GLEESON Time to stop the bad blood

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - NEWS -

AS a kid grow­ing up in Aus­tralia in the ’60s and ’70s, there was a spe­cial tag re­served for the gifted stu­dents at school. Th­ese were the best of the best, the brightest stars in a galaxy where learn­ing seemed to come eas­ily, and de­bat­ing was a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of their in­tel­lec­tual fire­power.

“He’ll (or she’ll) be Prime Min­is­ter one day,’’ was the praise from a school prin­ci­pal or teacher of a star stu­dent. So highly was the of­fice of the Prime Min­is­ter held, it was the pin­na­cle of vo­ca­tional en­deav­our.

To be Prime Min­is­ter was the na­tion’s high­est hon­our. And so it is to­day, but events in Can­berra of the past decade or so have cer­tainly sul­lied the pedestal that we have placed on the PM’s role.

Not be­cause be­ing Prime Min­is­ter is any less an hon­our or achieve­ment, but it’s the be­hav­iour of those that seek and at­tain the po­si­tion that is now un­der scru­tiny. Since Kevin Rudd was elected in 2007, the PM’s job has been dogged by ex­tra­or­di­nary divi­sion and en­mity within the in­cum­bent’s own ranks. Am­bi­tion, vengeance and a healthy dose of ego have con­spired to turn the PM’s job into a re­volv­ing door of po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty.

It has done noth­ing for the sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic pros­per­ity of the coun­try. Aus­tralia’s in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion as a coun­try that changes Prime Min­is­ters at the drop of a hat is not only churl­ish but it hurts our long-term fis­cal out­look.

Now, we have for­mer PM Mal­colm Turn­bull de­cid­ing he will blow up the Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment as his fi­nal act of vengeance af­ter los­ing the job in a par­lia­men­tary spill.

It is easy to un­der­stand why Aus- tralians would be cyn­i­cal and, frankly, dis­turbed at the be­hav­iour of our re­cent prime min­is­ters. It’s not as if they will strug­gle af­ter leav­ing.

The an­nual salary is $527,852. That’s ten grand a week. When they are out of of­fice they are en­ti­tled to up to three new ad­vis­ers, fully-stocked of­fice ac­com­mo­da­tion, gen­er­ous su­per­an­nu­a­tion ben­e­fits and un­lim­ited free travel. The Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment (Life Gold Pass) Act of 2002 al­lows for­mer prime min­is­ters who have left par­lia­ment to re­ceive “a num­ber of fa­cil­i­ties at the dis­cre­tion of the prime min­is­ter of the day”.

It also al­lows them to ex­pense “non-com­mer­cial” do­mes­tic and fam­ily travel, for life. The Life Gold Pass was orig­i­nally cre­ated in 1918 to pro­vide rail travel for MPs.

In re­turn for this gen­eros­ity – which may cost up to half a mil­lion dol­lars an­nu­ally for each for­mer PM – surely we are en­ti­tled to ex­pect them to be­have with the dig­nity that the of­fice de­mands? Since 1950, just one Prime Min­is­ter has left of­fice vol­un­tar­ily – Sir Robert Men­zies whose Jan­uary 1966 re­tire­ment was marked with a mea­sure of es­sen­tial de­cency.

Even his La­bor Party op­po­nents praised his dig­nity and si­lence, some­thing he main­tained rig­or­ously un­til his death in 1978.

John Howard not only lost the Prime Min­is­ter­ship but also his own seat of Ben­ne­long. Ju­lia Gil­lard was re­moved by the La­bor cau­cus in 2013 within months of the gen­eral elec­tion and re­placed by Kevin Rudd who led La­bor to a com­pre­hen­sive de­feat.

In 1971, John Gor­ton ef­fec­tively voted him­self out of the Prime Min­is­ter­ship af­ter a dead­locked party room vote, and was re­placed by the hap­less Wil­liam McMa­hon.

Within months he was openly at­tack­ing the McMa­hon gov­ern­ment, and he even­tu­ally left the Lib­eral Party and ran un­suc­cess­fully as an In­de­pen­dent can­di­date for the Se­nate in 1975. It was to be more than a quar­ter of a cen­tury be­fore he was rec­on­ciled with the Lib­eral Party, at the in­sti­ga­tion of the then Prime Min­is­ter John Howard. When Bob Hawke was re­moved as Prime Min­is­ter by the La­bor cau­cus, to be re­placed by Paul Keat­ing in 1991, his en­mity to­wards his long serv­ing deputy was hardly dis­guised.

The same must be said of Kevin Rudd and Tony Ab­bott. Per­haps they would do well to fol­low the ex­am­ple of suc­ces­sive for­mer Pres­i­dents of the United States. The US has five liv­ing for­mer Pres­i­dents – Jimmy Carter, Ge­orge HW Bush, Bill Clin­ton, Ge­orge W Bush and Barack Obama. In the case of each they have con­trib­uted to the com­mu­nity in var­i­ous laud­able ways, some more than oth­ers. Mind you, Obama is not averse to giv­ing it to Trump. But he joins a long line there.

It is not widely known that Ge­orge W Bush has been an in­dus­tri­ous fundraiser for the cause of dis­abled for­mer ser­vice per­son­nel, and par­tic­u­larly those he, as Pres­i­dent, sent to the wars which led to their dis­abil­ity. Aus­tralia needs to re­cal­i­brate the way we look at the PM’s role. It’s not a per­sonal play­thing for am­bi­tious politi­cians. It’s our high­est hon­our, a lead­er­ship role that our kids must not only as­pire to, but re­spect.

Or at least be­have with the dig­nity John Howard and Ju­lia Gil­lard con­tinue to show.

Aus­tralia needs to re­set the nar­ra­tive around the coun­try’s high­est po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship roles. Right now, we’re be­ing served up rub­bish. PETER GLEESON HOSTS HEADS UP FRI­DAY TO SUN­DAY AT 11PM

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