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Published 07 March 2012 14:58, Updated 08 March 2012 05:03
I was lunching with a prominent chief executive recently who privately despaired at the goings-on in Canberra. As he rattled off a list of urgent public policy priorities, he doubted that either of the major parties was capable of giving these issues the attention they deserved. He bemoaned the terrible troika of uncertainty: minority government, Labor’s leadership woes and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s negativity.
Julia Gillard remains Prime Minister, having repelled Kevin Rudd’s premature challenge, but the sense of calamity continues: Mark Arbib’s curious resignation from the Senate, the controversy surrounding former NSW premier Bob Carr’s appointment to fill the senate vacancy as the new foreign minister and a rowdy parliament in which the Opposition finds Gillard’s character easy game. And sitting on the government backbenches is the man who would be prime minister.
Labor’s leadership crisis is part of a wider malaise in Australian politics. It is hard to imagine a time when political leadership in this country has been so lacklustre. It is a theme taken up by the chief executive of Leadership Management Australasia , Andrew Henderson. He fears that the dearth of leadership in Canberra is symptomatic of a much wider leadership void in the community, including the corporate sector. “There is a gaping hole in the calibre of leadership across the nation that threatens to undermine our productivity and permanently damage our confidence,” Henderson says.
Political leaders set an example for the whole community. From school classrooms to corporate boardrooms, their behaviour sets the tone, but politicians today don’t think beyond the daily news cycle. As Prime Minister, Gillard should understand her obligation to the community. Yet she treats voters’ anger about her trashed election promise not to introduce a carbon tax as no more than a political speed bump. The electorate’s lingering resentment, as reflected in opinion polls, suggests they are fed up with the duplicity. Business leaders should take note.
Henderson observes that true leadership involves building trust and engaging people. “Leadership involves the ability to communicate, to persuade and to encourage,” he says. “Leadership is the ability to inspire, motivate and guide others through the process of change.” Now that Gillard has some Rudd-free breathing space, it remains to be seen whether she has what it takes to be a leader among leaders.