The worst job
The worst jobs involve saving people from themselves, an insistence that their interests differ from their thoughts, words and deeds. These are jobs where all the resources in the world would be too little, and too little resources understates both the nature of the problem and what's needed to fix it.
In this article, Austin shows that David Kemp has failed to learn this central lesson after so many years in and around Australian politics.
'BRENDAN, you've got the worst job in Australia," Victorian Liberal president David Kemp unhelpfully remarked to Brendan Nelson after the Federal Opposition Leader addressed the party's state council meeting at the cavernous Melbourne Convention Centre at the weekend. Nelson was having none of it. "Tony Nutt's about to get that job," he replied, beaming.
So, Tony Nutt's going to work with abused children or other gruesomely injured innocents, is he? Running the Choir of Hard Knocks? Is he going to make [insert poorly-performing sporting team here] win the premiership? No? He's going to do what he's done all his life: put a pillow over the face of vigorous political activity with the aim not of victory, but of getting people to keep stumm.
Here was the besieged Nelson, who hails from the dysfunctional NSW division of the party, suggesting to his Victorian hosts that the bloke trying to run their show had the worst job going.
Given that the Victorian division of the Liberal Party has had less success since 1996 than their NSW counterparts in getting Liberal candidates elected to Parliament, this is a bit rich. Even more so is the knowledge that, having floated into Parliament after a few months as a member of the party, Nelson has been entitled to think that organisational problems solve themselves. Nelson does not even understand organisational politics, let alone have the authority to fix them.
Sheezel went first. "The Liberal Party in Victoria is at the crossroads.
Groan! This is a rightwing cliche. They always say the Liberal Party is at the bloody crossroads. Whenever they find themselves at that crossroads they insist on their right to lead the way despite their consistently poor choice of route.
The 2007 federal election defeat had prompted "honest and brutal" reflection, said the man who has run the Victorian division for five years. The poor Liberal vote could not be dismissed as an aberration, he warned. "It in fact continues the 30 years of poor performances of the Coalition in Victoria."
Sheezel, you tried all the cliches and it didn't work. You tried keeping the ship steady, and it stayed on the route to perdition. You were a waste of space, all the more so for failing to do anything but save your own skin. You'd be a disaster at anything else you turned your clammy hand to.
"It's up to us to set the community standard of quality debate and how people of different views can work together in a democracy," Kemp said. "We need to show that we give priority to this as Liberals, all committed to an Australia where people have the right to decide how they will organise and live their lives, to be properly rewarded for their efforts and to realise their talents and their dreams in life.
Kemp's entry to Federal Parliament in 1990 involved a factional putsch. He's happy to have people debate, so long as it doesn't make any difference. The fact that it makes no difference is the problem. You might be obliged to preside over a farce, but nobody else is obliged to participate in one. Given the choice between a debate which makes people back down, or no debate at all, people like Kemp and Sheezel will always prefer no debate at all.
"I want to remind you of a simple fact — opposition is not the goal," [State Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu] said. "We are here not to navel-gaze or sulk or play games; we are here to win." To make that happen, "business as usual is not going to be enough. To make this happen, above all we need a change of attitude. This party does not belong to a few, not to this or that individual or committee or the delegates in this room or the anonymous 'senior Liberal source'. It belongs to the people of Victoria, those who vote for us, who need us and who look to us to represent them. (It belongs) to the people who expect us to deliver ...
The swinging voter is greatly sought-after at election time, and fat toads squatting on polling data in back rooms claim they can read their minds (falsely, given Liberal election results in recent years). However, within party forums, nobody represents or cares about those people. All those committees exist to make unimportant people feel important, and grant or deny similar importance to others. By the time an election comes around, the committees and councils and whatever have disappeared so far up themselves they're of no use to anyone.
There is a compelling and fundamental rule of life: do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. It cuts both ways: those who attract respect are those who give respect."
That's right. It starts with respect for public servants, whom Kennett excoriated and never brought back around once the smoke cleared. It starts with respect for teachers and nurses and honest police, who tend to work harder than politicians do for even less reward than one finds in opposition. Demonstrating this, in word and deed, is the road back to government for the Liberals.
Baillieu knows he, not Tony Nutt or any other Liberal, has the worst job in Victoria.
So long as he believes that, he'll keep it. You can't save people from themselves.