Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leadership is a wonderful thing to behold

On Tuesday I commented that Anna Bligh had done a great job in her press conference in response to the Toowoomba floods when she stood strong as a leader should. Since then she has continued to impress everyone with how she has continued to provide leadership through the horror. Her press conferences have been must watches for sources of information, advice and inspiration.

Those who have been watching her media appearances over the past days would have been noticing the red eyes and obvious signs of time gone without sleep and a determination to not give in to the emotion of the events. This morning while delivering some stirring words to her fellow Queenslanders her voice cracked and the pent up emotion slightly crept through. It was her use of the phrase “as we weep…” that I think did it – the mere mention of that emotional response brought out that which she had been denying.

But by God it was brilliant to see.

Inspiration doesn't need Shakespeare; mostly it needs honesty, emotion and plain words. Bligh gave it to us in spades.

Anna Bligh Press Conference 12 January

There have been some suggestions that this will save Bligh from losing the next election. I think that is perhaps suggesting a bit too much. John Brumby was excellent and applauded for how he handled the 2009 bushfires. In 2010 he was gone. Jim Cairns was cheered for his role after Cyclone Tracy, but that didn’t stop him being dumped as Deputy PM within 12 months. Winston Churchill led Britain through the darkness of the blitz and WWII, and yet he lost he 1945 general election.

People will praise a leader, and will remember fondly the way he or she performed during a time of crisis, but elections are about the economy, jobs, health etc etc as always. The big difference with this disaster is the rebuilding will still be going on by the time of the next QLD election, and so voters may wish to stick with the one who was there when it was darkest. But as I say, that didn’t save Winston in 1945.

And of course such things are somewhat trivial really. Nothing Bligh is doing is being done for political gain – and that is part of what makes her work this week so great. Regardless of what happens at the next election Bligh will have a place in Australian history, and all those who remember the floods will remember her role.

The most common thing has been to compare her performance with that of Julia Gillard. I must admit the one press conference where they both appeared served to highlight how good Bligh was. But quite a good deal of the commentary is actually more as an opportunity for those who don’t like Gillard to bash her – you know – she’s too wooden, her wardrobe is poorly chosen etc etc.

The fact is expecting her to outshine or even equal Bligh in such a circumstance is like at a wedding the mother of the bride being expected to overshadow the bride. Bligh is giving us must need information – where is safe, who has died, what can people do, what can’t they do, what height will the river get to, when will it get there. The thing are vital to know – and also it is literally happening in her home town, so it must hurt her like all hell.

Gillard as PM is giving us bigger picture stuff – ie less essential, more dull. Other than details on the Army and Centrelink the federal government has nowhere near the on the ground role that the state government does.

During the Victorian bushfires Rudd was very strong, but for those who remember, his best work was done when out among the victims – talking with survivors, giving them hugs etc – I can’t recall him giving a press conference inside standing next to Brumby. And so today when Julia was finally shown with survivors and she then gave a press conference out in the open she found the right tone of compassion and strength – she showed her real self, rather than the stilted self she often gives in press conferences when relating tracts of information.

This is always going to be Bligh’s show (much like September 11 was Rudy Giuliani’s and not George Bush’s), and if Gillard’s advisors have any sense they’ll leave centre stage to Bligh and keep Julia out with the people.

As for what Abbott’s advisors should do…

The Leader of an Opposition in a crisis is a bit like a distant uncle at a wedding: he has no role to play of any worth, and for the most part all he has to do is avoid getting drunk and making a fool of himself. The Leader of the Opposition doesn't have charge of any organisation, he doesn't get the facts from the police before anyone else, he doesn’t in short have much to do, so the best he can do is keep out of the way and lend a hand if needed on the ground. The one thing he should never do in a crisis is seek to get any political mileage out of it.

But of course Abbott has never uttered a word in his public life that didn’t not have political intent. When Indonesian President Bambang Yudhoyono addressed Parliament last, Abbott decided to use the bipartisan moment to say in his introductory remarks:

We have worked to end people smuggling before. It worked when we worked together before. People smuggling has started again and we can stop it again, provided it is done cooperatively and with a clear understanding of our mutual interests and with the right policies in place here in Australia.

Yep, real statesmen like. He is the drunk uncle at the wedding who gets up and mentions that ex-boyfriend who everyone liked more than they do the groom.

Following on from his remarks last week that the cost of the Queensland floods was reason for cancelling the NBN, today he came back from holiday and stated that now was not a time for politics but that he was going to hold the Government to account. When asked about Bligh his praise was deafening in it’s faintness:

"I guess it's been Anna Bligh's finest hour but there are a lot of hours ahead"

He guesses? Really, how gracious of him.

On Sky News he remarked that the floods demonstrated why Governments needed to be “fiscally prudent”, and his biggest praise was for the National Party QLD Government of the 1970s for building the Wivenhoe Dam, much like he can only ever praise the economy by remarking that it is all the work of the Howard Government was (as though the 5% unemployment rate announced today had nothing to do with the policies of the Rudd-Gillard Govts) – it also fits in with his announcement of last week that the Liberal Party will investigate building more dams, so it was hardly an apolitical statement.

When the Sky journalist then remarked about how tragic the events were given that some streets were flooded and yet some nearby were untouched, Abbott quoted the Bible and said:

"The rain falls on the just and the unjust"

While the passage obviously refers to the fact that bad things happen to good people, in the context of the events it was a decidedly odd thing to say given it suggests there are some who deserved the rain.

Luckily for him most news programs that I have seen haven’t shown that line, and have instead focused on his “I think this is a time to rally around the people of Queensland in their hour of need”. Pity he didn’t leave it at that.

On a side issue, the Twitter account of Queensland Police @QPSmedia will be the absolute Gold standard for public disaster information in any future events – it provides valuable news, and more importantly it busts myth after myth that have been circulated. Great, great work by whoever was in charge.


Over in America we also saw amazing leadership. In response to the shooting in Arizona, on the weekend, President Obama delivered a speech at the Tuscon Memorial Service. The speech goes for 30 minutes. If you have time, I urge you to watch it and see the great oratory of a leader at work:

Obama Tuscon Memorial Speech


On Twitter there has been a good little discussion on the precise meaning of the passage quoted by Abbott. It comes from Jesus’ sermon on the mount. Here’s the full context of the passage  Matthew 5:43-45 (NIV):

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

There has been the view that it means we shouldn't take things personally, or that perhaps we are or mere mortals and are vulnerable. My reading that “bad things happen to good people” is perhaps slightly narrow – I more mean God is not punishing the wicked or the good – the rain falls because the rain falls – we shouldn’t be asking what we did wrong, because that’s not how it works.

I don’t really want to get into an exegesis on the passage. I do still think Abbott’s use was somewhat odd even with this reading – it almost is him saying Biblically “shit happens”, which doesn’t exactly give one much solace.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on him – after all it was an off the cuff remark. Certainly I took more issue with his desires to use the floods to get talk on to the budget and surplus/deficit and the NBN. It will be interesting to see the attack used when Question Time starts next month.


paddybts said...

Clear, concise and pretty damn accurate summary Greg. Many thanks.

Sonia said...

Anna Bligh has been amazing but alas I suspect that the people of Qld will have longer memories than the events of the last few days. Even Kevin Rudd has come off looking pretty good but this is his hometown so like Anna it is easy for him to relate and help without it looking opportunistic. Over the last last couple of days Gillard has looked great when meeting people but more wooden when delivering information. I wish she would show her warmth I know its there. As for Abbott he has been happy to take cheap shots and use this tragedy to serve his political purpose. Once parliament starts the budget will be front and centre.
I have also seen lots of complaints by people on Facebook complaining about how the government only donated one million dollars to the relief appeal. I think people forget it costs money to send in an army and pay social security benefits. There is no thanks in being in government at a time like this . It will be a matter of days before the media turn on these same leaders . Look at Christine Nixon

Anonymous said...

I have to echo your praise of the QPS feed, they have done an amazing job.

Anthony said...

I think Cyclone Tracey was one of Jim Cairns' finest moments. Gough had disappeared, and usually deputy prime ministers are left with a note over the Christmas period to just "Do Nothing". But a natural disaster demands you do something. Kudos to Jim.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Anna Bligh for the way she's handled this disaster. It's clearly taking it's toll on her, though.

Also, compare Obama's speech with the bizarre "blood libel" stuff coming from Palin...

Miss Bailey Herself said...

Thanks Grog. Brisbane remains my home town with family spread throughout the place...and up the coastline.

Just for a change, I foolishly thought, Abbott might just show some generosity of spirit. Ha! Fat chance! As someone (was it you?) referred to him on Twitter as Australia's Sarah Palin. Too right. I'll use some alternative euphenisms on Twitter later.

Hope the new kitten is settling.

Anonymous said...

Totally agree, Gog. Anna Bligh has just been so good this week. Its also good to see her expressing (justifiably) human emotions at this awful time.

Libby Fordham said...

Thanks for this.

Drag0nista said...

Thanks for this Grog - it needed to be said. I still think Bligh's sterling performance may be enough to save her skin at the next state election. As far Abbott - how wrong can he be? I had a few words to say about him being on holiday for most of this week:

Sealspeak said...

Great stuff Grog.....sensible analysis of Anna vs Julia. And whoa, thanks for urging me to watch Obama. He gives great speech!

Anonymous said...

Anna has done a stellar performance in front of the cameras during this crisis. A lot of people really needed that, they needed to see someone strong and need some hope. Awesome stuff.

But. Chance favors the prepared. And as a Queenslander I don't feel like we are prepared to foot the bill for the years to come.

PRIOR to these floods we have some ridiculous amount of debt - during last budget it was something in the realm of $51,000,000,000 aka 51 BILLION.

Not only did we NOT 'save for a rainy day'. We borrowed during Queenslands sunniest years and are currently panic selling our assets to reduce the debt a bit.

So. Is tony 'really' a wanker for saying governments need to be 'fiscally prudent' ?

Its a bit like the drunken uncle getting on the mic to point out that the groom has been shagging the bridesmaid. Bad news. But the bride needs to know it now before its too late.... but you know what ? Its the wedding. It kinda already is too late.

Andrew Elder said...

The effect of leadership is best judged by its impact upon the led. The emergency services personnel, the people of the region, are getting on with it. They are not feeling sorry for themselves, they are not whingeing about what the government has or hasn't done - their best qualities are coming out of themselves, generosity and hard work, and it will yield real results.

The people of the United States have undergone civil tragedy and are wondering what a decent society looks like. It looks like this, it looks like Brisbane and Grantham and Rockhampton.

As for Abbott, it's always a disgrace when a man cloaks his own pettiness in the Bible. The proper context for those remarks is not the Gospel according to Matthew, but Abbott's dismissal of lobbying from the late Bernie Banton over the availability of a certain drug. Abbott (then Health Minister) had the power to increase availability but had not done so. Abbott dismissed Banton for not being "pure" in his motives.

What Abbott is doing is snarling at the people of Queensland for rallying behind the Federal President of the ALP. It's a backhanded compliment of sorts, but testament to Abbott's fundamental pettiness that any such compliment must be backhanded.

What he should be doing is bringing his presence to bear on one small thing, in contrast with Gillard's generalities - sandbagging a school, helping evacuate an aged care facility, some demonstration that all that cycling and surfing can be put to some good, decent use. He does this with the Forestville bushfire brigade in his electorate. Even Kevin Rudd is out there doing practical, constructive and physical work of a type Abbott thought he had a lock on. It is a mystery why he's not doing anything other than sulk and snarl.

Leaders of government can be forgiven for letting the spin slip at such a time, leaders of opposition have no such excuse. Abbott's staff have failed to make a positive case for their man, as Latham's did during the 2005 tsunami. Abbott's staff have failed to show their man as greater than he really is, and in doing so they have failed him, and their party, utterly.

Greg Jericho said...

Anon Tony ain't talking about QLD - he's talking about the Federal budget, and is targeting the move to surplus in 2012-13.

His play will be that the Govt needs to stay in deficit to pay for the costs, but they wouldn't have if they hadn't wasted it on school halls, the NBN etc etc .

It is purely a political move. He will either criticise the Govt for having to stay in deficit or imply that if they stay on course for the surplus that they are not spending as much as they should/could on the QLD rebuilding.

Spending money on rebuilding QLD is hardly going to be inflationary, so in reality staying in deficit because of the floods should be of little concern on a macroeconmic level.

Abbott just wants to be able to score cheap points by keeping up the myth that being in a deficit means the govt can't manage the economy.

Anonymous said...

Grog, very well described. I happen to disagree with you over your "drunk Uncle" analogy though. I think Abbott's more like the priest who sits at the end of the top table. Protocol says he has to be there, he needs to be acknowledged in the speeches. But everyone can't wait for him to piss off so the real work of a wedding can get underway. So one doesn't have to look over ones shoulders to make sure you aren't being marked for 400 Hail Mary's and an Our Father at the next Confession while you chat up your neighbours daughter or the get a bit close to the married bridesmaid on the dancefloor.

Rick said...

Mr. Jericho, you just can't help but hate the Liberal leader, can you? You're quite right, there is no role for him to play in this saga at all, (although that didn't stop a few Abbott haters from criticising him on thepunch today for staying quiet about the floods). He seemed very sincere to me when he praised Bligh today, I think you read your own prejudice into his comments. And the bible is a book of mythology that is very deeply rooted in our Western culture, and which does have appropriate symbols and archetypes available for communication in times of crisis.

But nevertheless, Abbott as opposition leader does have a role to play in proposing constructive policies (like the dam-building projects he proposed) and he does a job to do in pressuring the government to be accountable over its (you must admit) fairly loose spending habits. And I think he has been doing these jobs well.

The Australian mainsteam is waking up to the fact that Abbott is not infact the child-raping, pensioner-strangling, dole-bludger bludgeoning bastard that the left has been depicting him as for so long. Pretty soon Greg, you lefties are going to have to come up with a better strategy than just vilifying Tony Abbott purely because he happens to be Tony Abbott.

Miss Bailey Herself said...

Tony didn't need to help with the sandbagging. Julie Bishop sandbagged at Rosalie on Wednesday. So she said in an ABC interview last night. I wish I could look so spic n span after a day's flood relief work.

Greg Jericho said...

Good to see Rick you didn't go overboard in your stereotype of how "lefties" view Abbott. My strategy is to keep judging him by his words and actions. He generally comes up with material for me on a weekly basis.

Steve Szetey said...

Whilst there is the obvious parallel between Brumby and Bligh (natural disaster at a time when they are at the helm) there are significant differences too.

As bad as the bushfires were in Victoria, they directly affected only a relatively small part of Victoria. In contrast the floods in Queensland have covered a much greater area, and have directly impacted on a much larger percentage of the State population. This will have an effect on how the whole state judge(s) their leader.

There are other issues, as well, that (in current circumstances) show Bligh in a better light than Brumby, when thinking about elections.

Remember the Royal Commission and how it highlighted several Government failings, especially about how matters were conducted on the night of the fires themselves. Remember the poor handling by Brumby of his misjudged support of those at the centre of those criticisms (Nixon, Esplin, et al) when it was clear that strong decisions were required to remove them from their posts. Also the reconstruction efforts have been slow and layered in masses of red tape. This is probably not well known outside the bushfire zones, but definitely had an impact on how a lot of the locals voted.

There are other things as well. Brumby never came across as an emotional sort of person. Maybe it's his background. Maybe it's because he's a man (it had to be said). His ability to empathise with the victims of the bushfires just didn't come across in the same way that Bligh has over the past few days. I think even Rudd provided better emotional support in the days after the fire than Brumby ever did.

Now things might go pear shaped for Bligh between now and the election. Bad decisions might be made as part of the recovery and reconstruction. Faults might be found with the way certain sections of the government dealt with the lead up to the floods. But I’m betting that, politically, the conduct of the premier in the last few weeks will not lose her any votes, and might just gain her enough to allow her government to see through another election.

Anonymous said...

I think Abbott missed a photo opportunity by not appearing in the flood waters in his trademark red Speedos. The local bull shark population missed the same photo opportunity.

By the way, has anyone heard from Lawrence Springborg since the flood crisis began? Perhaps he's up at Wivenhoe Dam shouting "Stop the flows..."

Tim said...


"Yep, real statesmen like. He is the drunk uncle at the wedding who gets up and mentions that ex-boyfriend who everyone liked more than they do the groom."

In my case, it wasn't my drunk uncle, but my drunk mum!

But seriously, Julie Bishop has played the role of oppn leader this week in a wonderful fashion.

M-H said...

Abbott's comment reminded me of a bit of doggerel from my childhood:
The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

I thought it was Hilaire Belloc but Mr Google tells me otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Julie Bishop looked a good sport when she held the brolly for the TV reporter, even when the reporter was talking direct to camera. By contrast Tony Abbott could barely refrain from sniping and yes if Rudd can wade through flood waters helping people move then action man can too. Or would that effect his triathlon training?

rhwombat said...

Thanks for this Greg. Both Bligh and Obama illustrate something very important about the personal reality underlying politics. I suspect that Obama's words about the real meaning of achievement in life (~23min) will one day rank up there with Kennedy & King - and I understand from the US blogs that they really are his words.

gianni said...

Greg, a suggested edit: I think you meant in para 5 that Winston Churchill led Britain through the darkness of the blitz and WWII...

Anonymous said...

Rich my apologies if I am wrong, but was Tony reading from a piece of paper because if he wasn't then everything he says could be porky pies as he has admitted himself.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

If Abbott's so concerned about the federal Budget Deficit, why is he proposing that the Gillard government fund a ton of useless dams?
But then logical consistency is not a strong suit of the Conservatives/Regressives.

Greg Jericho said...

thanks gianni, not sure how that one got..err through. :-)

Tim and anon - I have to agree - all Julie Bishop did well in the time she was acting-leader

sam said...

I saw people not known to the home owner moving in to help clean the house. No praise, no blame - just pitching in. It's a bit like KR with the Korean kid's bag. You do what you can. it may not be much but it all helps.
It is no more than you do to others as you want them to do to you.
But it is without thinking about why. You just get off your arse and do it.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

One imagines, when you think about why Tony Abbott isn't mucking in with the rest of the pollies, like Andrew Fraser and Kevin Rudd, that he might be afraid of losing control of his carefully cultivated image with the electorate. As he seems to get into the most trouble when he freeforms, could it be the case that his handlers have instructed him to just stay in his bubble and stick to the script?

Anonymous said...

Rick, it is not Grog reading things into what Abbott says. The man exudes offensiveness. He is seriously disliked by many who are naturally Liberal voters, no small achievement.

There is a difference between a Liberal supporter and an Abbott supporter. What Abbott supporters won't acknowledge, and most Liberal supporters have only dimly realised, is that he didn't nearly win the election for Liberal, he lost it for them. If the Liberal leader had been almost anyone else, I believe the Libs would have strolled into government.

Kin said...

To those wondering where Springborg is, he's in his home town, defending his and his neighbours property, and helping with the cleanup there. He's been on local radio.

I must admit I thought I was a wee bit lost reading a balance analysis and forgot where I was, but finally you mentioned Abbott and then I remembered.

You're correct, in that Anna Bligh has redeemed herself in the eyes of many voters in the last 3 weeks. Assuming the rebuilding process goes well, I think she can carry it to the next election.

Take for example, the school I teach at: Damaged on Tuesday at the height of floods there, assessed on Thursday, most likely ready for school to start back on the 24th. I know for a fact my building was under 2ft of water, so if the government can get a school back up and running in that short a time (and 25 others as well), I'm sure they'll carry through.

As for your comments about Abbott, you're right, he's not really relevant here, so I don't know why you bothered mentioning him? I could find several dozen stupid things Gillard says in a week. I don't see those being analysed to death here....

Greg Jericho said...

Kin - I have never said I'm not biased. You want to read Gillard being criticised, go read The Oz.

2353 said...

Either get in and help or get out. Bligh, Gillard and Bryce are all helping financially or practically (Bryce was serving meals in Ipswich this afternoon). The best Abbott and crowd could do is get Bishop to hold an umbrella for a reporter.

I'm glad Abbott didn't walk down my semi-flooded street - I would have happily thrown him in the River!

Anonymous said...

Great time to look at leaders both here and in America. And both set's of leaders came out tops.
Anna Bligh has been great and I cannot understand what everyone's problem is with Julia Gillard. Did they want here to stay away? Dear me, what drivel we get that passes for news and comment. (present company excepted).
Every time i hear Obama speak, i scratch my head about Americans. How could they ever elected a President like Bush? Well done Grog - by far the best commentary on current events anywhere.

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