Sunday, 19 December 2010

Julia Gillard and her government - an ill-founded expedition : @julia gillard #ausgov #politics #expeditions

Networkers, I cast about looking for a picture to illustrate Julia Gillard tied up in knots. Couldn't find one and no time to fiddle with collaging one together.  And then I found this.  Omit the references to NBN Broadband and look at the meta-narrative, Burke and Wills.  As far as I am concerned that says it all.

Melbourne loves Burke and Wills.  Melbourne loved them 150 years ago and loves them still to-day.  There is a painting in the gallery of the State Library of Victoria.  It is huge, celebratory, jubilant and triumphant. It is Melbourne farewelling Burke and Wills - and the populace is there in their thousands.

I'm from Queensland where our adulation of Burke and Wills is pretty much non-existent.  We think they were rather silly people. We believe they did a perish which should, in all likelihood, never have happened. Not that explorers haven't disappeared before.  We have no idea where Ludwig Leichhardt finished up - and he seemed to have a lot more sense than B&W. 

I find this extract from the Burke & Wills Research Gateway to be particularly apt when looking at the Gillard Government: 

The south-north leg was successfully completed (except they were stopped by swampland 5 kilometres (3 miles) from the northern coastline) but owing to poor leadership and bad luck, both of the expedition's leaders died on the return journey. 

Back in Queensland there is an opinion abroad that these were men who were foolhardy, who did not understand local conditions, were foreigners in a strange land, and did not care to take advice from the native born.

If you follow up on the links, Networkers, you will find that B&W had the backing of some very important and influential people.  Very handy in beating up the farewell crowd, I'm sure.  Not necessarily people vital to personal survival in a harsh and unfamiliar landscape.  Much recording in the media and art world of the time.  Again, no help to personal survival there. 

I referred above to "did a perish".  I should explain that to "do a perish" is a fearful thing in the Australian bush.  Australians who have read the famous We of the Never Never by Mrs Aeneas Gunn will remember the mailmain, The Fizzer.  It is said that The Fizzer - who for years had delivered the mail across the Barkly Tableland on the eastern side of the Northern Territory - changed his route and took to delivering the mail on the VRD side (Victoria River Downs).  

He opted to take another route because the previous mailman had done a perish and was found with the skin on his hands worn away from scratching at the unforgiving earth.  The Fizzer wanted to avoid the risk of this happening to him. He switched to the VRD side with the mighty Victoria River - and drowned.

And so was the fate of the mighty Burke and Wills expedition.  With poor leadership and failure to take on the wisdom of the bush and the native born, the expedition did a perish.  

Back to Julia Gillard.  There is little evidence to convict Julia Gillard of listening to the wisdom of those who know the lie of the land.  She gives every appearance of listening to those who shout the loudest and take uncompromising positions - and, of course, we must not forget the unrepresentative, small in number focus groups.  

Intelligent, principled leadership appears absent - at least in our Federal government and governance.  It does not appear that choosing another party will provide a solution.  Carney so rightly points out:

...the leadership continues to apply a false dichotomy to the society - one where the populace is split between bogans and eggheads, with no one in between - and attempts to placate both elements simultaneously.

Burke and Will had a dichotomy in operation.  The support of Melbourne bigwigs who purported to know everything and, as it turned out, knew nothing. The knowledge of people who had traversed this land for forty milennia and knew how to survive, and who were deemed not to be capable of making a contribution. 

There are a great number of Australians, more than likely the majority, who cannot be slotted into the false political dichotomy which appears to be abroad.  This "deeming not to know" process has been analysed by the British philosopher, Miranda Fricker, and I have written about it before here

It is called epistemic injustice. Fricker's book is a bit expensive for ordinary mortals.  It is readable. It is in some Australian academic libraries. I read my copy courtesy of inter-library loan.  You can also go to The Philosopher's Zone and listen to a podcast or read the transcript where Fricker talks about power, prejudice, and the death of Stephen Lawrence due to epistemic discrimination.

In the current circumstances, leaders do need to listen to the people.  And then the crunch comes. Leaders have to lead.  They have to make decisions. They have to be decisive and confident in their decision-making.  

If a leader is not of firm conviction or principle, does this affect the decision-making process? I believe it does.  Rightly or wrongly, we need a guiding star or principle by which to direct our thoughts and arrive at our decisions. Just as Captain Cook carried the experimental chronometer of John Harrison on his voyages to the South Pacific,  a leader needs principle to steer the ship of state on its political course.  Else sound government is beset and becalmed in the political doldrums.

We see the Gillard Government in this way.  It is a government that doesn't speak its mind or take the nation into its confidence.  It is a government which hangs in the breeze to be blown this way and that by every strong and baying voice.  This is a sure way to be hung out to dry.  It is a sure way to find the electorate isn't listening to you and just holding out for the next election to express its view.  It has to wait...because the government isn't listening to the sensible and practical voices who do not do obeisance to commercial radio's talk-back jockeys. 
Further reading:
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