The title is from this article in the Sydney Morning Herald (http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/niki-savva-how-journalist-went-from-conservative-darling-to-abbott-she-devil-20160307-gnc6vl.html)
This is a post to develop a case study for global politics on the concept of power and the mechanics of Australian democracy. The themes I aim to discuss are potentially :
- The fear of election outcomes – the Canning bye election precipitated events. Plus a discussion of other elections over the past two years.
- The power of media – how polls and news media transform the agendas and goals of politics.
- The good politician – hidden amidst the descriptions in the book is what is not spoken about but repeatedly hinted at. That there is this notion of a good politician, the successful communicator, one who is able to have a conversation and collaborate.
Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin (Image Source http://www.smh.com.au/content/dam/images/g/j/s/x/y/f/image.related.articleLeadwide.620×349.gnb71b.png/1457163763583.jpg)
I read two books detailing the progression of a systemic-malfunction in the office of the Prime Minister of Australia towards a leadership challenge and the emergence of Malcolm Turnbull as the new Prime Minister of Australia. Both books set out to describe how the government destroyed itself. Both authors Patrick and Savva are respected journalists who describe their writing projects lucidly. (You can hear them both on Late Night Live, Philip Adams – http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/)
These two books are great as primary material to describe the events as they happened. The books describe events as they unfolded (here Savva is brilliant) and there is a reasonable level of of analysis (mostly Patrick describing patterns). One summary, by Patrick, that I paused over was:
In Abbott, the Liberal Party chose a leader who reflected himself. When he failed, it turned to a man who reflected Australia. Turnbull could never have won a ballot of Liberal Party members. He was too liberal for the party’s conservative base. His elevation was a sign that, over time, a democracy delivers leaders representative of broader society.
This is brilliant and a healing touch at the end of the book. This is a move away from the cynicism of the politics of the situation, where we are all invited to moan about the loss of ethical narratives, towards an amplification of the notion of representative-democracy (keyword representative). Stimulated I write this post as a letter to a 17 year old using excerpts from Patrick.
Politicians as elected representatives are workers with hazy narratives – this is like the work of university academics who have to dream up their research projects based upon their sense of what is worth doing or thinking about. While the politician’s/ minister’s work plan for the year is settled the projects they have to design, execute and deliver contain a systemic dimension. We are invited to presume that the work of the politician is to improve an existing situation continuously till we progress towards incremental improvements in the quality of the whole system. These quality improvements will make the lives of people better, the conditions to do business better and the permeation of new ideas through society easier. A leading politician assuming a singular-agency, hubris, out of fear of future loss (insecurity) or a simple lack of application has the potential to create considerable turbulence. This is a drag on the potential for progress. (this then is one description of the meaning of political work)
Instead of an orderly, consensual administration, Abbott centralised power in his office and created an internal climate of fear.
Now Australia, as I read in my son’s Global Politics book, is a “model democracy”. As a model for democracy it was expected to lurch from the left to the right, or even contain within it a level of pluralism. I then ruminated a bit on the theme of the ‘model’. I imagined the modelling of this democracy from the perspective of systems thinking (such as represented in the image below).
This model (diagram) is from Resilience.org a systems thinking orientated repository and site. (http://www.resilience.org/stories/2015-12-04/mapping-the-emerging-post-capitalist-paradigm-and-its-main-thinkers)
A democracy would be the system depicted – composed of its constituent parts, which interacted, made up the whole and interacted further with other wholes. The lurching would be opposed by the forces of homeostasis – or the forces of calm. So in this description we start with a lurching ecosystem. In time, as a complex system, it would reorganise itself, and settle down. As a complex system Australian democracy ought to be amenable to being modelled as a self regulating system, its constituent parts much like an organism in a complex ecosystem. Self regulation is what we would hope to see as described in this phrase ‘representative of a broader society’. Within this of course there exists the narrative of the logic of the local ecosystem. For every ecosystem would be composed of smaller component systems – which would have to be different from that of the ‘broader society’. We would expect these smaller ecosystems to be represented in the model as the ‘fringe’ narratives which can continue to function isolated and harmless awaiting a catastrophic event that would transform the basis of the normal. The dominant narrative of the system would be the overall meaning of the system, its ethos, its central program of progression. For a political system this is not a given – it is developed through the process of a conversation both in society and mirrored in the parliament (the petri dish). (this then is a value free description of the ecosystem)
Abbott was unable to lead modern Australia because, in outlook and values, he wasn’t a modern Australian.
If this fringe were to occupy the centre, and attain a capacity to damage the system as it would be expected every so often, how would the system react? This occupation, the disease vector, would need to do something significantly bad to trigger impulses for this fringe to be expelled or modified.
Looking back on the reading I have come away with a tremendous respect for the work and the work ethic of the politicians. In a perfect world – with an amazing wise leader of the ‘team’ – I can imagine the toning down of the adversarial conversation towards a setting of a goal, a destination and a preferred future. Imagine a satnav – our very own google map of a future where we choose the goal and it describes a series of road maps to get there. We can then endlessly discuss goals.
Let us remember the conversation we regularly have – hey where where shall we go? Where we are going for dinner this friday? We d decide to go to a new place every so often, but do go to our favourite place more usually. We know that we have many Fridays and many such conversations so some of us give in. We try new places, some work, and some don’t. Parliament is then the place for this kind of conversation – so where shall we go? And we speak genially and respectfully we have a great conversation.
Here is some material about the books and the authors.
Who is Niki Savva?
Niki Savva is one of the most senior correspondents in the Canberra Press Gallery. She was twice political correspondent on The Australian, and headed up the Canberra bureaus of both The Herald Sun and The Age. When family tragedy forced a career change, she became Peter Costello’s press secretary for six years and was then on John Howard’s staff for three. Her work has brought her into intimate contact with the major political players of the last 35 years. She is now a regular columnist for The Australian, and often appears on ABC TV’s The Insiders as well as on political panels on Sky.
Quote – “The more I wrote, the more people would come to me with information,” she says. (Source – http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/niki-savva-how-journalist-went-from-conservative-darling-to-abbott-she-devil-20160307-gnc6vl.html#ixzz42GylhsPy )
What Niki Sava does
‘ … she uses her journalistic skills and her unparalleled relationship with the key players to go beyond the previously published accounts, especially giving insights into the crises and deteriorating relationship (‘poisonous’) as the 2007 election defeat loomed, and everyone wanting to understand the history of this unique leadership situation will use her work.’
Niki Savva speaks about the events narrated in her book here. (Source – http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/niki-savva-how-journalist-went-from-conservative-darling-to-abbott-she-devil-20160307-gnc6vl.html)
A bit about Niki Savva and her book So Greek (which I aim to read next): http://scribepublications.com.au/books-authors/books/so-greek/
Savva, Niki (2016): The Road to Ruin: how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government, Penguin (I read it on Kindle) – https://www.penguin.com.au/products/9781925321401/road-ruin-how-tony-abbott-and-peta-credlin-destroyed-their-own-government
Patrick, Aaron (2016): Credlin & Co, How the Abbott Government Destroyed Itself (I read it on Kindle) – http://www.blackincbooks.com/books/credlin-and-co