As we head into the 2022 election I have some real concerns about the lack of leadership has in Australian politics.
Let’s start with some basic definitions about what “leadership” is.
For starters leadership is a characteristic that sits outside of a hierarchy. It is a quality, not is it a role. And it’s for that reason that people who achieve a rank that equates to them being “in charge” don’t have to exhibit any leadership qualities what so ever. Rank doesn’t confer leadership. By the same measure those at the bottom of the hierarchy can indeed exhibit high degrees of leadership. Those on the factory floor, at the coalface and in the trenches are often successful because of the leaders in those ranks.
So what defines leadership if it’s not rank? This was the definition I came up with a few years ago:
Leadership is taking the responsibility to create an environment that facilitates a transition between states.
That sounds like a mouthful, but the aim was to provide a definition that was broad and applicable to different contexts and domains. It was an attempt to get away from the tropes of hierarchy, of power, privilege and colonialism with their need for “followers” and those that need to be lead.
The aim was was to create a definition that works just as well when apples to the military (where leadership is changing the state of the battle, not the ability to issue orders) as well as science (where an individuals work can exhibit leadership by changing the entire state of knowledge in a discipline).
What happens when we apply that definition to politics here in Australia?
Let’s start by having a look at this term “states“. I use this term because I didn’t want to define specific aspects of the work or the discipline of the field that you would apply leadership to. From a political perspective a “state” would be the social environment of a country. Government and politics is a societal function but a society sits inside a range of other contexts – the geography, location, climate and economy.
Three years ago vast swathes of the east coast of Australia we are on fire. The sheer size of the fire storm was unprecedented and for weeks if not months, about half the population of Australia choked on the smoke. It changed the state that we found ourselves in as a country, and clearly demonstrated the effects of changes in our climate. As a society what we want is for that to never to happen again. The state we want to transition to is to feel safe at summertime not on edge and not to see the destruction that Black Summer again. Considering the effects that the choking smoke from of those fires had on the two largest cities in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne but also on the political capital, Canberra — that transition has pretty broad appeal.
So what has the government done? Nothing. Not a damn thing.
In three years the government has taken zero responsibility for even imagining that future state, let alone putting into play any policy or action to transition us towards that state. There is no paid and equipped firefighting force tasked with protecting the nation. There is no permanent aircraft fleet in this country, let alone one capable of fighting the scale of fires we experienced. There is no extra equipment. There is no extra management of the environment. There hasn’t even been any money spent to rebuild the communities that were absolutely destroyed by those fires — Instead, the government has accumulated $800 million in interest on the fund that they set up because not a cent has been spent.
So when we go back to my definition what’s on display is a complete and utter failure of leadership, by any and all of the criteria. There is no responsibility. They have not endeavoured to create an environment. They have not created a vision of an alternative state, and they have certainly not enacted a transition.
The same critique can be easily applied to the governments response to COVID-19. They have yet to take responsibility for anything. There is no appetite for change, let alone an alternative state. There is no environment for change to occur because they’re so adversarial on every front. And when we definitively know with a pandemic that there will be another mutation of the virus within the next couple of months , there has been zero preparation for that state to occur.
We are to years into these crises and have nothing to show. If you were generous you might cast this government as one whos focussed on “managing” the country rather than leading it. But on that they have failed too. They have misspent their way through each crisis. Promised everything and delivered nothing, let alone in a stable or efficient way (two things a successful manager should at least be able to do).
At the helm we have the most inept captain this country has seen. A man so devoid of talent that a fungus would have more natural leadership skills. It irks me that we have a political system that enables such meritocracy to rise to the top. It is intolerable that the organised political parties have allow this excuse for a leader to take on that role, but also that they themselves are directly responsible for the complete lack of leadership present across the political class.
And maybe that is the problem, that rather than leaders we have defaulted to hierarchy, organisations based on class, followers and the all important colonial masters. Leadership will never come from those that benefit from this state – because this is the state they want. It’s what allows them to sit at the top.