By Andrew Bolt ~
Is leadership now dead in Australia? Are our “leaders” now mere managers, just ticking boxes and following process?
Let me give two examples of this deadly managerialism from last week.
One shows the gutlessness of the Turnbull Government; the other is the astonishing revelation that NSW’s top police went home during the Lindt cafe siege.
First, the government.
The day Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott to become Prime Minister he actually promised to be a real leader.
“We need a style of leadership … that respects the people’s intelligence, that explains these complex issues, and then sets out the course of action we believe we should take, and makes a case for it.”
I could not have said it better. Leaders are not corks on a river, drifting with the current. They are the river, sweeping others with them. They act, not react.
One complex issue Turnbull promised to explain and act on was free speech.
To win support for his challenge, he privately told conservative MPs he would reform the Racial Discrimination Act.
That should not be a hard issue to explain, given this wicked law has now been used against seven Queensland University of Technology students who dared to complain of racism when they were kicked off computers their university claimed were only for Aborigines.
Several of those students have since paid money to make this case go away, but three refuse to say they are guilty when they aren’t and are now being sued for $250,000.
And don’t think this is just a one-off. Scores of complaints are privately settled each year by the Human Rights Commission, which has now asked the public to ask it to punish The Australian’s Bill Leak for drawing a cartoon pointing out the shocking rate of child abuse in Aboriginal communities.
Given this, Turnbull should be able to explain why the Racial Discrimination Act must be reformed, but he’s refused to even try.
Just why not, he won’t say.
He simply says it’s not a “priority”, but it seems Turnbull doesn’t want the grief of arguing for what many journalists, ethnic spokesmen and “human rights” activists oppose, and which the Senate would reject.
In fact, one of his ministers — staying safely anonymous — last week proved the Turnbull Government is determined not to show the leadership Turnbull once promised.
Asked by The Australian about the Liberal backbenchers now demanding reform of the Racial Discrimination Act, the minister sneered: “None of them can count”.
He meant the dissenters did not have the numbers to force Turnbull to change his mind, and even if Turnbull did give in, he’d still be a couple of votes short in the Senate to outvote Labor and the Greens.
Why try when you’d fail?
Do the Greens stop arguing against our boat people laws just because the numbers in the Senate are against them?
Did Labor stop arguing for same-sex marriage just because Parliament said no?
Sometimes it is a question of pride and moral seriousness for a political party to fight for a losing cause.
It’s also important to fight when the cause is so just and your own supporters believe you stand for nothing.
But look at that Turnbull minister, too scared to even let a journalist publish his name as he sneers at fighters for free speech.
Each of the three students being sued, in fighting for their rights to speak, has more courage than this minister.
They are leading on an issue that the government is merely trying to manage.
But isn’t that the government now? Going with the flow. The cork and not the river.
Which brings me to last week’s other example.
In December 2014, Iranian refugee Man Monis held 15 people hostage at gunpoint in the Lindt cafe in Sydney’s Martin Place.
Police knew Monis was an Islamic State supporter and feared he also had a bomb.
The hostages told them in phone calls from the cafe they thought this terrorist capable of murder: “We are not going to walk out of here.”
So where was the NSW head of counter-terrorism, deputy police commissioner Catherine Burn?
Well, not once in this 16-hour siege did she drop in on her officers at the siege.
In fact, at 10pm, with the 15 hostages still facing death, Burn went home.
So, later, did her boss, police Commissioner Andrew Scipione. Incredible.
In their defence, Scipione and Burn insist they were managers.
They left the situation to their experts.
They shouldn’t second-guess their officers in charge.
Except, of course, those officers were dealing with an unprecedented situation and struggling with equipment failures, including police radios and phone lines for hostages that didn’t work properly.
They were also struggling to make the right calls — in particular, whether to stick with the usual tactic of talking down a gunman, or adopt the new paradigm of the terrorism age and kill him before he killed.
They chose to talk. And two hostages died.
To me, it’s bizarre that a police chief and a head of counter-terrorism would not want to be at the siege, even if only to ensure their officers had all the help they might need, and to ensure no mistakes were made.
But this may not be just a failure of two individuals.
This may instead be the culture of the NSW police.
I say this because 15 years ago, another senior officer from the NSW force, Christine Nixon, was hired as Victoria’s first female chief commissioner, charged with making the force more female-friendly.
But in 2009 came Black Saturday and some of the worst bushfires in Victoria’s history.
The fires looked ugly from early on. Police had to help with evacuations, traffic, and saving lives.
But Nixon, their boss, went that day to the hairdresser. She talked to her biographer. She did paperwork for 90 minutes.
Late that afternoon, she was warned that people would die but minutes later, Nixon went home, and then to a restaurant with friends.
So she ate dinner as Kinglake burned and by the time she’d finished, Marysville was in ashes, too, and most of Black Saturday’s 173 victims were dead.
Now, Nixon has argued that her critics didn’t understand.
“It was not my job to swoop in and take control,” she told a royal commission.
“When you have good people who are more skilled in emergency management than I am, you let those people do the job.”
The royal commission disagreed with Nixon’s detached managerialism: “Something more was required.”
But Nixon did later say emergency management learned one lesson from her: “I don’t think anybody will ever leave the scene of anything ever again, with the criticism that happened.”
Except, at the Lindt cafe siege, they did leave the scene. Again.
Are these now our “leaders”? Managers? Mere corks in a river?
Andrew Bolt writes for the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph, and The Advertiser and runs Australia’s most-read political blog. On week nights he hosts The Bolt Report on Sky News at 7pm and his Macquarie Radio show at 8pm with Steve Price.