Journalists and other commentators often talk about the "business" of running a country. I believe that this is a reasonable analogy. The country has a revenue in the form of taxes, operating costs ranging from politicians and bureaucrats salaries to welfare payments and the cost of running the armed forces and federal police. It has capital assets encompassing such things as buildings, vehicles and military hardware. Even the passing of legislation that governs the way that the country and its citizens behave could be considered as the company policies and procedures. It also has "shareholders" as each citizen of 18 years or older has the right to vote and therefore change the "board" of the country.
With such strong parallels with business, it is perhaps surprising that there was such astonishment and even outcry that the Prime Minister should be ousted by his party mid-term. Should it really be that amazing?
Whilst it may not happen all the time, there are certainly plenty of instances where the board of a company either sacks the managing director or vigorously suggests that it is time for them to step down. This normally occurs when the MD is considered by the board not to have achieved the goals or outcomes that have been set for the company or if they are considered to be damaging the company’s "brand".
I therefore see what happened on Monday as being no different to what happens in business. The "board", being the Liberal Party, decided that Tony Abbott was damaging their brand and that he should be replaced by someone who appears to be more in tune with the "shareholders" values with regard to transparency and engagement. Certainly in my opinion, Turnbull is more of a statesman than Abbott ever was.
What really struck me though was the effusive and even affectionate way in which Bill Shorten spoke about Tony Abbott in Parliament after he had been deposed. It almost sounded as if he was describing a different person to the one that he equally vociferously attacked in the Parliament in the weeks and months before his demise.
To me this highlighted that politics has become more about playing the man than the ball. In my view this diminishes the quality of political debate because it focuses on an individual’s personality rather than the idea they are championing.
I remember when I was at secondary school, taking part in debating competitions and whilst these debates were very structured in their format, the focus was always on advocating for, or rebutting an idea or proposition. It would never have occurred to us to have attacked the personality of a member of the opposing team.
Many parliamentarians I'm sure, would have engaged in similar competitions or been members of debating societies whilst at university. So why is it, that when they get into Parliament they appear to change the focus from advocating ideas to attacking members of the other party?
I certainly believe that the media has contributed to the change of focus but perhaps we get the media and hence political performance that we deserve.
As I indicated in an earlier blog, we as consumers of the media, focus on outrage rather than facts. The media is a competitive business and whether it is print, broadcast or online media, they are all competing for our attention. So they give us what we desire, sensationalism, gossip and innuendo.
In order to have their voices heard, politicians play to the voracious media by way of leaks and backgrounding or open attacks on opponent’s character.
I agree that there are instances of politicians abusing entitlements that the media should be covering as they are definitely in the public (shareholders) interests, such as the Bronwyn Bishop Helicopter affair. The media should rightly be highlighting these abuses of position and power, but for a large part the debate over policy is drowned out by the innuendo and outrage over a politician’s character rather than their ideas. This I believe, diminishes the quality of political debate. Yes there are times when you wonder what possessed someone to say something or act in a particular way, but do those words or does that action diminish the value of the idea that they may be advocating?
Contributing to a general lowering of the quality of political discourse in my opinion, is the rise of the micro-party, representing minority views in the community but hampering the effective passing of legislation.
Whilst I believe that in a democratic society every view needs to be heard and considered. That does not mean that those views necessarily need to be acted on if the majority view is opposed. However, this appears to be what is happening in our political system at present, where governments need to get sufficient members of the cross benches on-side in order to get legislation passed. This inevitably leads to concessions being made to those minority views. I believe that this leads to poorer rather than better outcomes as it always involves a compromise or the re-direction of funds to that particular parliamentarians pet cause regardless of its merits or benefit to the broader Australian community.
Irrespective of one's political views, I believe that if we as a nation elect a government to run the country, they should be allowed to do so unimpeded by the need to pander to minority interest groups. If at the end of three years, we collectively don't like what they have achieved, then we have the opportunity to vote them out and vote in the other party to see what they can do.
Which brings me to my final concern. The term of an Australian government is, in my opinion, not long enough to allow governments to focus on long-term strategic planning for the country rather than short-term strategic planning to ensure that they get re-elected in three years’ time.
Every business needs to have a strategic plan. Whether it is the country or a business we need to know where we are going. We should certainly review the strategic plan on a regular basis to ensure that it still takes account of the current conditions, but someone needs to set the vision and ensure that we as a nation are working towards it.
Perhaps if we could get back to serious political debate that focuses on the issues rather than the personalities there might be an opportunity for politicians to agree on some core strategies that both sides of the political debate can agree on as being in the best interest of the country. Unfortunately I think that I might be waiting a long time for that day to arrive!