WHEN Nicola Roxon stood to deliver the John Button Oration she started with a compliment to that long-time Labor stalwart suggesting that she would emulate his “straight-talking style”.
This is the first time that the public was really given an insight into what went wrong with the Federal Labor government. Roxon was clear that she was presenting her own perspective and understood that many would see things differently.
The elephant in the room regarding Labor’s defeat since the election and throughout this speech is the concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister.
The political landscape is becoming more and more presidential, instead of Prime Ministerial, and the concentration of power and decision making is occurring without the checks and balances of a formal democratic presidential system.
With Labor’s new system of appointing their leader, this aspect has worsened. Roxon touched on the issue when she spoke about “this unhelpful personality/leadership prism” and “kamikaze politics”.
The interesting part about Nicola Roxon’s reflections, in the form of 10 “housekeeping tips” for Labor, is that they come from one of the highest-performing, most competent ministers of the previous six years of government as Health Minister and Attorney-General.
Her justification for what turned out to include a no-holds-barred attack on Kevin Rudd was “because Australia will need a stronger Labor Government next time, to repair the damage that will be inflicted by Tony Abbott and to pursue the next generation of positive reforms for the nation”.
On the one hand, her speech discussed where Labor should make a difference but, on the other, heavily criticised Rudd failing to really engage in the big issues such as climate change and health.
Cabinet was caught up on less significant matters, snowed with excessive detail and crippled by a failure to delegate. This failure to delegate, identified by Roxon as her third tip, is part of the bigger issue of the “messiah complex”.
So much is expected of the “president” that it has become difficult not to be the one fronting the media, answering all the questions and being seen to be on top of all the issues.
The Labor years were not all about solitary leadership. Much to the chagrin of Rudd followers, Roxon contrasted his leadership style with that of Julia Gillard, “the patient, consulting, discussing and convincing that were hallmarks of her style, but for which she got little credit”.
Disunity was the other undercurrent in the Roxon oration. While she framed the “housekeeping tip” in terms of putting the party first, understanding the team instead of the individual and knowing how to deal with disappointment with regard to such things as Ministerial appointments, the message was very clear.
Jointly setting direction and maintaining focus throughout the team is the stuff of real political leadership. Ironically, it is the very thing that Tony Abbott and the conservatives have managed, despite the significant philosophical differences within their ranks.
The contrast in political leadership styles with the strengths and weaknesses of the last two Labor Prime Ministers was summarised brilliantly by Roxon as: “Kevin was great at cut-through, then struggled at follow through. In contrast, Julia was brilliantly thorough at delivering, but couldn’t always deliver the message”.
All political parties would be wise to take these 10 housekeeping tips as 10 commandments for effective governing.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health
The full text of Nicola Roxon’s speech is at abc.net.au/news/2013-10-16/roxon-ten-tips/5026972