THE WEST IS IN STRIFE — AND LOOK­ING FOR LEAD­ERS

There is no one even on the hori­zon to of­fer us, the US or Bri­tain much hope

The Australian - - COMMENTARY - GRA­HAM RICHARDSON

For a full decade Aus­tralia has lacked real lead­er­ship. Four prime min­is­ters in a row — Kevin Rudd, Ju­lia Gil­lard, Tony Ab­bott and Mal­colm Turnbull — have all failed to live up to the ex­pec­ta­tions Aus­tralians had of them.

With Rudd we had the pink batts scan­dal, and no one can for­get Gil­lard’s fa­mous dec­la­ra­tion that “there will be no car­bon tax un­der a gov­ern­ment I lead”.

Ab­bott knighted Prince Philip and saw noth­ing wrong with giv­ing wealthy women $150,000 a year in parental leave pay­ments. Turnbull whipped op­tions for tax re­form on and off the ta­ble with bewildering speed for a full six months and blew an early rat­ings lead.

Time and time again Aus­tralians were left empty-handed and dis­ap­pointed.

We are all won­der­ing why there are no Bob Hawkes or Paul Keat­ings or John Howards or Peter Costel­los around any more — or even on the hori­zon.

In a na­tion such as ours that can pro­duce Olympic gold medal­lists on the one hand and No­bel prize-win­ners on the other, why don’t the very best of us run for par­lia­ment any more?

There are many rea­sons for this and among them me­dia in­tru­sion is high on the list.

There is no pri­vacy pro­tec­tion any more for the politi­cian or for their fam­ily.

For­mer Vic­to­rian premier Steve Bracks was a pop­u­lar man but he re­signed promptly once he re­alised the pa­parazzi were chas­ing pho­to­graphs of his son and his girl­friend, who were just out hav­ing a drink.

Many prospec­tive par­lia­men­tar­i­ans sim­ply won’t ac­cept that de­gree of in­ter­fer­ence to their pri­vate lives. While many will cite pay as a rea­son, peo­ple such as At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis and La­bor le­gal af­fairs spokesman Mark Drey­fus have both taken silk and never would have been short of a brief were they still at the bar. They now earn con­sid­er­ably less than they could. No one can doubt their com­mit­ment to public ser­vice.

While politi­cians’ salaries have been head­ing north in re­cent years, side ben­e­fits such as a gen­er­ous su­per­an­nu­a­tion scheme have been scaled back. Money is still an is­sue but, in my view, it is not the whole ball game. Be­ing rated be­hind used-car sales­men on trust­wor­thi­ness doesn’t help ei­ther. Politi­cians to­day are held in low re­gard by most Aus­tralians.

Dis­re­gard for the po­lit­i­cal class is by no means con­fined within Aus­tralia’s bor­ders.

In­deed, Don­ald Trump won the US pres­i­dency by cam­paign­ing against the po­lit­i­cal elites of both sides of the di­vide.

He sav­aged Hil­lary Clin­ton but was just as crit­i­cal of the es­tab­lish­ment run­ning the Repub­li­can Party. Just how a bil­lion­aire celebrity who re­fused to re­veal his tax re­turns could con­vince poor white Amer­i­cans to vote for him in droves is be­yond my in­tel­li­gence.

Since Trump’s el­e­va­tion to the most pow­er­ful po­si­tion in the world, his sup­port­ers are find­ing it dif­fi­cult to point out his achieve­ments.

Oba­macare had to go, he de­clared, yet every time he has sought its re­peal in congress he has been un­able to garner enough votes. Repub­li­cans who con­sider his re­forms too weak have been joined by those he thought were go­ing too far. Now he has turned his at­ten­tion to his tax re­form plans, which look to me like lu­nacy on a hitherto un­prece­dented scale.

One of the few suc­cesses he has had is cob­bling to­gether enough votes to ex­tend Amer­ica’s debt ceil­ing, but if these tax cuts go through gov­ern­ment rev­enue will be in such dire straits that he will be forced to keep the debt ceil­ing go­ing up for a long and dis­as­trous pe­riod.

So many peo­ple in the in­ner cir­cle around him have come and gone in the pe­riod since he took of­fice (and re­mem­ber that this is less than 12 months) that it is dif­fi­cult to keep up with.

I felt par­tic­u­larly sorry for Sean Spicer, the orig­i­nal press sec­re­tary, who was forced to face the me­dia every day to ex­plain how the Pres­i­dent had not quite meant what he had ac­tu­ally said the day be­fore. The sack­ing of FBI chief James Comey was prob­a­bly Trump’s big­gest gaffe be­cause it looked as if he was try­ing to in­ter­fere in the course of jus­tice, which of course was ex­actly what he was do­ing.

Across the At­lantic, the lead­er­ship of Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May is un­der se­ri­ous ques­tion. Hav­ing called an un­wanted and un­nec­es­sary early gen­eral elec­tion, May was forced to watch a swathe of her con­ser­va­tive col­leagues lose their seats.

Hav­ing scraped back into of­fice, she now sees her lead­er­ship hang­ing by a thread. She will prob­a­bly sur­vive in the short term but any leader whose au­thor­ity has been shaken to its core rarely lasts. The whis­pers and the leaks have be­gun, and once let loose, they never re­turn to si­lence.

It may seem hard to be­lieve but I am hor­ri­fied at the thought of Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn be­com­ing Bri­tain’s prime min­is­ter.

His brand of magic pud­ding eco­nom­ics will send the coun­try broke, yet his ap­peal to younger vot­ers is grow­ing rather than di­min­ish­ing. His vows to end aus- ter­ity and start spend­ing have a ready-made au­di­ence as many Brits con­sider they have been squeezed too of­ten and for too long. Brexit will be dif­fi­cult to ne­go­ti­ate and the power vac­uum at the top in Bri­tain is a real worry.

The row be­tween Spain and Cat­alo­nia seems to worsen by the minute. Where is the lead­er­ship in Spain?

The gov­ern­ment in Madrid used the po­lice with ba­tons and rub­ber bul­lets. The Prime Min­is­ter prof­fered an apol­ogy for that ex­cess but is still threat­en­ing to send in the army and the Cata­lan leader has signed a dec­la­ra­tion of au­ton­omy.

Aus­tralians are not alone in hav­ing lit­tle con­fi­dence in their po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship.

In the coun­tries men­tioned above, vi­able al­ter­na­tive lead­ers are as preva­lent as hens’ teeth. What­ever the rea­son may be, right around the West­ern world the best and the bright­est are not lin­ing up to en­ter pol­i­tics.

I fear it may well be an­other decade be­fore a true leader can emerge.

There is no pri­vacy pro­tec­tion any more for the politi­cian or for their fam­ily

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