, this takes up about 31 per cent of GDP, considerably lower than the average 36-37 per cent of the OECD, so we perform better than most and are not yet a welfare or nanny state as are many in the European Union.

But leadership with long-range vision, short-term good management and fiscal discipline, has been elusive at state and federal level. This has created a backlash, with most states ousting state governments past their use-by dates. The 2013 federal election looms as yet another test case.

So, what do we seek from a good leader and what are the characteristics of statesmanship? The objectives are straightforward: a safe nation, good economic growth (3.5-4 per cent a year), full employment (less than 5 per cent), fair interest rates of about 7.5 per cent (to benefit both investors and borrowers alike), modest inflation (less than 3 per cent), a sound, caring and appropriate welfare regime, sensible laws and harmony among our fellow citizens.

The most successful statesmen since European settlement have achieved the above. Often they have been less popular than others who gave the impression of being “great” yet did not actually deliver. Only one in four of our national leaders have been true statesmen, only 19 in total over 224 years meet characteristics identified by IBISWorld research.

Ideology, spin and tolerance of incompetence do not substitute for sound legislation and accountability. Nor does excessive negativism or lack of passionate long-range vision. Australians have zero tolerance for arrogance, no matter how capable the leader, perhaps more’s the pity as this has lost us some good state and federal leaders. Politics is a tough call but the nation will always need statesmanship.

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