Thursday, February 13, 2014

Newman, Abbott and English - why NZ is doing relatively better

There is an increasing harshness in Australian political discourse that I find very unpleasant. I regard it as un-Australian, although it has happened before. Campbell Newman

This is Campbell Newman. He is Premier of Queensland. Fresh from his bikie triumph in which the first persona arrested was a forty year old librarian mother of three, he now wishes to intervene in the Schapelle Corby case.

Whether or not Ms Corby (and the Australian media) have behaved properly is one question; this News report summarises some of the discussion. But what, on earth, has all this to do with Mr Newman? Is this a matter of public importance in Queensland? And, in any event, just because, I think that this is correct, Ms Corby lived in Queensland prior to her arrest, she is certainly not in that jurisdiction now. It seems to me to be a case of see instant political gratification, grab that gratification.

Then we look at Mr Abbott's language on the boat people, on the harshness of Mr Morrison's expression, We look at some of the language of Premier O'Farrell in NSW discussing changes to the liquor laws. 

Many years ago now, I was part of a special program, the Administrative Trainee Program, designed to train future leaders in the Commonwealth Public Service. We started with a residential school at Brassey House where we combined with the Foreign Affairs trainees. One element of the course was a significant component on ethics. Not rule based anti-corruption training of the type we have today, but a philosophical discussion that drew out shades of gray.

Wilfred Jarvis explained the techniques that the North Koreans had used to brainwash US prisoners. He looked at the reasons why Turkish prisoners were less susceptible to the brain washing techniques. We took Adolf Eichman as a case study of the quintessential civil servant whose job was to find the most efficient and effective way of killing Jews.

We discussed our role in serving a Government, in providing advice within the Westminster system. What did you do when you fundamentally disagreed? How did you avoid a series of creeping decisions that finally left you morally compromised? There was no focus on whistle blowing. Confidentiality of advice remained central. It had to be if you were to provide frank advice. Rather, the issue was when you should resign, to oppose outside the tent.

I suppose, in a way, that the core message was that the public or civil service was a vocation, a profession with its own rules and codes. Now I wonder a little just how Immigration or Defence Department staff cope in today's environment.

I said that these things had happened before, I could cite case after case. The interesting thing, however, is that history has judged most (not all) of these past cases harshly. The rhetoric is condemned, the injustices exposed. How could you do that, the historian or reader asks?

We remember our leaders because of the positive things that they have achieved, These become clearer with time.

Just at the moment, there is a high degree of admiration in Australia for the achievement of the New Zealand Key Government in very difficult circumstances. I share that admiration. However, in cherry picking those things that suit them, many in Australia ignore some key features of the New Zealand Government.

The first is that on social and moral issues New Zealand is, as it has been for many years, on the Australian left. The second is that New Zealand actually has a very pragmatic approach, In an interview in today's Financial Review with NZ Finance Minister Bill English, he said and I quote:" We're a suburb of Australia and Australia is a province of China." Those are the realities for New Zealand. The country is dependent on economic management in Australia and China, and can only respond as best it can. Australia has yet to learn this lesson.

Mr English's rhetoric and arguments about structural reform would be familiar to many on the "right" side of politics in Australia. However, he makes two points that would be less familiar in this country.

The first is the need for stability, the need to provide a framework that will allow individuals and businesses to plan. Take time, be careful, don't rush.  The second is the need to look after the less advantaged and those adversely affected by change. Focus on them, but keep to your core approach. I have called this sharing the benefits.

If you do these things. Mr English argues, people will come along because they see the emerging benefits.  Just give them time. That position is supported by the New Zealand public opinion polls.

This is not the Australian position. Here the atmospherics and the poison dominate.

This morning, Prime Minister Abbott  delivered a speech on closing the gap, on bringing Australia's Aboriginal people up to the level of the rest of the country. I have absolutely no doubt of Mr Abbott's sincerity. He has earned that right. His longer term commitment has been well demonstrated,  And yet, how can he expect people to identify with this issue when he is polarising so many? 

Well, it's time that I ended.    

No comments: