07/05/2008 - 22:00

Financial wealth but paucity of vision

07/05/2008 - 22:00


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Watching state Liberal leader Troy Buswell become enmeshed in a scandal of his own making made me question what it is we really want from our political leaders.

Financial wealth but paucity of vision

Watching state Liberal leader Troy Buswell become enmeshed in a scandal of his own making made me question what it is we really want from our political leaders.

There are plenty of people around who believe we overanalyse our leaders and that in applying the spotlight too strongly we scare away otherwise good people.

There may be a grain truth in that, but on the whole I believe this has always been part of the political process and leaders need to be robust enough to accept that we expect such people to live the lives they claim to – especially when they may be telling us how to live ours.

Indeed, most people don’t want Mr or Ms Perfect in the job (although Mr Buswell is in no danger here), they just want someone they trust to do the right thing by them and, in this case, the state.

The other thing I hear regularly is that people want those with vision to lead the state.

Generally, we think of past political leaders, the ones history has proven right, as a benchmark for our current desires.

They have often achieved wonderful things at times of crisis or historical crossroads.

That is probably an unfair benchmark to set, although many believe we are witnessing a historical shift in the state’s economy.

A great example is that of the pipeline to the Goldfields, which is frequently cited as a visionary project, pushed by then premier John Forrest and designed by the great engineer Charles (CY) O’Connor.

This project was one of the great engineering feats of its time. The steel order alone was the single biggest made at that time and the dam that was built was thought to be highest constructed in the period.

Importantly, it came at a time when the state really needed it, facing the prospect of being unable to develop the riches of the Goldfields, an economic powerhouse where people and industry were struggling to survive due to the lack of water.

But this amazing project came at a huge cost, with the financial commitment putting the state in debt to a staggering degree – many times more, in fact, than WA’s whole GSP. Can you imagine any leader being allowed to make such a decision these days?

I doubt it very much.

The scale of the project was matched by the vitriol in the constant and damaging political attacks on its viability, ultimately contributing to Mr O’Connor taking his life.

So perhaps things haven’t really changed as much as people like to think they have.

Politics has always been a nasty business and the dirt has always been flung far and wide, with true leaders only emerging when voters’ views are chrystallised by issues much more important than the personal foibles of the individual in charge.

Right now, the only crisis we have is an embarrassment of financial riches and, arguably, people are more concerned that they might get a leader who could stuff it all up.

Sure we need some vision to keep the state moving in the right direction and to capitalise on this great boom, but it’s hard to conjure up a sense of crisis around that, even if many think it is.

And as we all bask in the glory of booming fortunes, there’s a lot more incentive to grab political control of the purse strings through the tried-and-true method of mudslinging.

This is not a new phenomenon. People are sadly mistaken if they think politicians can change in this respect.


I was also bemused to see state-funded parental leave emerge as a key platform at the WA Liberal policy launch last week.

When I heard that Troy Buswell had announced that policy, my instant reaction was one of cynicism. It seemed such an obvious ploy when Mr Buswell’s reputation for female-friendly activities had reached such a low ebb.

Maybe I’m being unfair. Perhaps the policy was already in train when things blew up for the Liberals.

While I did not attend the launch, the statement I received certainly looked like an entry statement rather than full-blown policy.

“There are a variety of models for this already in operation in various developed countries but so far neither the Australian federal government nor any of the states have implemented it,” Mr Buswell said in a statement.

“The basic principle to this kind of system is that the state reimburses employers for providing a period of paid leave around the birth (and in some systems, adoption) of a child.”

Not exactly detailed policy is it?

Unfortunately it was buried as an issue by the crisis over the Liberal leadership.

This is a shame, because paid parenting leave was a big talking point at the federal election and I’d like to hear someone come up with a concrete and detailed plan so we could hear the debate about its benefits and costs.

Small business, in particular, would probably like to know more about this proposal which could very well level the playing field in the challenging hunt for staff.


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