Turnbull and authenticity

Question: What do Donald Trump (Republican Presidential hopeful) and Jeremy Corbyn (Leader of the British Labour Party) have in common? Well it can’t be their politics.

Trump comes from the right hand side of the spectrum — he wants to keep the ‘illegals’ out, defeat Islamic State, favours traditional marriage (he’s been married three times), argues that climate change is a hoax and government borrowing and stimulus measures are detrimental to the US and objects to Chinese and Japanese interests manipulating their currencies and flooding the US with low-cost exports (despite Trump branded products coming out of China).

Corbyn by contrast voted against bombing Islamic State interests in Syria, supported investing in infrastructure to grow the economy, creating a National Education Service, renationalising British railways, scrapping tuition fees introducing rent control in unaffordable areas and investing in the arts.

The answer is they both seem to be saying what they believe, not necessarily what their minders and party hierarchy want them to say. They are both outsiders from the party machine and appear sincere, qualities which resonate with voters, as even if the voter hasn’t personally met the leader there is a connection.

One of the current management-speak buzzwords is authenticity. A dictionary definition of the word is ‘the quality of being authentic; genuineness’ which sort of seems obvious really! Corbyn and Trump are not the only people in the world to have entered politics claiming to acknowledge and reflect on the concerns of ‘the common (wo)man’, but it could be argued that these two who are diametrically opposed politically have similar abilities to represent their views in a way that resonates with people.

Being authentic is actually quite difficult. Not only do you have to present your ideas in a way that people can understand and respond to, you have to demonstrate that you also share the ideas and implement them in your personal and professional lives. While Corbyn and Trump have no ability to govern ‘authentically’ at this stage, they will be held to account for the actions that they can control — such as their behaviour at rallies, media occasions and public appearances. In addition, they would be expected to promote their apparent values and demonstrate how genuine they are in their interactions with their staff and the public. Incidents such as greeting a member of the public warmly, appearing to listen to their concerns and stage whispering that the person was a nutter soon after would place a large dent in their credibility.

Justin Trudeau in Canada brought his party from a distant third in a three horse race to government in a short space of time. This article in The Guardian soon after Trudeau won discusses the problems Trudeau faces; namely that he promised real and immediate change — now he has to deliver. Written soon after his ascension to power, this Huffington Post article lists some of the expectations of Trudeau. Yahoo News suggests that ‘After stumble, Canada’s Trudeau glides through first world trip’. It’s a good start, but there is a great deal of expectation. To be fair he was probably ‘helped’ by his predecessor as Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, making increasingly banal, personal attacks on Trudeau, including TV advertising criticising his hairstyle. Now that Trudeau has the top job he has to deliver on his authenticity in the view of the Canadian electorate, which will probably be a harder ask than the promotion.

It could be argued that Bob Hawke was an Australian authentic leader (before the term came into vogue). After a long career in the union movement, earning the reputation for being a builder of consensus to resolve conflict, he entered Parliament in the 1980 election. He challenged Bill Hayden for the leadership on 16 July 1982 and lost; then challenged again on 3 February 1983 almost at the same time as then Prime Minister Fraser was calling an early general election. Fraser lost the election and Hawke as prime minister won the next four elections until the eventual challenge and replacement by Paul Keating in 1991.

Soon after election, Hawke convened an ‘Economic Summit’ during April 1983 where political, employer and union leaders met over a number of days at Parliament House in Canberra to form a national consensus on future economic policy. The ‘Prices and Incomes Accord’ between the Hawke government and the union movement, where the unions promised to minimise wage increases and the government promised to minimise inflation, introduce a ‘social wage’ and increase spending on education and welfare was a result. As well as the economic reform managed by Hawke and his Treasurer Paul Keating, he also modernised legislation regarding industrial relations and social security while introducing legislation covering World Heritage area protection, outlawing sex discrimination, safeguarding privacy and establishing organisations such as ATSIC and the Australian Postal Commission. While Hawke’s personal reputation was not immaculate either before or during office, he publically promised to give up drinking while he was prime minister:
There is no doubt that excessive drink sometimes brought out an unpleasant personality change which, had I continued to drink, would have made me unfit to be Prime Minister.
The point here about Hawke is the authenticity he demonstrated as a leader, of both the union movement and government, to encourage people to accept compromise for the common good. Those that can remember the era would probably also remember that when the ‘Summit’ was announced, there was general derision that it would not end well. The reality is that the Accord held for the majority of the Hawke years as prime minister albeit with various amendments to reflect changing conditions and circumstances.

Unlike Kevin (I’m from Queensland and I’m here to help) Rudd who sold his message well, Hawke demonstrated that the item they purchased in the election was as advertised on the box. While Rudd did sign the Kyoto Agreement and say sorry to the stolen generations, Hawke delivered meaningful change on an ongoing basis, leading to a long term of prime ministership. While Rudd was afraid to use his political capital to push through action on climate change, Hawke made brave and calculated decisions for the betterment of Australia — and took the majority of the voters along on the ride with him. Howard also took calculated decisions that could have used a lot of his political capital: namely the GST, gun control and his treatment of refugees. It seems that while those actions were acceptable to the majority of voters, his attempt to restructure workplace relations crossed the line.

The history of the challenges between current Prime Minister Turnbull and former Prime Minister Abbott is well known and it’s not worth re-hashing it here. Suffice to say that the (reasonably) recent challenge to Abbott by Turnbull was not the first vote on his leadership. The first one was in February 2015, where no one put up their hand to replace Abbott. Abbott won by a less than convincing 61 to 39. Just think about that for a minute; 39 of his own colleagues preferred ‘anyone but Abbott’ less than two years after a ‘famous’ election victory.

Clearly Abbott, in the view of the majority of his colleagues, had lost his mojo, so to try and get their message across, the baton was passed to Turnbull (despite his previous history). AAP (via Yahoo News) reported:
Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said Mr Turnbull's personal quest for the top job was now fulfilled but she wondered where that left the country.

"He's very smooth and I think that'll work for him in the short term but people will very quickly come to see that smoothness as a sort of slick merchant banker approach to public life," she told ABC radio.
ALP Leader Bill Shorten said:
“I think it is a good thing for this country that Tony Abbott is no longer PM of Australia,” Mr Shorten said.

“I certainly believe that with the change in leadership in the Liberal Party, the chances of having an intelligent discussion and negotiation, I certainly hope they’ve improved.”
So how’s Turnbull going? Well for a start, he hasn’t changed much as predicted by Plibersek. Despite the claims of being a new government with new ideas, the ‘steady as she goes’ mindset doesn’t bode well for the LNP when part of Abbott’s problem was that one of the key deliverables in government was a budget in May 2014 that still hasn’t passed the Parliament in full — hardly the work of an authentic leader.

While Shorten’s personal approval has taken a gigantic hit with the advent of Turnbull’s prime ministership, William Bowe’s Pollbludger (an average of the polls taken in the last month) suggests that the ALP is doing considerably better in the polls than Shorten’s popularity and a win in 2016 is not a laughable suggestion. Bob Hawke in what has become an annual speech at the Woodford Folk Festival is reported to have said
When asked whether the Member for Wentworth was a threat to his party, Mr Hawke replied "of course he is".

But he was far less effusive of the PM's predecessor, who he said "wasn't a great prime minister but he was a decent man".
So Hawke suggests that Turnbull is at least competitive — but is he an authentic leader? He was rolled in 2009 because he supported the ALP’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Now he supports the LNP’s Direct Action, just as Abbott did. Turnbull was the leader of the Republican movement in the late 1990’s when the referendum was held: today he supports Abbott’s monarchy. Turnbull in 2009 supported same sex marriage: today he supports Abbott’s plebiscite (if it ever happens). So what are the differences. The SMH article linked above gives a few wishy-washy examples where the words have ‘wriggle room’ so large that you could drive a bus through.

Maybe that’s it. Turnbull has tweeted that he likes catching the 389 or 333 bus to Circular Quay from his electorate office. Abbott (if he used public transport) would get the Manly ferry. Turnbull also seems to dress better than Abbott (and probably would never be seen in ‘budgie smugglers’). Small and incremental change doesn’t win elections, just ask Malcolm Fraser (who lost to Hawke in 1983) or the various LNP leaders in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Stephen Harper may also have a few comments from a Canadian perspective.

Shorten came to fame as a Union leader who managed to achieve results for his members while maintaining the ability to work with management — sound familiar? Turnbull is showing no signs of authentic leadership, except for a predilection for ‘nice’ suits and catching buses. As soon as he suggests a change, Andrews, Abetz, Abbott or Bernardi get on the airwaves and the suggestion is taken quietly down a dark alley; then strangled.

With an election later this year it’s not a hard choice to find the authentic leader and he isn’t on the 389 from Bondi.

What do you think?



Comments (3) -

  • Ad astra

    2/28/2016 7:02:03 PM |

    2353NM
    Addressing the issue of authenticity in federal politics is timely.

    When Malcolm Turnbull returned to leadership of the LNP, and thereby became Prime Minister, his past performance as leader seemed to be erased from many minds. His apparent authenticity was a prime factor in his acceptance by the Australian public and his consequent popularity. The ‘anyone but Abbott’ feeling was widespread in the electorate, even among LNP supporters, but Turnbull projected such an aura of competence and confidence, and portrayed himself so convincingly as the man who could and would fix Abbott’s mess, that the public took him on trust, and gave him an enthusiastic go ahead. He was seen as authentic.

    Since then, some of his actions have reinforced that. His use of public transport has been one, widely publicized and applauded. Here was an authentic fellow who was not too uppity to mingle with the throng.

    How the situation has changed for Turnbull.

    As confusion characterizes the LNP, with ministers making contradictory statements and Turnbull procrastinating and sounding uncertain and at times obfuscatory, his authenticity is being eroded, day after day.

    Authenticity contributes to an individual’s political capital. As John Howard pointed out yesterday, spending political capital on making difficult decisions in the national interest is acceptable, but expending it by doing nothing is foolish. Yet that is just what Turnbull is seen as doing.

    Authenticity was Turnbull’s long suit, but authenticity cards are falling from his deck. Soon he will have none. What then?

  • DoodlePoodle

    2/29/2016 9:17:30 PM |

    Abbott was so bad that when Turnbull became PM it was like a breath of fresh air. We went to question time on the day he became PM and from what he said, we thought he was going to negate all of the mistakes that the LNP had made. We both thought and agreed that here was a man who looked and acted like a PM and would be around for quite some time.

    As someone who likes to watch question time, I had hated the aggression that Abbott exhibited and had stopped watching it. At first Turnbull had the upper hand but now Labor has got his measure. He sounds so pathetic. For many people the only politics that they ever hear are the TV snippets of his performance and I believe that he is not doing himself any favours.  People are seeing him for what he is a "do nothing" PM.

    Today's report on the NBN will also reflect poorly on him. That was the beginning of him going against all of his principles.


  • Ken

    3/1/2016 3:41:42 PM |

    2353NM

    Very good piece.  'Authenticity' may have only recently come into vogue as a discussion point but I believe it has been a major influence on voters for decades.  You can see Abbott's attacks on Gillard as attacking her authenticity and credibility (and the two go together).  Abbott lost support when his 'authenticity' was shown to run counter to what the voters expected -- in one sense he remained authentic but to a very narrow view of politics and economics that was not accepted by the people.

    To be authentic, a politician needs to say what they mean and stick by it.  Weasel words and constant changes of position are damaging.  And that is the road that Turnbull has gone down.

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