The leadership power of being the real deal

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“Being genuine is a rare quality in modern politicians. Our current leaders too often rely on a nickname, wear a baseball cap, ride public transport, mix with the locals at the pub,” says political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

AN important lesson for emerging political leaders can be learnt from the memorial service for Bob Hawke.

The consistent message of his success centred on his being simply genuine. The person we saw on television, the person in the cabinet, the person as prime minister was simply Bob Hawke.

Michael Moore.

This is a rare quality in modern politicians. Our current leaders too often rely on a nickname, wear a baseball cap, ride public transport, or mix with the locals at the pub.

How much of this is genuine? It might bring temporary popularity – but history will not be kind. “The real Julia Gillard” was illustrative as she discarded being “too stage managed”.

Negative campaigning is effective. In 2016 Labor ran a very effective “Mediscare” campaign. In 2019 the coalition ran the “death tax” scare, the “Bill you cannot afford” and “taxing pensioners”. These tactics were deployed by Keating and Labor in 1993 to defeat John Hewson’s “Fightback” and GST. They finally came back to bite Labor at the last election.

Leadership has given way to populism, which is why the genuine side of our political leaders has gone missing. They say and do what needs to be done, to win popularity – to win the next election. Targeting specific groups, especially in vulnerable electorates, has become an art form. Mirroring what the majority wants to hear seems more important to them than leadership through setting a goal and working to deliver.

Khalid Ahmed, of Canberra University’s Institute of Governance and Policy, recently provided evidence of the incredible optimism in the out years in the ACT Budget. The net operating balance is predicted to dip to below $100 million over the next two financial years.

However, like magic, it will spring into surplus at about the time of the next election. How much spin is in the prediction of a half a billion turn around by 2022-23?

Where is the political vision? Who is using evidence to determine what is in the best long-term interest of the community as a whole? There is an enormous amount of research available. However, it does take analysis, thoughtful consideration and being put into the appropriate context before being adopted. Sometimes, mostly thanks to public servants, this even happens.

Lip service to evidence and research is common in politics. However, the modus operandi of Parliamentary Committee systems is largely based on evidence and research. Compromises do have to be made and some members will always attempt to cherry-pick the evidence to suit their preconceived ideas.

Unfortunately, electoral issues, popularity, the view of donors and a myriad of other political factors too often trump evidence and research. Trump! I am glad I used that word! Last month the US President tweeted: “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that despite the tremendous success with the economy & all things else, 91% of the news about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”

Apparently, anything disliked by a politician ought to be framed as “fake news”. In marked contrast, a UK House of Commons committee looking into this issue reported in July last year: “The term ‘fake news’ is bandied around with no clear idea of what it means, or agreed definition.

“The term has taken on a variety of meanings, including a description of any statement that is not liked or agreed with by the reader.

“We recommend that the government rejects the term ‘fake news’, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’”.

Mark Twain has timeless advice for politicians regarding the truth: “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything”, and on another occasion: “When in doubt tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends.”

The level of trust in Australian democracy has reduced from around 80 per cent in 1996 as John Howard came to government to around 40 per cent in 2018 under Scott Morrison.

Fake news, dissembling, misinformation and disinformation might work for elections. However, such an approach undermines the credibility of the individuals concerned and emasculates our democracy.


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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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