Allan Takes Aim Blog

Archive for October 2011

Not a Chronicle Column but published Tuesday I November by www.0nlineopinion.com.au  one of Australia’s leading opinion sites. And it’s free.

Politicians of substance have become noticeable by their absence

The title gives rise to some questions that need answers. For example, what is leadership? What is good leadership? Are our political leaders really worse than any we’ve had before? And are we better served in any other area? Not being a political expert my answers might please some and displease others. 

Let me introduce you to the subject via Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, as Portia speaks to Shylock in Act IV, Scene I, saying: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

One hopes that leaders in Australian politics have been thus blessed. Unfortunately, my observations suggests they aren’t.

So what is leadership? Leadership comes in many guises – Authoritative; Democratic; Laissez faire; Narcissistic. Perhaps the most common of these is narcissistic because of the still lingering effect of words once used to encourage junior army officers, non-coms and even privates to believe that all had a field marshal’s baton in their kit bags.

Effectively the unintended consequence of this phrase is that it encouraged narcissists to think they have been blessed with leadership capacity. As a result, Australia’s Federal, State and Territory Parliaments have become stages where political narcissists strut.

That apart, will the different types of leadership be effective in all situations or only in particular situations. Will authoritative leaders be effective in organisations where the basic structure is essentially democratic? I think not.

To quote another old phrase – “You need horses for courses.” But regardless of finding “horses for courses,” the best leadership is provided by men and women who, although their sympathies seem more aligned to one category, manage to combine elements of them all.

And can leadership be likened to greatness?  I think so. And nor am I in doubt that some people are born leaders, some acquire leadership and as withgreatness, some have leadership thrust upon them. Unfortunately, and apart from narcissists, I think Australia has too many people who think of themselves leaders but whose performance suggests they are without that basic sense of direction essential to all leaders, that they cover up courtesy of an outsized ego and an ocean of vanity.

But defining leadership is almost impossible as is evidenced by the tomes of Plato and Plutarch and since them by the thousands of academics, philosophers and psychologists who fill kilometre after kilometre of bookshelves with books on leadership. While some may be read, most are really intellectual exercises because leadership is something most will never practice outside the sphere of their particular discipline.

However Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, is one of many men who has displayed natural leadership as he made it one of the world’s leading business organisations. Of leadership Welch says: “Good leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision and relentlessly drive it to completion.” And whilst I agree with Welch, I’d like to add two other important qualities: Leaders should have a social conscience and be inspirational.

Not that all theoretical approaches to leadership are bad. Genentech scientist Andrew Keith, has described leadership as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”

The reality is that while Keith’s thinks of leadership as a process, Welch thinks leadership is an instinct. The difference between them? Keith’s process tries to avoid mistakes being made (it rarely happens), while Welch’s is to do and find out. 

Keith’s is only one of the definitions based on the theoretical approch. Psychologist Dr Ken Ogbonnia who is also the CEO of Texas Enegy says: “Leadership is ultimately about creating a way for people to contribute to making something extraordinary happen.” Or “effective leadership is the ability to successfully integrate and maximize available resources within the internal and external environment for the attainment of organizational or societal goals.” 

Generally speaking, most people in Australia associate the word ’leader’ with politicians, although people prominent in the Arts, business and sport occasionally are called leaders. I also hear local business people being called leaders, although often the appellation is dubious. But local communities too have leaders who, sadly often go unrecognised. These leaders are often teachers. Many surveys highlight that when children have been asked who most affected their lives for the better, teachers often topped the list.

I return to politics, suggesting that political leadership has declined rapidly and the quality of Australian Federal, State and Territory parliaments has declined as if in sympathy. Politicians of substance have become noticeable by their absence.

I also believe that this has ramifications outside Australia. With communication technology shrinking the world, it is no longer a good enough excuse for Australia to say we are falling behind the rest of the world because of distance. That we fall behind is because the narcissists in our Federal Government seem more interested in promoting themselves than Australia.

Indeed family members interested in politics who live in the US, UK, NZ and Japan have said to me that some of our current politicians remind them of those gauche Australians who in years gone by, contributed to creating a bad impression of Australia. They may well be overstating things, but looking at the performance overseas of some Australians on TV makes one pause to think.

True, boasting about one’s country comes with the job of being a politician, but the attitude of some Australian politicians leaves much to be desired. Clever some may be, but sometimes they seem too clever by half. Many also seem to have forgotten they are not performing to a captive Australian audience and speaking personally, recent performances of the Treasurer and Deputy Chief Minister plus the Foreign Minister left me unimpressed.

I was unimpressed also with the acrimonious debates between the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition on a wide range of subjects such as global warming, carbon tax, NBN and many other issues of importance plus the appalling mishandling of the asylum seeker issue. Who do voters blame most? No doubt the next federal election will make this clear.

At the same time the Liberal and Labor parties seem to be fighting each other for the titles of incompetent and untrustworthy. They have resorted also to behaviour, albeit not physical, that in less democratic countries, often decide the person of Prime Minister and government. Speaking metaphorically, just as it happens in those less democratic countries, Australians have witnessed the assassination of a Prime Minister and a no less lethal determination of the Opposition leader’s fate. This is known as democracy in action.    

However with the words of Jack Welch in mind, let me ask voters what they look for in political leaders? Do they look for decision makers with Integrity and vision, who have identified the issues that voters think will be as important in the future as they are today? Or, do they look for politicians who are better at following orders than in thinking about and speaking out about what needs to be done?

Sadly, as most have found out, because speaking out carries political costs, something that few are prepared to do, politicians and wannabe politicians of that ilk are hard to find.

But of one thing I am sure. Voters do not want a continuation of the current government structure in which an Oligarchy, comprising a handful of Green and a few allegedly Independents, is helping a minority Labor Government stay in power.

In a sense, the oligarchs have become arbiters of government policy although the policies seem to be policies that most voters don’t want. And, however sanguine Labor and the Oligarchs feel now, if government doesn’t change for the better and if voters’ current disenchantment with the government continues until the next election, Labor and its Oligarch friends might have good reason to feel less sanguine.

Voter disenchantment is now so high that some people within the Labor and Liberal Parties are openly discussing the possibility that in their present form, there is no room for them in a changing world. Young people in general, not just university students, are casting aside the old attitudes and looking to create new parties.

This is not a new idea. In 1991, I founded a political party in Canberra to contest the 1992 Territory election in the hope of encouraging young Canberrans to start looking at the future. Thus was born the Canberra Unity Party which fielded five candidates: A lady who has since become one of Australia’s leading advocates for refugees; a former Labor Member of the Assembly prior to self government (sadly now dead); a young small business man; the young wife of a small builder; and myself – a retired and disabled pensioner and the oldest party member who could barely walk. In fact, I announced the formation of the party while in hospital following a major operation.

Unsurprisingly, it was difficult to get people to look towards the future because many of them did not want self-government and so were inclined to look at the Unity Party, which did, as upstarts. Suffice to say the party was unsuccessful.

But now, young people in particular, are demanding their policy ideas be listened to. And they also want policies that will help the wider community, not just policies to suit particular interests. What they do not want are policies that have been devised simply as tools with which to poke political opponents in the eye.

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 First published The Chronicle Canberra, Tuesday 25 October 2011

‘You don’t look your age’ and, ‘don’t worry, you’ll live to a ripe old age are two phrases commonly used to flatter older people. Perhaps the flatterers use these phrases in the hope that when the older people drop of the perch of life they have left them something in their wills that made the flattery worthwhile. You might say I’m simply being cynical. I’m not: this has happened many times

However on the basis of the recent announcement that soon it might be common for people to live to the grand old age of 150 the phrase might be used more often. Indeed its use could become so common that its application as flattery might be severely diminished. On the other hand a phrase that could come into vogue might be: ‘I wish I looked as young as you.’ 

Today, of course, anyone living to 100 is considered something of a celebrity. In time honoured fashion they will get a birthday card from The Queen. And even if staunch republicans, most of them will think it an honour. 

Almost certainly they will be visited by a reporter from their local newspaper who will want to take their picture and ask them what was the secret of living to such a great age. During their many years of living and having heard the phrase often used about journalists never letting the facts get in the way of a good story, they do the same.

As a result readers will get some marvellous stories (true and false) about the secrets of their success. For example, they might say that if younger people follow their regime of not smoking, drinking carrot juice for breakfast every morning and occasionally indulging in something a little stronger, more than likely they, too, might live to 100. I say this not without some knowledge because my grandmother, who lived to 101, said this what she did.        

While living to 100 sounds fine the thought of living to 150 frightens a lot of people to death. Well it shouldn’t. That might have been the case in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but today things are different. People are already living longer. As you know Canberra itself will soon celebrate its centenary and if the longer living reports are true, it could be on the way to becoming a city of centenarians, not that I’m likely to be one of them.

But if you think living to 150 is good news, be warned, good news often has unintended consequences. Two such unintended consequences might be that you will be subjected to a plethora of advertising about how to enjoy a longer life. 

I feel sure there will be so many new diets you’ll need to live to at leat 130 to find out which ones, if any, actually work. Apart from diet adverts, similar adverts will be spruiking keep-fit equipment suitable for people aged 100-135 years. The message of both adverts: if you aren’t on the right diet and using the right keep fit equipment, you won’t get the best out of your extra years of life

Other important issues mentioned in my column “Do YOU want to live longer?” (27 April, 2010) are: apart from diet and keeping fit, consideration would need to be given to the following.

“With male life span shorter than that of females, [and] even though some older males manage to remain fertile, fertility is rare among older females. However, if life span is extended it seems logical to assume that both men and women will want to extend the age of procreation. If this happens a likely consequence is that older couples (it would be wrong to call them aged because in an extended life span a new definition of aged would have to be created) might want to continue having children.

“And if older couples become grandparents and their first-born also become grandparents, children born of older couples will become siblings of grandparents and even of great grandparents. It might happen also that more couples will divorce. If that happens the mind boggles at the possible social problems.” But not to worry; clearly people will have longer to solve these problems.

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First published The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 18 October 2011

Andrew Bolt is not alone at being thought politically biased. From time to time I’m accused that when writing about Members of the ACT Legislative Assembly not only am I biased but insulting. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black because often the language of the accusers would shame the devil.  

For example, in a recent letter I was accused of showing Liberal bias because, in a column on disability, I used the name of the Liberal MLA who had expressed the views of many people connected with disability but had not mentioned the name of the Minister responsible for the disability portfolio.

But the annoying thing about the letter was less the accusation of bias than that its language was of a kind that had a copy of the letter been sent to the editor it would never have graced the Letters to the Editor page in The Chronicle. 

I hope you don’t get the idea that I’m afraid of being insulted. Not only do I expect to be insulted I encourage people to express their views as strongly as they can. However, they should remember it is possible to be polite even when expressing strong views. Indeed I think strong views have a better chance of being accepted when expressed politely. Of course people might have different ideas on what is or is not polite but I doubt the difference would be great.

However, political bias is in a category of its own: how does one decide what is political bias? The fact is: arguments about political bias have so many twists and turns they can, and often do, go on forever without the issue ever being resolved. In a way, of course, this describes the political process itself, be it Federal, State or Territory.

Canberra voters should note that if the current Federal Government runs its full term then the next election voters in Canberra will face is the Territory election next October. Some people might also think that voters who have moved to Canberra from say Brisbane or Perth might find it difficult to adjust to Canberra’s election issues. I doubt that’s the case. I venture to suggest the election issues in Canberra are little different to the issues in Brisbane or Perth.

Indeed I think most voters see elections as a case of déjà vu. The only thing new voters might possibly find different are the candidates. But current voters might also find it difficult because it is becoming increasingly difficult to see the difference in the parties because, as one listens to candidates spruiking policies all their statements sound like echoes of the policies of opposing candidates.

Unfortunately these policy echoes can have the unintended consequence of giving some voters minor headaches. And while this is unfortunate more unfortunately these minor headaches can become raging headaches that require medication to cure or ameliorate. Worse still, depending on who gets elected, the raging headaches can become so severe they lead to depression that might require ongoing psychiatrist treatment.

I mention these problems not only to inform Canberra’s new voters but also to inform current Canberra voters that all should start preparing for the headaches they might experience next October. While hopefully this might not be their experience and more in hope than expectation perhaps the major parties have learned their lesson.

Labor’s lesson: workers have deserted it because it has ditched the principles that once attracted them and replaced them with the goal of simply acquiring power. The Liberals lesson: Liberals who once were attracted to the party’s philosophy have ditched it because acquisition of power has become its goal. The Greens are slightly different: they are still a party of apprentice social engineers and yet to convince voters they are a party with a future.  

However, the main problem for all parties is that a sufficient number of voters do not trust them to govern responsibly. Indeed, voters think parties have become clubs for academics, lawyers, union officials, political apparatchiks and social theorists who treat voters as if they can’t think for themselves. Come next October they might be forced to realise they have made a mistake.

Originally published www.onlineopinion.com.au Friday, 14 October 2011

As a former Canberra Branch President of Friends of the ABC, I write, reluctantly, that ABC radio and Radio National in particular, seems to have become the propaganda arm of the same sex marriage movement. But what finally made me overcome my reluctance to write was ‘Encounter,’ Sunday morning 9 October.

My decision was influenced also by how often the word ‘gay’ manages to crop up in many ABC radio programmes that have nothing to do with same sex issues. Indeed I am tempted to think of it as subliminal advertising. 

The panel of speakers convened to discuss same sex marriage on Encounter contained no surprises. It comprised Rodney Croome spokesperson for the Tasmanian and Lesbian Rights Group and campaign co-ordinator of Australian Marriage Equality; Lee Badgett, Director of the Center for Public Policy & Administration and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts; Benny Hazlehurst, Anglican Priest and a founding member of Accepting Evangelicals; Rod Benson, Baptist Minister and ethicist at Sydney’s Morling College; Peter Comensoli, an auxiliary Bishop in the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney; Frank Brennan, Jesuit Priest and Professor of law in the Public Policy Institute, the Australian Catholic University; Sandy Miller and Louise Bucke, a Lesbian couple living in Sydney with their children; and David Riddell and Peter Kingston a homosexual couple living in Sydney.   

Unfortunately this panel lacked balance, the pro group outnumbering the anti group. But why no Aborigines, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Taoists, declared Agnostics or Atheists or other non – Christian groups?

The premise of the programme – a wrong premise- was that Christians were the only people who opposed same sex marriage. This premise disturbed me as did host Gary Bryson who, in his summing up at the end of the programme, seemed to suggest that Christians were fighting a losing battle trying to prevent same sex marriage becoming legal.

Rodney Croome was the panel’s opening speaker. In presenting his case for making same sex marriage legal he spoke as if marriage was a Western Christian concept whereas it has existed for millenniums. His other arguments: the marriage act is based on property; it is discriminatory; and that the early Christian Church had hijacked it to ensure a continuing source of adherents.

But had he researched more thoroughly, he would have found that marriage was common in civilisations long before 2000. And had he looked up Hammurabi’s law, of 3,500 years ago, he would have found that while the law allowed homosexuals to enjoy sexual freedom and gave them rights, same sex marriage was not included. The list goes on.

I also found it odd that Mr Croome was not questioned on his statement that the vast majority of Australians supported same sex marriage. So let me ask: How was this information gained? Had it been gained through surveys? If so, where had they been carried out and who carried them out? And, last but not least: who framed the questions?

 These same questions should have been put to Professor Badgett from Massachusetts University. With Massachusetts the first US State to legalise same sex marriage, Professor Badgett’s arguments, based on economic, health and welfare issues said surveys had shown that same sex marriages were beneficial rather than harmful to children. Coming from Massachusetts one might be inclined to think’ she would say that.’ Unfortunately she didn’t say how many of the people surveyed were heterosexual couples with children.

Next came Anglican priest, Benny Hazlehurst, a supporter of same sex marriage who said he came to this view after being anti for a long time.  The reason for changing his mind seemed less than convincing. He changed his mind after re-reading the bible and studying the sections that commented on homosexuality. As a result of his reading he came to the conclusion that marriage was not exclusive to a man and a woman.

The next three speakers, Baptist Minister Rod Benson, Catholic Bishop Peter Comensoli and Jesuit lawyer Frank Brennan presented their arguments as to why marriage could only take place between a man and a woman. But as committed Christians the comments applying to them are as those for Professor Bagget, ‘they would say that’, wouldn’t they?

My reason for raising this issue is because there seems to be view that agnostic and atheists must be on the side of same sex marriage. Not so. I am agnostic and against same sex marriage. My view is that same sex marriage is not a religious matter but a legal matter and that marriage should be the subject of a legal contract specifically for a man and a woman. It seems to me also, that if the men and women who sign such contracts are of strong religious belief, they will try to keep to the contract’s conditions. As for a church ceremony: that will be between them and their Church.

An identical legally binding contract conferring the same social benefits on same sex couples as a marriage contract confers on man and a woman should also be created. What should it be called? I am in no doubt that sensible homosexual, lesbian and transgender couples could suggest an appropriate name. And if they were of strong religious faith they would also observe the terms of their contracts. A church ceremony is also a matter for them and their Church. But what is of importance is that both contracts are equal under these arrangements.

During the discussion the subject of children was raised On this question it seems to me more care needs to be taken when the wording accompanying pictures of two homosexuals, two lesbians or two transgender people posing with children suggest that the couple’s sexual coupling was what caused their conception. The fact is, and much as they might otherwise wish, this cannot be. I also think acceptance would be easier if they stopped using and displaying children in their care like trophies won in what seems to have become an unseemly sex war. 

Finally, perhaps both the religious and same sex groups should cast aside their prejudices for a moment and consider the following: in the future religion might disappear but without children there will be no future.

Original article published in The Chronicle Canberra, Tuesday, 11 October, 2011  

As my columns are usually about politics, some people might be surprised by this one. It is not about politics but a Golden Wedding celebration that brought home to me why marriage is that union of man and woman that confers on them the opportunity to enjoy a range of unique experiences unachievable by any other union of two people. While some people might disagree with me it seems to that no other union of two people can produce the same range of opportunities and unique experiences.

This Golden Wedding, celebrated on Friday 30th September, was one Boadicea and I were glad to attend because the couple celebrating their fifty years of marriage had been guests of Boadicea and I when we celebrated the same mark in our married life.

In this case the celebrants were Doug and Brenda Sarah who, relatively speaking, are unknown to most Canberrans (a situation of their own choice) despite their outstanding contribution to Canberra’s tourism industry and helped make Canberra known around the world. Indeed during their more than thirty years of building and developing Cockington Green, now one of Australia’s best known international family tourist attractions, their efforts at making Canberra known is better than that of many well – known Canberrans. 

That Cockington Green was a family attraction was revealed when the Master of Ceremonies, Brenda and Doug’s son Mark, said on behalf of himself and his sisters that although they had worked there and were still working there they were not and never had been hostages of the business. He said the love of his mum and dad for each other and for him and his sisters, was what made them work there.

But a golden wedding would not be much of a celebration without some surprises. I can only say this golden wedding lived up to expectations.

The first surprise that probably few people expected was that the same people who comprised the bridal party fifty years ago – Best Man, page – boys, Matron of Honour and bridesmaids- were in attendance. And to show how much Doug and Brenda were loved and respected, these very special guests had come from all points of the compass. To complete this particular surprise, one of the page-boys, now CEO of a major building industry group in Canberra, came dressed as he was fifty years ago – in a kilt.

Then came the time for a few guests to say a few words. First, the best man of fifty years ago spoke briefly and emotionally of the friendship he had maintained with Brenda and Doug since their schooldays together in Ballarat. The retired Canberra lawyer who helped Doug and Brenda buy their first home in Higgins reiterated that same feeling of friendship.

Doug then spoke on behalf of himself and Brenda. He started by paying tribute to their children for their qualities, values plus espect and love they bestowed on Brenda and himself. He then went on to praise by name, his grandsons, granddaughters, nieces and nephews, in -laws, staff (and their children) some of whom had worked at Cockington Green (some were still working there, for twenty- six years. This was unsurprising, all being members of Doug and Brenda’s extended family.

With typical modesty Doug, went on to thank the rest of the more than hundred guests for the compliment they had paid Brenda and himself by attending the celebration. He went on to pay tribute also to absent friends with the words that their constancy of friendship had proved valuable to him and Brenda when they experienced those moments of despair, common to all families, whose support not only played a role in restoring their confidence but also helped make Cockington Green the success it is today.

But the piece de resistance of surprises was one that Doug had kept secret, even from Brenda. The surprise: MC Mark announced that Mark Vincent, the young fifteen years old tenor who in 2009 won the Australia’s Got Talent Quest, would entertain guests.

On behalf of Doug, this young man with the golden voice, serenaded Brenda with the ballad that speaks the real message of marriage: “You raise me up.” The guests’ acclamation guests showed they agreed.

Posted to The Chronicle, Canberra, Tuesday 4 October, 2011  

I know the next ACT election isn’t until October 2012, but if you aren’t prepared for it you could end up voting for someone who becomes a Member in a Government you think couldn’t run a market stall, never mind a City State.

It might even be a government that would make 2012 to 2016 years so dismal they will be ingrained permanently on your mind as unforgettable. Remember, your vote is valuable, so make sure you give it to someone you think will use it well. 

How do you manage that? Well let me declare my bias straight away. When the time comes, and without regard to my personal opinion, if you follow The Chronicle’s reports on candidates, you won’t go far wrong when it comes to choosing those you think should be elected.  

On the other hand perhaps you think you’d be better off using a crystal ball to help you make a choice. I know some folk favour the crystal ball approach. However if you decide to join the crystal ball club for voters, let me offer a piece of advice: don’t buy a used one but a new one. You can bet your last dollar that if a used one is being offered for sale it’s because it didn’t work well and left its owner with nothing but bad memories of the last three years and the possibility that next year won’t be much better.

On the other hand and even if you’ve never believed in the forecasts given by star sign   astrologers, thousands of people swear by them as better than listening to Members and potential Members of the Assembly forecast what they have in store for you.

And here are some more suggestions. If neither of these approaches appeal, and though you will have to pay a small fee, perhaps you should engage the services of either a rune caster or the reader of animal entrails both of whom will forecast the political futures of current and would be Assembly members.

If a week is a long time in politics clearly with a year to go in the ACT, it’s important you make the right choice before trooping down to the polling booth and assigning your hopes for four years to a motley crew of seventeen people of whom you know little.

At the same time a word of warning about what you see in your own crystal ball or the forecasts of the rune caster, reader of entrails or what the stars foretell. You will need to exercise great caution when examining these forecasts in case a Federal election is called before October. If that happens and the rune caster, reader of entraiIs or star sign astrologers can’t tell the difference between Federal and Territory elections their forecasts could be as useful as those given by those who tip winners of horse and greyhound races.

Putting the ACT election aside for a moment, I wonder why Prime Minister Julia Gillard doesn’t make more use of her Welsh heritage and call in the Druids to help her avoid being suddenly surprised by the need of a Federal election. Let me suggest she hire some Druids because the political gurus she’s using don’t seem to have mastered the knack of accurate predicting.

Although a federal election is possible, I think the ACT election next October is the election that will interest most ACT citizens. If it doesn’t, it should. They should be more interested in who they want to operate government on their behalf for the next four years. It will be too late after the election is over to say these are not the people I want to look after my affairs.

As yet, apart from Labor, Liberal and Greens, we don’t know who will be seeking government although I understand the Democrats, Community Alliance, other parties and individuals aspire to gaining seats in the Assembly.

But another word of warning, if you’re a long time Labor, Liberal, or Green supporter perhaps instead of voting for them without thinking, you should examine the policies of the latter groups and individuals. Indeed you might find them more attractive than those of the former.

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