GLEESON Time to stop the bad blood
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