“CREATING communities that are stronger, more prosperous and more secure,” is the challenge outgoing Senator Gary Humphries put to his colleagues in the Liberal Party in his valedictory speech to the Australian Senate.
The politician who has served the ACT for the best part of two and a half decades also had some relevant and insightful parting words of advice for an incoming government.
Perhaps the words were motivated by observation of the first Rudd Labor government or perhaps it was his long personal experience as a politician.
Humphries warned about bending under the day-to-day pressures that are put upon governments.
“Having chosen those goals, stick to them; talk about them with passion so that the Australian people never fail to associate you with those goals,” he said.
“They may not always share those goals but they will give you credit for having convictions that do not crumble in the face of an adverse opinion poll.”
The advice preceded the toppling of Prime Minister Julia Gillard by a couple of hours.
The demise first of Kevin Rudd and more recently of Julia Gillard in the face of poor polling illustrates a significant shift in Australian politics from those who stand up for their beliefs, their positions or their principles to those who will now spend even more time with carefully selected focus groups, polling and analysis.
It is the day of the “hollow men” of poet TS Eliot (or more recently the ABC program of that name). These are the people who sit behind each of the elected leaders and the party officials defining new directions at any given moment.
The alternative is leadership. To generate a new idea that might not be popular at the time and to sell it to the community through sound leadership and a strong will.
There is much that I disagree with that is done by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. However, he has a clear vision for his State and he is determined to deliver despite strong and continuing criticism. With the way he has approached the role it is difficult to imagine that he would have folded on the super profits taxes of the miners or not fought down to the wire on gambling reform despite what the polling might be dictating.
It is worth noting that Gillard personally remained steadfast in the light of less and less favourable polling. She had a clear direction and clear leadership on issues such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Gonski education, health reforms and a price on carbon. However, this was not a vision shared by all of her colleagues and her leadership was undermined for three years by Kevin Rudd and his colleagues.
There is an irony in another piece of advice given to his Liberal colleagues by Humphries: “Calibrate your actions not by the next news poll but by what historians will say about those actions.”
If such advice is applied personally to Julia Gillard, history is likely to treat her kindly.
The “stronger, more prosperous and more secure” theme of Humphries’ valedictory speech was reiterated by his suggestion on how success in government should be measured. An objective assessment is needed of whether “Australians have more control over their lives – whether more of what they earn stays in their pocket, whether they have more chance of building something or producing something or achieving something worthwhile than they had before you came along, and whether they are more hopeful about their future”.
If only Humphries had made that “all Australians” – knowing Gary personally, as I do, I can accept it was implied. However, considering the growth in disparity of wealth in the Howard years, it is important that the “stronger, more prosperous and secure community” should surely be also clearly identified as a more equitable one.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
–from “The Hollow Men” by T S Eliot
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.