Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Nation Without Leaders?

Paul Keating once said that great leaders require two things: imagination and courage. Two years ago, I wrote a blog post criticising the concept of ‘Australia Day’ and its celebrations every year on January 26th. It is not our national day and never will be. 24 months later I am here to pose the question: What does it mean to be a truly great Australian?

Just hours ago, one very famous guy won the award of 'Australian of the Year'. Good on him I say, but ironically it suggests that winning this overblown, meaningless prize is a bit like winning a Best Actor Oscar. Lots of people have the potential to win it, very few worthy candidates are taken seriously, the crowd pleasing choice usually wins, and the week following the award no one quite remembers who won. In a funny way this seems to reflect how we as Australians see ourselves.

We as a nation do not speak in reverent tones about our leaders, political or otherwise and yet it has not occurred to the population that our leaders are a reflection of ourselves. Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, Michael Clarke, and yes, even Rush (just to take four basic examples of some of the nation’s highest profile citizens), are in broad terms leaders. They all have qualities of stoicism, determination and grit. Notice how they are all mean exactly the same thing? Of these four Australians you could all say they do varying degrees of good work and are extremely high achievers in their chosen fields, but when was the last time that any of these people listed above inspired their followers intellectually, creatively and perhaps most importantly of all, when have they inspired enhanced community activism or contribution?

Again, I think its valuable to note that as Australians the two biggest days that (in theory) give us an inflated sense of patriotism are the days that represent two of our biggest failures as a nation. Along with Australia Day, ANZAC Day celebrates that thousands of lives were sacrificed for a cause that had no real strategic or national merit. Is it any wonder in this climate that Australia as a nation rewards the trier who more often than not is doomed to failure? That we praise those who have determined personalities rather than those who have intellectual or creative flare? Perhaps most devastatingly of all, that we reward mainstream mediocrity rather than those people who seek to challenge and inspire us?

As Australians, we should be entitled to expect that our ‘Australian of the Year’ not only have the qualities that represent the nation, but also provide the characteristics of who we as a nation aspires to be. When was the last time an Australian of the Year was an internationally recognised person in their field, with a strong sense of community involvement who challenged perceptions of the world around them? By my reckoning it was 1994: 18 years ago. In that time we have had 4 Prime Ministers, 4 Olympic Games,  as well as thousands of intellectual, cultrual and community based achievements. None of the 18 following award recipients have fulfilled the basic requirements of what it means to represent the entire Australian nation as its best and the brightest.   

If Keating is right then Australia is sorely lacking in both imagination and courage, because we in fact have no real leadership in this country. More accurately perhaps, those who do have leadership qualities are under recognised and neglected. If Australia truly is the great nation that is worthy of its people, perhaps we have to redefine what it means to be a truly great Australian? Because if recent history is any guide we are looking in the wrong direction.

Monday, 16 January 2012

You Want To Win An Oscar? Play A (Real) Cripple.

I have this theory…

If there is a movie based on my life, the person who plays me will win an Oscar.

This is not just a boast, it is mere statistical fact. If an actor or actress plays a cripple, they are a chance. If they portray a real life person, they are a bigger chance. If they play a real life cripple it is a slam dunk.

Since 1980 there have been nine actors who have played real life people and won. Four of these qualify as having some of sort of disability. These are Daniel Day Lewis as Christy Brown, (1987), Geoffery Rush as David Healthcot, (1996) Jamie Fox as Ray Charles (2004) and Colin Firth as King George VII (2010). There is no case where a person portraying a real life cripple has lost a Best Actor Oscar in that time

While no actress playing a real life crip has been nominated for an Oscar since 1980, there is a twist in the theory.  Marliee Matlin who has a hearing impairment, played a fictional character who had a hearing impairment, won an Oscar for Children Of A Lesser God (1986).

Based on this theory Meryl Streep is odds on to win the Best Actress Oscar in 2011, for her portrayal of a past her prime, dementia riddled Margret Thatcher. Care to comment and prove my prediction wrong?

This proves that the Academy are soft touches when it comes to real life crips, just like society in general.

So how about it Tobey? Can your people call my people?

Friday, 6 January 2012

Personification of the Party.

Continuing my research for the PhD, I stumbled upon a serious of quotes that I had taken from the Australian media on the 25th of November 2007, the day after Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister.

“Rudd will be different. If he can tilt our culture's tone to one in which fear, greed, indifference, cynicism and prejudice are a little less prevalent in our national life, then many of us will feel a little prouder to be Australians than we have in the past 11  years.” David Williamson

“Labor 1.0 was the Whitlam government; after emerging from 23 years in the wilderness in 1972 many of its members behaved like pigs at a trough and it was rejected overwhelmingly by the public in 1975. Labor 2.0 was the Hawke-Keating government, vastly more sophisticated and accomplished, but eventually undone by arrogance and the culture wars, as Paul Keating, Gareth Evans, Nick Bolkus and Robert Tickner led the charge of "racism" every time anyone dared to question its misguided policies on immigration or Aboriginal affairs. It took 10 years for Labor to recover. Labor 3.0 is encapsulated by Rudd's refusal to contest the culture wars with Howard. The rhetorical tendencies of firebrands like Julia Gillard, Peter Garrett and the trade union ideologues have been conspicuously tempered or measured, or non-existent, since Rudd took charge.” Phillip Cooroy

“Howard said months ago that the opinion polls threatening him with annihilation might be the Australian public's idea of a joke. We've now seen the punchline.” Peter Hartcher

“John Howard's greatest legacy will be the size of his defeat.” Judith Brett

“For years, Costello has demanded that the Liberal leadership — and the prime ministership of this country — be handed to him on a platter. That was not to be. Now when the leadership is there for the taking, albeit with a heavy workload attached, he reneges.” Costello says he has withdrawn in the interests of renewal within the party. For goodness sake, he is only 50 years of age, he has overseen the best economic times Australia has lived through, and he has a bucket-load of experience. You can imagine the profound sense of anger and hurt by so many, particularly those Liberals who worked so hard in his electorate for his return to Parliament at this election, expecting they were working for the next leader of the party. Hundreds of Victorian Liberals were counting on him being the next Victorian-bred leader of the party. Well, one news conference today has destroyed that dream. This one announcement says more about the character of the man than his 11 years as Treasurer of this country.” Jeff Kennett

“The most important outcome of this election — more important than John Howard losing his seat and the powerful blow dealt to the morale of everyone involved on the non-Labor side of politics — is the electorate's repudiation of WorkChoices. It might be that WorkChoices could have got the assent of the people if they had been allowed to discuss and absorb it before it was passed into law. We'll never know, because Howard never gave the legislation or the Australian public that chance.” Shaun Carney
“Saturday night's victory was not just a victory for the Labor Party, it was also a victory for those Liberals such as Malcolm Fraser, Petro Georgiou and Judi Moylan, who stood against the pernicious erosion of decent standards in our public affairs. The Liberal Party of John Howard, Philip Ruddock, Alexander Downer and Peter Costello is now a party of privilege and punishments. One that lacks that most basic of wellsprings: charity.” Paul Keating

“Costello would have been flawed as leader but the most likely alternatives will send many Liberals into a spin. Many would see the charismatic Malcolm Turnbull as risky; others remain suspicious of Brendan Nelson's Labor background; they regard Tony Abbott as a wild card.” Michelle Grattan

“You have to hand it to John Howard. The man who immortalised himself as "Lazarus with a triple bypass" has reached from just beyond the point of political extinction to achieve his ultimate personal aim; denying Peter Costello his chance to lead the Liberal Party.” Glenn Milne

“It is indeed that case I think that Queensland turned the corner for Labor, Queensland the state which is so often under-performed for Labor. On this occasion, the highest primary vote it has ever recorded, and the biggest swing in the country. Ten seats at least, maybe 12, I think it also shows on Kevin Rudd's part that in this parochial state, the benefit of having a Queenslander, a presentable Queenslander, as a potential Prime Minister, I think that also swayed a few votes. In the end, it's a bit like State of Origin up here at State of Origin time, Barrie, that is, it's a case of Queenslander, Queenslander, Queenslander!” Jim Middleton

“Rudd was able to depict himself as the leader of the future and the more he did that, of course, he cast John Howard as the leader of the past. Howard's problem was that he was always combating this idea he could never do it, despite his new initiatives, his programs, his spending initiatives, he could never combat the idea he was the leader of the past, Rudd projected himself very effectively.” Paul Kelly

More than 4 years later, looking back in retrospect I have to wonder how and why so many people got their predictions so, so wrong? The Rudd experience more or less proved that the public and the media either expect far too much, or nothing at all from our leaders, so when they fulfill their destiny and achieve mediocre results we are all left disappointed.

In retrospect though Rudd's failure was not to foster these expectations, but to try and meet them. Rather than the dawn of a new era, the Rudd ascension spelt the beginning of the end for the ALP, because unlike the idealists of the Whitlam era, Rudd supporters were a group full of oxymorons: the niave pragmitists. Rudd's inability to translate his core values (Even now we still don't know what they are) in combination with his inability to deliver any substancial policy goals represented the microcosym of the post 1996 ALP:
  • A party of ideas and rhetoric and a party lacking any real policy brain or substance. 
  • A party which is intelligent, but cannot translate this to the public in any meaningful way
  • A party steeped in tradition and history, yet has no real vision for the future
  • A party which professes to speak for the 'working class', but has no grasp of this concept
  • A party with a bureaucratic mind rather than a multifaceted one
It is therefore unsurprising that Rudd's presence continues to dominate the party, for he is its personification. By ousting Rudd and installing Gillard, the ALP not only lost its identity, it destroyed any chance it had left for survival.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

You Twit?: The How and Why of Social Networking

People have the wrong idea when it comes to social media. They assume it is about ‘connection’, when it really is about information. Inspired by political commentator Malcolm Farnsworth and his piece on how he uses Twitter I thought I would take a stab at how and why I use social media, because while his points are all valid I have a slightly different take.

My philosophy is that my Facebook and Twitter accounts are for my benefit primarily and my concern is not for those who choose to read them. Consequently, my readers will find lots of Retweets or links to other pages full of articles or tidbits that I like. My one rule for posting these is: if I were a follower of my own account, would I want to read this? If the answer is yes then I post. People who choose to follow me might find my account what some consider ‘information overload', but I don’t care. Just like watching a program on television, readers can choose to click on my link or change the channel and ignore it. Similarly 'followers' can choose to ‘unfriend’ or stop following me at any time. I don’t use social media to win friends, although I do try to influence people.

I was an early adapter on Facebook. I first signed up in August 2007, when an American friend came to visit me. At the time Facebook had just launched worldwide after becoming a raging success in American colleges. At first my objective with Facebook was to try and commandeer as many friends as possible. At my peek I had around 550 Facebook ‘friends’, mostly because I wanted to show my partisan credentials by becoming ‘friends’ with the majority of ALP politicians. I have never had many actual friends, so this was a superficial ego boost. I 'friended' many people from both my old high schools and they ‘accepted me’. They had never done that before! Then as the months went by, I began to discover why I never liked these people in the first place. My feed was either choked up with political press releases or drunken party photos along with pithy insights many of which were variations of ‘Man, I got soooooo pissed last night! Can't remember any of it but it was totally AWESOME!’.

This time last year I finally came to realise the superficiality of it all, and decided to cut my ‘friends’ list down to around 130ish. Those who survived did so based on the fact that they contributed information that I liked to read on a daily basis. However, last night I was even more brutal with my ‘friends’ list, as I cut it down list even further to the relatively minuscule 55. This second cull was based on people that I actually like in real life, because my time on Facebook was becoming unfocused and I felt rather pointless. In the Facebook world I have come full circle.

Twitter is slowly becoming my preferred online platform since I joined up in May 2009. Bluntly, it is because I can follow the opinions of respected professionals rather than people who just pretend to be. My philosophy with Twitter is similar to that of Facebook, except that I try and diversify my information as much as possible. I find personal Twitter accounts that focus upon one topic (like those in the disability sector who exclusively tweet with ‘Look at me! I am a cripple!’ disease)  exceedingly boring. so I like to post work related material (politics, my articles and blog links) with other stuff I love (movies, music, TV, and books) along with the occasional personal insight. After all I am human and not a cyborg.

The most important lesson about Twitter is not to tweet just to gain ‘followers’. Tweeting in my style does place a ceiling on the amount of followers though (I have stayed between 150 and 175 for just over a year now). While my number of ‘followers’ may not be high, the opportunities for networking are far better. Through my Twitter connection with Carly, I was able to secure a writing gig with RampUp, which then led to work with The Punch.

To simplify: apply the same rules to social networking as you would to dating. If you try and whore yourself out it may be fun at first, but it is bound to be painful in the long run. If you are selective in deciding your content the consequences will be far more rewarding in the long run.