Category Archives: leaders

Our world in transition

Petra White wrote this evocative poem, published in The Age on Saturday October 11

A History of the Siege


Dark days are here.

Nothing can stop them,

they crowd like hair around the temples,

everyone knows

and now we can say, at last, it is dark.

On Manus, they are walking along fine edges of themselves,

under a borrowed moon, a borrowed sun.

Nobody follows them, they would lead

only to an end of the world.

When was it darker than this?

Oh it was darker.

And the darkness is genuine,

our fingers have been dipped in it, it is felt

by all who would feel.

Where does it come from?

Us, in our masses, the massing cloud?

Our politicians, they who balance us

in their thready hands, and then plunge portions

of us and them into the pit?

Up there, a human form lies over the land.


I really appreciate this poem; it speaks of our world today.

Our dark times was the subject of a recent article by Joseph Camilleri, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, in which he wrote: 

We appear to have reached one of those extraordinary moments in history when people everywhere, communities and even entire nations, feel increasingly stressed and vulnerable. The same may be said of the planet as a whole.


Last night I attended the second of Joseph Camilleri’s  public lectures called Rethinking the Future. His topic:  Coping with Risk and Uncertainty: Volatile Markets, Anxious States and Tentative Social Movements. He described our world as one in transition where people, goods & services, capital, technology, arms, information, images, carbon emissions, and viruses move across borders at ever increasing scale, speed & intensity. Such rapid transition, he claimed creates certain risks and stresses experienced by people, communities and the planet. We’re familiar with the stresses and we also understand that these will only get worse.

But what was really disconcerting was his assessment of our governments’ abilities to handle the many crises facing us – describing this as very limited. You can give up any hope that those in power will come to their senses and govern ethically with concern for the wellbeing of the planet and its inhabitants. For they are accustomed to finding themselves trapped between competing pressures and maintain the tendency to overstate certain dangers and understate others. For example: The Australian government’s overreaction to refugees and on the other hand its understating of the need to act on climate change. We witness this happening of course but it is good to have it explained, and more debate and discussion on this state of affairs can only be a good thing.

So where is any change or agitation to come from? During the lecture we were reminded of the wonderful social movements that graced our lives in the 1960s and 70s: feminism, student activism, gay liberation, civil rights, peace activism, and environmentalism.  Such movements:

  • politicised technological change
  • called into question the legitimacy of the state, its decision making processes, and in particular its inability to manage risks to life, health, security and identity
  • insisted on bringing ethical considerations into bureaucratic and technical discourse
  • Expressed a new conception of space & time

These social movements are still in existence but are less visible and less active. They are unlikely to gather sufficient numbers to force change.

Joseph Camilleri concluded rather optimistically that though the future will be difficult, all is not lost; dynamic knowledge remains, our technical skills enable greater transparency and accountability, and there is increasing disenchantment with politics and business as usual.

This is a good sign although disconcerting as unrest is sure to ensue as the public sector shrinks and with it diminished access to public health, housing, and a healthy, happy environment.

Bring on the revolution!








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The ‘mother’ and the ‘witch’

Screen shot 2014-07-20 at 5.53.04 PMAngela Merkel, the German Chancellor is highly regarded by her public – indeed she’s very popular and is referred to as  ‘sister, aunt, even mother’.

She embodies what the German soul wants now according to Barrie Kosky, the former Australian artistic and theatre director,  now based in Berlin.

Merkel is a former chemist, he adds, and describes her as ‘boring’, even ‘staid’. Even so, few people dislike her, and even his left-wing friends approve of their conservative leader. He claims that this fondness for Merkel is to do with the history of the country, and with the point at which Germany finds itself now, and that these particular attributes of the leader make the Germans comfortable. Kosky says the Germans have come to terms with their past. They are not trying to prove anything.

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Whereas Angela Merkel is regarded as ‘mother’ to the nation, during her short time as Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was frequently called a ‘witch’ and ‘smeared as Lady Macbeth, the woman who had plotted to bring down a prime minister’, writes Mary Delahunty in Gravity : Inside the PM’s office during her last year and final days. 




Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 4.55.54 PMDelahunty recalls the cold night in June 2010 when Julia Gillard came to power. When, as an admired deputy, it became increasingly apparent that the Rudd governance was dysfunctional, Gillard was urged by Kim Carr, Mark Arbib, Bill Shorten and David Feeney to challenge Rudd. This was no planned coup for when Tim Mathieson, Julia Gillard’s partner arrived in Canberra for the morning vote it was obvious he had left in a mighty hurry for he was wearing one black shoe and one dark brown.

Nevertheless the muck stuck: Long-time press gallery journalist Michelle Grattan summed up Gillard’s promotion from deputy to PM : ‘Her colleagues and the media saw her as the next big thing. Now she’s seen as the executioner’. Liberal Christopher Pyne was even more insulting  when he declared to the parliament that to compare Gillard to Lady Macbeth was unfair to Lady Macbeth as she had only had one victim to her name; this prime minister has a list of victims longer than Richard 111. He did not name victims but carried on about her failed policies.

Australians are not comfortable with women in power. Although we were one of the first countries to grant women full political rights we were one of the last to elect women to federal parliament. By 2007 the picture for women in politics had improved with Julia Gillard the first female deputy prime minister, Anna Bligh the first elected female state premier, and Julie Bishop the first female deputy of the Liberal Party. And in 2012 Julia Gillard became the first female PM, and Nicola Roxon, the country’s first attorney general. But the situation has now taken a turn for the worst and in 2014 women hold less than 30 percent of Australian parliamentary seats.

The frightful abuse hurled at Julia Gillard came mostly from older very conservative males, those in the mold of Alan Jones who said on radio that Gillard should be chucked in a chaff bag and sunk at sea. How dare he or anyone say this to anyone least of all our prime minister. Delahunty describes this hatred of Gillard as emanating from these old men’s fear of ‘declining influence and potency’.

As I read this book I find myself recalling Barrie Kosky‘s wise words explaining how the Germans regard Merkel with such fondness, and wonder if the desperate state of our politics is really because we haven’t grown up, we haven’t faced our past, maybe we don’t know who we are. Australians just weren’t mature enough to appreciate a female Prime Minister.

While Germany has come to terms with its history, Australia has not yet dealt with its indigenous history or its convict past. ‘The wound is so enormous, so dark’. Kosky says. For him, ‘Australian politics is just a reflection of convicts and prison guards’. Power, pettiness and meanness are the words he uses to describe our politics. He is right in his assessment.



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The high price of power

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Borgen is a gripping TV drama series where 40 year-old politician Birgitte Nyborg becomes Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. The production is packed full of political intrigues and deals but it’s the effect that her new powerful position has on her  home life and her relationship, that grabs my undivided attention.

I bought the box set of the first season and watched an episode every night. In the early scenes, I was delighted to watch a happy and playful Birgitte and her husband Philip, parents to their two children- and all of them apparently comfortable with Birgitte’s surprise ascension to power. But although I enjoyed the friendly domesticity, I had to wonder how long it would last.

Philip is a lecturer and each night after work  he tackles the domestic chores, tends to the needs of his children and the challenges of their school activities and home work. Philip jokes about having sex with the new Prime Minister but this rarely happens as Nyborg is forever late home or called in to settle some political deal or other. Through each densely drama-packed episode I remained cautiously optimistic that Philip would prove to be mature; a man who could bask in the success of his wife, and not become sullen and needy and childishly seek attention elsewhere. However, well before the end of the first season, it was clear that my optimism had little basis and the foundations of the happy home were fast crumbling away,

After too many long evening hours alone with his children, and his son who was now bed wetting and clearly missing his mother, it was clear that the idyllic relationship was not going to last. By the end of season one, Philip was heavily engrossed in an affair and the divorce papers were waiting for the unhappy Prime Minister to sign.

However, I did not find this separation and impending divorce convincing. Would a couple who were seen as so delightfully together in the earlier episodes  really have been driven to divorce? Why couldn’t they get someone to help with the domestic chores if that was the problem. But then it wasn’t just the domestic workload that was the issue. Philip couldn’t cope with his wife’s success and like most men he really needed a wife to mother him as well as his children.

As I watched the disintegration of their relationship I had to wonder how a man could leave such an attractive, clever and highly successful woman with whom he had two much-loved children, for a younger woman. But then the new model will no doubt make a fuss of him; she’ll laugh at his jokes, she’ll boost his flailing ego and she’ll mother him.  This  is what the morose, and formerly capable and dependable Philip needs and sadly what most men expect and demand. But I am still surprised and rather disappointed for I was hoping for a better outcome. As the second series plays, poor Birgitte, beautiful and powerful though she may be, is desperately unhappy as Philip and his new love and the children spend quality time together.

I continue to be gripped by season two, now shown on SBS on Wednesdays at 9.30 pm. I’m sure there will be better times for Birgitte, but I would have liked to have seen her partner able to support her in her new life. But let’s face it – few men are up to this task.

And of course his desertion for another woman meant for more drama on which such a program depends.

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Fair Cop – Christine Nixon spits the dummy

In July 2010, Christine Nixon resigned as chair of Victoria’s Bushfire Recovery and Reconstruction Authority, effectively retiring from public life. But this week the former Victorian chief police commissioner is well and truly back in the media spotlight. Continue reading

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Lessons to be learnt


Julia Gillard became our first female Prime Minister barely two months ago and within three weeks announced a federal election. Did her short period in the top job before calling the election contribute to the fall in support for the ALP?  Were there lessons to be learnt from the Baroness? Continue reading

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Photo: A gathering of women leaders.

It’s official. After weeks and months of deliberating on the date of the next federal election we now know we’re off to the polls on August 21st. But before we cast our vote we need to talk about the appointment of our first female Prime Minister in terms of its symbolism. Continue reading

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The Making of Julia

The political players are well known but not so widely acknowledged is how they really feel about their parliamentary colleagues.

The long drawn out three year electoral cycle is about to end with the federal election now very close. Should the ALP be returned with Julia Gillard as the legitimate elected Prime Minister, Gillard will immediately set about choosing her cabinet. So does she appoint those who helped bring down Kevin Rudd or does she choose her friends? Does such a political animal as Gillard have any friends?

The Making of Julia Gillard by Jacqueline Kent documents our first female Prime Minister’s life story. Interviews with Gillard’s friends and rivals are used to inform the reader of her student university life where along with the achievement of an Arts/Law degree the young Gillard involved herself passionately in student politics where she learnt her excellent debating skills.

Kent follows Gillard’s path from her highly successful legal career with the prominent law firm Slater and Gordon to her appointment as Chief of Staff to the then opposition leader John Brumby. Her real goal was to enter parliament herself and after overcoming considerable barriers to her pre selection she finally became the federal member for the Victorian seat of Lalor.

The book reveals that the relations between the current finance minister Lindsay Tanner and our new Prime Minister were never very congenial and raises the question of whether his lack of friendship for Gillard was the real reason why he decided to resign after the ‘cout d’etat’ that saw Gillard usurp the reins of the country from Kevin Rudd. Kent asserts that both Gillard and Tanner are extremely motivated and determined people. She writes that Tanner saw Gillard as ‘a careerist-too pragmatic, too ready to make deals with whoever it suited’ (Kent 2009.82).

Not that this is anything unusual: the parliament is full of those who dislike their colleagues –those who would stab their rivals in the back – those who are envious and power hungry themselves. Kent has written about Gillard as a woman who has been very fortunate in her rise to power. Of course Kent’s book was published in 2009 and before the current change of leadership.

The appointment of the new cabinet will be interesting to watch. Rudd friend and ally Maxine McKew the federal member for Bennelong has spoken out about the factional heavies but is hoping for a seat on the front bench along with the co-conspirators to the coup Bill Shorten and Mark Arbib.  Fascinating times indeed.

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