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Labor Leadership

February 24, 2012

Every now and then The Furies take hold of the Australian Labor Party and give it a good shake.

This episode is different in being entirely about personality with no policy content. On the other hand, the issues of personality are pretty substantial!

It is also different in that it comes at a time of historic challenge for labor and social democratic parties through contraction of the industrial base, globalization, the limit of public sector spending and so on. This party crisis – for once the word not hyperbole – erupts when the party is struggling with 30 percent support. In the 50s and 60s outbreaks of self-indulgence occurred when the party could routinely claim 45 percent of the electorate. Perilous times, indeed

I have declined about 20 requests to talk because I think it unseemly for me to become another commentator on the party predicament, feeding off its temporarily disabled body.

I will say that alone of Australian institutions the ALP conducts no systemic training for its personnel, no mentoring, no coaching, no management of high potential talent. And we pay the price with spokespeople thrust into jobs with no preparation and no support or guidance. Good cases are lost because nobody can articulate them, our debating prowess has leached from the organization. So has personality and color, as ministers end sentences with rising inflections sounding querulous and timid or just read scripts in monotones, misuse language (say “myself” when they mean “I” ) and talk jargon. For Godsake, we saved Australia from the GFC and rebuilt the schools! Yet since 2007 we have lost the capacity to use persuasive, concrete, uplifting language to talk about our achievements.

A change of party culture is more vital than any rules change to rescue the old party from flatness and mediocrity.

Oh, and don’t overlook this: if Abbott, Turnbull and Hockey were kidnapped by Martians who would take over on their side?

The thinness of talent is even more obvious with the conservatives.

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23 Comments
  1. Ivan Pagett permalink
    February 24, 2012 7:43 am

    Abbott, Turnbull and Hockey being kidnapped by Martians is about the only hope we’ve got.

    • R Kemp permalink
      February 24, 2012 6:52 pm

      Get Real Ivan
      Where did you come from

  2. February 24, 2012 8:04 am

    ..no systemic training for its personnel, no mentoring, no coaching, no management of high potential talent. And we pay the price with spokespeople thrust into jobs with no preparation and no support or guidance. Good cases are lost because nobody can articulate them, our debating prowess has leached from the organization

    Absolutely needed to be said.

    They all seem to be trained by media forces, instead.

    • Alex permalink
      February 24, 2012 6:53 pm

      If only they were trained by media forces! If they were they wouldn’t be speaking in jargon, they woudn’t like like they were playing verbal medicine ball every time a reporter asked them a question, and Tony Abbott wouldn’t be convincing anyone they were making a mess of the economy.

      • Alex permalink
        February 24, 2012 6:54 pm

        *wouldn’t sound like they were playing verbal medicine ball…

  3. February 24, 2012 8:07 am

    “…the ALP conducts no systemic training for its personnel, no mentoring, no coaching, no management of high potential talent.” – what about young Labor and the union movement? It seems to me high-potential candidates have plenty of opportunities to improve their public speaking/leadership skills within the movement, which is something the Liberals certainly don’t have to the same degree.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 24, 2012 8:44 am

      But they SOUND like union officials. No, we can’t boast we have the sharpest debaters anymore.

  4. Nick Moffatt permalink
    February 24, 2012 9:48 am

    If voting was non compulsory in australia I think any chance of getting voters to cast a ballot for the current stock of pollies would be slim. As a strong labour supporter the only politician that I really think has any of the trained skills that are lacking in the labor party . . . Is Malcom Trumbull. If he was the opposition leader I would be very tempted at the next election to give him ago . . But not with abbott or hockey in a million years.

  5. Colleen O'Byrne permalink
    February 24, 2012 9:57 am

    So what do union officials sound like Bob? Take a look at some of the union officials who are now in the party good people with great ideals and funnily enough they can speak. They speak for peoples rights every day and know how people at the coal face feel, Then some of them enter politics and do a damn good job. I think you are very judgmental Bob. I joined the labor party for the light at the end of the tunnel and the union movement has been part of that.

    • Bob Carr permalink
      February 24, 2012 5:20 pm

      That’s fine. But spokespeople for the Labor Party need to build support from more than the 15 percent of the workforce who belong to trade unions.

  6. John Carroll permalink
    February 24, 2012 10:09 am

    100% AGREE WITH YOUR COMMENTS BOB. Hard to get the message across of good governance if one has no training in delivery. The rising inflection travels all the way to primary school teachers. We need a leader to set a standard, narrative and paint the picture of success for the people!

  7. Rik Wallin permalink
    February 24, 2012 11:11 am

    To paraphrase Churchill – Labor is the worst choice for government except for all (?) the alternatives…
    Apologies for the anti-Labor (?) bias…

    • Mike permalink
      February 24, 2012 6:02 pm

      Didn’t I read this somewhere recently – like a David Marr article. The quote is “Democracy is the worst choice…. ” aside from anything lead by Mr Rabbit, Turnbull or Hockey.

  8. Peter Patton permalink
    February 24, 2012 1:05 pm

    “I will say that alone of Australian institutions the ALP conducts no systemic training for its personnel, no mentoring, no coaching, no management of high potential talent. And we pay the price with spokespeople thrust into jobs with no preparation and no support or guidance.”

    Shouldn’t MPs have done all this in their pre-parliamentary careers?

  9. February 24, 2012 5:55 pm

    I agree with Peter. That training of talent should be a product of their earlier education, either in secondary or tertiary education.

  10. Mike permalink
    February 24, 2012 6:00 pm

    My understanding is that Mt Rabbit, Turnbull and Hockey are aliens that have taken over the Liberal Party.

  11. February 24, 2012 6:35 pm

    The work product of Labor has a lot to do with its membership! Edward James

  12. February 25, 2012 12:04 pm

    The Labor leadership issue is just that in June 2010, Mr Rudd, after two and a half years in office, was seen to be so lacking in the qualities required in a prime minister that he HAD to go, and now, after less than two years in office, Ms Gillard, is seen as so lacking in the qualities required in a prime minister that she HAS to go. If it wasn’t for this latter factor, there would be no Labor leadership issue – nobody would be thinking that Mr Rudd should perhaps be given a second chance for a nano second! The real question for the Labor party is how it could have come up with two such “duds” as leaders – not in terms of personality, but in terms of competency. It’s not that it has a shortage of people to articulate it’s positions. Ms Gillard, for instance, with her training as a lawyer added to her natural talent, has a brilliant ability to argue cases – she could argue that black was white. Her problem has been, is, a lack of good cases to argue.

  13. Scott permalink
    February 25, 2012 12:12 pm

    The worst thing about this is they have killed Labor’s electoral hopes for at least a decade. After the party is decimated at the next election people like yourself, Bob Hawke, Faulkner will do a review where you say the union influence must diminish so we can get better candidates. The unions will ignore the advice and the rot will continue. After 20 years of handing out how to votes and community activism I see all the Liberal MPs coming from the grassroots. The Labor MPs are parachuted in without ever having worked on a campaign and with no local connections. The Libs may be less talented but they are known in the electorate and understand the local issues.

  14. February 26, 2012 1:11 pm

    It is indeed “a time of historic challenge for labor and social democratic parties”. For the last century or so, the message of these parties has been (1) we’re going to hand out, spend, more money, and, (2) we’re going to lift people’s wages above their market level through awards, central umpires, etc. to supplement union activity, (seen in it’s most simplistic form in Whitlam’s actions to raise public sector wages to force the private sector to pay more – which resulted in disastrously unacceptable inflation,) all the time taking the wealth producing activities in our society for granted. But now, (1) the limits in the money available to be handed out, spent, seem to be being reached, and, (2) raising people’s remuneration through artificial means seems to have gone about as far as it can go. So the challenge has become to nurture the wealth producing elements in our society, for the benefit of all – something about which the social and democratic parties don’t have a clue. It could be argued that the Tony Abbotts and Joe Hockeys of this world don’t have a clue about it either – but the labor and social democratic parties CERTAINLY don’t have a clue.

    • February 26, 2012 10:52 pm

      I have spent my money supporting the idea that the grass roots voters have a pretty good idea how we should be governed. There is ample evidence out there in plain view, many of us are sick of the misgovernance inflicted on us by the two parties not much preferred Parliament after Parliament. We have a big job ahead of us because we have not finished sending the message to Labor Party members and their supporters. There would be thousands of disenfranchised taxpayers right across Australia who have gone cap in hand to Labor politicians with evidence of corruption and abuse of power. Only to discover party members will not exercise their influence to expose the political sins of their fellow party members. Politics has over many decades become a team activity which disrespects the rights and natural justice of the peoples who put those elected representatives in power and opposition. Edward James http://bit.ly/EJ_PNewsAds

  15. Pam Cotton permalink
    March 3, 2012 1:46 pm

    This is nothing personal Mr.Carr,You are a highly respected politition,but people are asking how you gained entry to the senate when they haven’t voted you in?Just interested in the procedure,not questioning your ability!!

  16. Ralf Kluin permalink
    March 3, 2012 6:54 pm

    I suppose that an entrants test into persons wishing to be elected to make law, in order to manage all things in society has been thought about and to a lesser extent even undertaken in Australia. The free exchange of ideas and information is easily seen as we observe elected politicians going about their tasks. For example, when I think about scientists telling us about carbon pollution, I see the intrusion of some politicians in our country deliberately telling lies, preventing responsible laws to be made to protect life. Quoting Joseph Schumpeter, “In every scientific venture the thing that comes first is Vision. That is to say, before embarking upon analytic work of any kind we must first single out the set of phenomena we wish to investigate, and acquire “intuitively” a preliminary notion of how they hang together or, in other words, of what appear from our standpoint to be fundamental properties. This should be obvious. If it is not, this is only owing to the fact that in practice we mostly do not start from a vision of our own but from the work of our predecessors or from ideas that float in the public mind.” So there it is, analytic work done by scientists regarding man’s want to pollute the atmosphere. The desire by some politicians to deny the scientific reported facts. I think that citizens will always suffer from politicians some have described as “snake oil salespeople”.

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