What happens in a leadership vacuum?

What happens in a leadership vacuum?

We are all finding out what happens in a leadership vacuum right now. Most everywhere there is a lack of leadership in politics, a lack of leadership in society, and, where I come from at least, a lack of leadership in the public service.

What happens in this vacuum?

Fear, trepidation and ultimately chaos.

Here are some examples of why we are in the grip of this awful trio

Would you like a burger? 

Back in the day, this was a simple enough question. Answer yes and a grilled beef pattie inside a sweet bun with some lettuce, tomato and pickle would arrive in greaseproof paper. 

Only now everyone’s opinion on burgers must be heard.

I expect a veggie burger others will say I’m sorry I don’t like beef burgers but I do like a chicken burger. Others will want chilli sauce with that, another will say please hold the pickles. After much debate and discussion, it will be clear that there’s no standard burger that would satisfy everybody. 

OK, some more inclusivity but the question then becomes who chooses what the priority for the burger should be? In the absence of any leadership, there is no one to make a call and all opinions cut have equal priority. This creates a product challenge for the burger outlet.

When everyone has an opinion it’s hard to prioritise. A democratic consensus is an ideal solution but not one that can be used for most operational matters even at the government level. For example, should we buy submarines from the French or the Americans?  

All views are canvassed and it doesn’t matter whether you are a senior person in the organisation or someone who’s only just joined as an intern, everyone gets to give their opinion. 

Great inclusivity right? After all, true leaders are also great listeners. 

Well perhaps, but canvassing opinion is a tool to gauge the most common beliefs and values. It helps leaders make considered decisions but does not make the decisions for them.

Excessive asking makes everyone keen to give their opinion on all matters. Many get cranky if they’re not given the opportunity to say what they think. The plumber gets an opinion on health measures in a pandemic and the cardiologist on the price of cheese. 

Remember that opinion need not be based on evidence or facts, it is a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.

But once everyone gives voice to their opinion, priorities hide under a bush.

Would you like extra value with that? 

It is a delight of the human condition that we each have a different set of values. It gives us diversity and plenty to talk about over the burger.

Values within each value set are held more strongly or weakly depending on culture, experience and nurture. As more people are added to the conversation, values become nuanced and the value propositions multiply.

A critical function of leadership is to help balance these values and to land on the optimal value set that most can agree on or be persuaded to follow.

In a leadership vacuum, the values space is filled by indecision. 

Organisations are held hostage by the committee and the plethora of values and have no idea which burger to make or what trimmings to add.

Novelty burgers

In the leadership vacuum where everyone has an opinion and all values are in the mix egos flourish. 

If my value or opinion is unusual or a bit out there, no worries. I can follow it anyway and make it happen through force of personality with a side of arrogance. There is no reason to knuckle down and collaborate, I can just go and do my thing on my own and build a burger with a tofu pattie and a slice of pawpaw instead of beetroot. 

This lone ranger approach is great for creatives and artists of all kinds. It works for entrepreneurs and futurists too but is not so helpful if the task is to make billions of burgers at a realistic price or to choose the most cost-effective marine deterrent that is in the best interest of the country.

The novelty burger has a niche market but sales always stall.

Deconstructed burger

A profusion of Lone Rangers, or whatever the collective noun might be, generates so many burger options that the whole meaning of the burger is deconstructed out of existence.

Nobody knows what the national dish is anymore and togetherness suffers. 

It is not long before any collective purpose is lost and society drifts. This is ideal for those who never believed in the burger in the first place and knew everyone should eat tofu because they did.

Leaders provide direction. It is a core purpose of the breed and they can win hearts and minds because we crave the good vibes that come from collaboration on a shared direction — the contradiction that makes us Lone Rangers in the first place. 

In the absence of leaders who can articulate a shared direction, we invent them for ourselves.

Tandoori chicken instead

Perhaps the most important consequence of a leadership vacuum is that we lose respect for leadership. Burgers are forgotten as we find alternatives in the tandoori oven.

A glance at politics in the mature economies shows most leaders on the nose to the point of ridicule and disbelief. And it’s not just Boris obviously. Recall that respect is ‘a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements’. In other words, it is earned. 

Vacuous leadership not only fails to garner respect from lack of ability, it also erodes the repository of respect built up over generations by previous incumbents. The likes of Lincoln, Churchill, Ghandi, and Mandela didn’t build a mountain of leadership respect for jokers like Trump to trash it in one term of office. 

They did the right thing for their people in their time. 

A flogged analogy 

Burgers will always be on the menu somewhere — they are delicious, easy to eat, cheap to make and go great with sides.

We will get leaders back soon enough.

The risk is that in a rush to calm our fears and avoid chaos we allow leadership that makes us all eat the same burger, every day for the rest of our lives.  


Hero image from photo by Ilya Mashkov on Unsplash

The man in the middle

The man in the middle

Photo by L.W. on Unsplash

A picture is worth a thousand words. 

As this one is worth a million of them, I will risk copyright infringement because it’s too good not to share with you.

A brilliant photograph by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images appears in an online article in The Guardian.

On the left of the unmasked man in somnolent posture is António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres, a career politician, former Prime Minister of Portugal and the Secretary-General of the United Nations — a 71-year-old white man in relaxed but attentive mode.

On the right of the reclining dude is Sir David Attenborough, the internationally renowned broadcaster, naturalist and author who is 95 years young. 

Sir David has been busy his entire life and has remained prolific and added activism to his resume in his retirement years. Finally able to speak his mind as one of the very few people on the planet old and travelled enough to see the change in the planet’s biodiversity with his own still sharp eyes. He is also wise enough to interpret what he has seen for what it represents — a massive impact from human beings on the rest of the planet. 

The gentleman in the middle is understandably a little tired. 

He had to jet down from Glasgow to London to attend a dinner at The Garrick Club in the West End. This gentleman’s club, a simple euphemism for men only, was founded in 1831 and currently has a seven-year waiting list of new candidates. Gentlemen prospects must be proposed by an existing member and elected in a secret ballot, the original assurance of the committee being “that it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”.

Our napping chap had to fly down to the club for a reunion of Daily Telegraph journalists. Naturally, there would be revelry and a complete absence of boredom in an exhilarating dinner date.  Such a foray would knock any big-hearted galoop about a bit.

However, duty is a demanding mistress. 

This opportunity for a kip is at the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It came just after one’s cabinet colleague delivered a budget promoting air travel by reducing taxes on domestic passenger flights. Jetting about shows leadership by example.

The colleague, Mr Sunak, may or may not be in line for club membership given he has something about him that may have come from his Punjabi Hindu parents. On the plus side has an obscenely wealthy spouse. This conundrum will mean assurances of the committee come after more than one round of Graham’s 1972 single harvest port. 

Duty and revelry are ready reasons to excuse dozing off.

The absent mask, not so much.

How many words would capture the thoughts running through the REM sleep of the man in the middle? 

The picture suggests something like this:

I am a pig in shit, and I don’t give a fuck about anything else that is going on. I’m just enjoying the adulation and how everyone laughed at my jokes.

Caught on the wrong side of history

Caught on the wrong side of history

Photo by Shaah Shahidh on Unsplash

According to Ian Verrender, ABC business editor, a senior Australian government minister who was on the wrong side of a few drinks made this off the cuff comment…

 “The difference between Labor’s policy and ours is that Julia Gillard introduced a scheme where big polluters paid Australian taxpayers. Tony changed it so that Australian taxpayers pay big polluters,” 

Unnamed Austrailian Government Minister

This bizarre statement referred to the carbon price, the so-called ‘great big tax’ introduced by the Labour government in 2012. This blog has mentioned the debacle that is Australian climate policy and the frustration and sadness that it has been thus for over a decade.

Imagine the arrogance in this inebriated quip. 

Australians elect such individuals, and as an excellent article by Leigh Sales, another ABC stalwart, tells us, this level of vulgarity is typical. It is not a personality thing but ingrained into the political system. It is leadership that lacks.

I always liked the idea that the cream rises to the top. 

It ranks alongside ‘the truth persists’ as quotes that are hopeful and true. The problem is it’s taking a while, way too long. 

“Cream always rises to the top…so do good leaders”.

John Paul Warren

The delay in the arrival of some genuine leaders will have consequences.

One of the more ironic is the one Ian Verrender describes, the consequences for Australia of the rest of the world putting a price on carbon in the form of carbon border taxes. Countries that have lowered emissions and want to keep it that way are reluctant to import emission-intensive commodities. At least that is the rhetoric.

The reality for Australia is that there will be carbon levies. The world was trending towards enforcing climate policy through trade action. For example, the EU Carbon Border Adjustment Legislation is still rough but will include aluminium, iron, steel, cement, natural gas, oil and coal. 

Here are the 10 Biggest Exporting Industries in Australia

  1. Iron Ore Mining $123.1B
  2. Oil and Gas Extraction $39.8B
  3. Coal Mining $37.6
  4. Liquefied Natural Gas Production $34.8B
  5. Gold and Other Non-Ferrous Metal Processing $29.4B
  6. Meat Processing $15.9B
  7. Grain Growing $8.2B
  8. Alumina Production $7.4B
  9. Pharmaceutical Product Manufacturing $6.9B
  10. Copper, Silver, Lead and Zinc Smelting and Refining $6.8B

That is at least $309 billion in exports that could get slugged for their emission intensity. If the levy is just 5%, that is $15 billion in lost revenue… per year.

But it’s ok; the taxpayer is waiting patiently to pay the big polluters.


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Political power is not what it’s cracked up to be

Political power is not what it’s cracked up to be

Photo by John Adams on Unsplash

Our prime ministers and premiers wield far less power than most people believe… Instead, power is distributed across multiple actors – business leaders, media, unions, peak bodies and political factions in addition to the individual political leaders. Most leaders today operate a never-ending mental calculus of how they accommodate the competing demands of these groups in a way that will extend their period of office. Simple as that.

David Hetherington, Senior Fellow at Per Capita

Succinctly put Mr Hetherington. Our political captains are not the only hands on the tiller. Indeed they are arguably not able to move the tiller at all.

At least that is what we thought until they told us to go home and shut the door, which almost all of us did without blinking.

So, yes they are powerless in the face of competing demands when their primary objective is to stay in office. And they really like it in office, it feeds their egos that have voracious appetites. But no, they are not without power. They told us to jump and we said, “how high?”.

This was a fascinating response.

Clearly we were spooked by a nasty virus that at best would make us sick or could signal the end, if not for us, then grandpa. It made sense to stay home and bake.

Only something similar happened in the early 1930’s in Germany.

People were spooked by a massive and disastrous global recession that for the Germans meant that foreign investors, who had come in to help rebuild an economy battered by WWI and the reparations that followed, left in a hurry, taking their money with them, the Americans who are always sniffing an opportunity in particular.

Along came a political opportunist and mesmerising public speaker who exhorted the German people to jump and they did. History tells us what happened next.

Before this connection turns you off as completely nonsensical. Pause for a moment.

The people who jumped back in the 1930s were highly educated, well to do citizens, familiar with success and a high standard of living that they enjoyed in the boom period of the 1920s.

Sound familiar?

They believed they were living in a democracy and that their leaders had their best interests and the country at heart. They also knew that somebody needed to take tough decisions to deal with what was spooking them; the prospect of economic ruin.

Familiar too?

The point is that modern politics may well be at the mercy of multiple actors, especially those with money, but it is not entirely toothless. Leaders can turn on a dime and make remarkable things happen. Not all of them nice or in our best long term interests.

Even if our politicians were genius-level decision-makers, the global disturbance from this pandemic will deliver recessions and depressions with horrible suffering for those already struggling. They will be joined by way too many folks who have not known unemployment, perhaps experiencing it for the first time in their adult lives.

I was one of the one-in-ten for a brief while back in the UK in the early 1980’s — a number on a list, as UB40 famously crooned.

My buddy and I applied for over 100 jobs each in a little competition to see who could land one first. We both failed and ended up in further education seeking higher degrees to help us along, he in atmospheric physics, me in ecology. So smart enough but not employable enough. It seems a long time ago now but it was a real struggle at the time. One in ten was felt by everyone.

When unemployment reaches 14% we are at one in 7.

When it reaches 20% we are at one in 5

These are the numbers of serious discontent.

If at least one dude in the round at the pub is unemployed, there is unrest among all the pub-goers. At any moment any one of them will join the queue for the dole check.

This, of course, is what is driving the political decisions to lift restrictions. Unrest is never pleasant. But to lift them only to go back to the ‘simple as that’ would be a massive opportunity missed.

Alright, enough doom and gloom.

Here is a slightly brighter note.

A new normal

This would be very nice.

How about the renewal of safety nets some redistribution of wealth to pay for it and much greater attention to issues that affect all of us.

Only we can’t expect that to come from the politicians who are telling us every day about stage 2 or stage 3 restrictions and when they might be lifted to get everyone back to normal. The one that we just left behind, potentially forever.

The politicians need normal to be what it was otherwise their juggle among the vested interests will be too hard and the balls will fall.

Unless they have got it all wrong.

There is an idea going around that Modern Monetary Theory might offer an alternative, a radical economic theory that budget deficits are are good, not bad and that government debt is necessary as the source of healthy economic growth. The idea is that investments that enhance productivity such as better health, greater knowledge and skills, improved transport are worth funding, even if it results in a budget deficit.

The theory is that spending is necessary to put money into the economy before governments can tax or borrow. Government spending actually precedes taxation. Then taxation is used to keep everyone in employment.

In Covid times this sounds like a plan.

And it presents a way to avoid a rapid return to political influence from business and the peak bodies that they pay to cheer for them with unstinting help from their media lackeys.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


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Social cohesion in a time of isolation

Social cohesion in a time of isolation

A few years ago now a serious bushfire passed just to the north of our house. It destroyed over a hundred homes and our back fence. We are still hyper-vigilant in spring when the hot westerlies push hard across eastern Australia and yet what I remember most from that tense experience is the sense of community that appeared spontaneously during the crisis.

Neighbours helping neighbours and everyone helping the firemen and rural fire service volunteers tackling the blaze. People variously wielded rakes, took turns on the garden hoses, made tea or simply offered nervous encouragement. It felt like a group effort.

David Shearman talks of something similar that happened in Britain during WW2 where people came together through far more severe and prolonged trauma.

“Britain was a united and cohesive community. Young and old worked daily in small ways for the common cause. But most importantly, in the free world, two countries — Britain and the US — had leaders in Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt who could explain the need for duty and sacrifice.”

David Shearman

Our bushfire experience of cooperation was certainly coordinated. The RFS Commissioner was constantly in the media providing information and advice. On the ground, the fire crews listened to their seniors and whoever was on the other end of the radio. Civilians readily followed their lead.

Firebreaks were raked, back burns set and helicopters dumped water judiciously to slow the fire enough for the hoses to protect houses. It was planned and calmly executed with everyone chipping in with what they could.

Most of the people in the street had seen bushfire before. It comes with the flammable treed territory we chose to live in. Recognition of the threat was ingrained through experience, so there was little need for Churchillian scale motivation.

This is probably true whenever something frightening becomes real and dangerous. Humans clearly have the cooperation gene even if it may only express itself in extremis. Even so, some leadership is required. There has to be some sense of need or a clear explanation of it.

Danger felt by everyone is the core ingredient for cohesion. Honest cooperation is contagious enough when a threat is real. Fear can bring people together.

Not all the neighbours were in on the group effort. At least one family were too frightened to leave their home. We actually thought they were out or had left, until at the height of the crisis with a fireman hosing down their wooden deck as some protection from embers, there was movement inside the house. Perhaps they needed the ‘fight them on the beaches’ speech.

Despite this, I easily recollect the cohesion that created much more than the sum of the parts. What I also recall is how fast it dissipated.

It took a day for the fire to burn most of the fuel in the bush around our homes. That night there was still eery red glows from scattered tree stumps. A day later and it was just char and ash. The threat had passed.

Heroic rural firefighter doing a great job in our backyard

Then we began to realise that this wildfire was a devastating event for the community. Everyone knew someone who had lost their home. A collection point for food and clothing was soon overflowing with gifts and volunteers. The fire was the topic of conversation wherever people met purging themselves of their fearful experiences. It was a human emergency for several months and then it wasn’t.

A great purveyor of entropy cut a swath through us and people responded to defy it. They rallied and returned things to our sense of normal with great speed.

Then we all forgot about it.

At least that is what it feels like. Every now and then memory is triggered or a newcomer is told the stories of the fateful day but mostly it is history. Some regulations have changed, fire preparedness is reinforced and we all look up at the sound of a helicopter. But the cohesion has gone.

I imagine that it will come back when the next fire comes along. It will because bushland in this part of Australia burns regularly, every decade or so on average in these parts. So in a short while cohesion will be called and I have no doubt that the residents will respond as spontaneously as they did in 2013.


Sure enough 2019-20 bushfire season was horrific.

Our little community escaped the worst but we had two monster fires, one to the north that burned within a few kilometres of our suburb and one to the south that threatened to do the same for the best part of a month.

People were cohesive. They helped each other out and were endlessly grateful to the fire services and the volunteers that provided assistance to the hundreds of people who lost homes, livestock, infrastructure and in a some tragic cases their lives.

No political leaders emerged during this crisis. The prime minister went on holiday to Hawaii and had to rush back with his tail between his legs. The state leadership did their best but really did not know what to do.

Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, stood up and showed everyone how it should be done. He was truthful, blunt and yet caring all at the same time. His leadership got the collective through.

Locally, it was the mayors that stood up. Ours, Mark Greenhill, Mayor of Blue Mountains City Council, took to FB to give daily updates of the operations in our district. He was tirelessly present with the firefighters and the support staff and went above and beyond to provide the cohesion people needed.

People really do rally around individuals or each other when the heat is on but then readily dissipate into their own worlds when the crisis passes.

The drought crisis that turned into a bushfire crisis that has turned into a pandemic crisis means we have been overdone with cohesion of late.

The question is will vacuum return. Will leadership that is only present in extremis fade away when the calm returns as it surely will.

This is a rare opportunity for it to stick around.


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We have let

We have let

The Guardian online is running a series of 2020 Visions from prominent Australians about the future of a country that is in a mess.

We are flapping our arms around as if after years of surfing we suddenly forgot how to swim.

Our politics is morally bankrupt and devoid of ideas, the people are hiding behind a mountain of household debt so high you need oxygen at base camp, and the outback has had enough sending drought, dust, obscene heat, fire, smoke and finally flood just about everywhere.

Bugger, if it wasn’t for air conditioning, filters and heroic emergency services personnel the place would be unlivable.

It’s been one hell of summer down under.

Any kind of vision for the future is welcome in such dire times.

Here is a quote from the 2020 Vision Series looking for serious answers

Instead, we have let untruths, half-truths, misrepresentations, hypocrisy and hyperbole become the currency of our age. Secrecy is now standard operating procedure in politics. The public interest and the right to know is too often subordinate to some alleged higher interest, grandly and sometimes scarily defined as “security” or “on water” or “in the bubble”, so of little relevance to anybody declared to be outside it: the rest of the country

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

Only three words really matter in this otherwise truthful statement from a senior scientist who spent time with political numpties…

we have let

Yep, we sure have. The people have allowed the irresponsible to break the tiller of the sailboat and failed to repair it. We have let the boat come adrift at the mercy of an angry sea.

It’s our fault.

Don’t blame the politicians or the lefties or the neo-Nazis or the abbos or the DINKys or the Landcruiser MILFs or even the neighbour’s french bulldog that barks like a cat.

Blame yourself.

Yes, you. And me. And every other card-carrying citizen who has stood by and let all this happen.

You know I am right.

Just look at the outpouring of praise for the Rural Fire Service volunteers who have performed miracles to save lives and properties on over 18 million hectares of the country that burnt.

It was effusive and genuine gratitude because we all knew they saved our arses, literally.

We let his risk of catastrophe escalate and then when the crisis came it was local volunteers who bailed us out. They deserve a medal and some serious pay. So much by so many to so few, a famous dude once said.

We have let.

Here is a summary of the 2020 bushfire season

As of 14 January 2020, fires this season have burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres; 186,000 square kilometres; 72,000 square miles), destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. An estimated one billion animals have been killed and some endangered species may be driven to extinction. Air quality has dropped to hazardous levels. The cost of dealing with the bushfires is expected to exceed the A$4.4 billion of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, and tourism sector revenues have fallen more than A$1 billion. By 7 January 2020, the smoke had moved approximately 11,000 kilometres (6,800 mi) across the South Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina. As of 2 January 2020, NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes (337 million short tons) of CO2 was emitted.

Just for comparison, the Australian government estimates that Australia’s net emissions in 2017 were 556.4 million tonnes CO2-equivalent.

Ian Chubb thinks the solution is our re-engagement with democracy when ‘we have let’ becomes ‘no we don’t let’, we demand better.

The sixteen-year-olds are on the case, thank goodness — go Greta.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the 30 odd years it will take before they get strong enough to kick our sorry arses out. So, it is up to us to help them.

Here is what Ian Chubb suggests we do

When we wake up, we will demand leadership: one that is bold, courageous and open, with an unswerving commitment to our right to know. We will need leaders with the ability to build an appropriate vision for our country, along with the competence and capacity to persuade us why we need to do what they propose we do – all the while exposing their evidence base to us so we can see why one option was chosen over another.

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

In short, we must demand logic and accountability.

Actions that make common sense.

No more bubbles and bullshit and pork barrels, just honesty and common sense.

‘We have let’, believe it.

Leadership for the environment

Leadership for the environment

Be curious and humble

Be courageous and confident

Kat Cole, the 30 something president of a $1 billion brand believes that great leadership requires just these four key qualities.

Makes good sense.

Curiosity is essential for anyone leading the way along new paths into unknown territory. It implies a willingness to learn and anything genuinely new always supplies a steep learning curve.

Humility is self-restraint, self-understanding, awareness, and a good sense of perspective meaning that it is not about me. This is a true leadership quality.

Courage seems obvious. Someone must be the first to step out into the unknown to take on the curve.

Confidence is contagious. It energises those who have it and everyone they meet. It is a powerful attractive force that gathers and holds people together to deliver more than the sum of the parts.

There are few leaders who do not have these qualities. Absence or even a shortage in any one of them and a would-be leader couldn’t move forward and bring others along.

What do these qualities mean when it comes to environmental leadership?

Anyone with a smidgen of interest in the natural world usually has some curiosity. Variety, the unusual, and the strange are present in everything from trees to termites, and not even Sir David has seen it all.

Stand close enough to a wild elephant to hear her stomach rumble and humility will cascade over you to wash away your awe. Put a spoonful of soil under a microscope and the life teeming across your vision should make all your first world problems melt away. Once seen for what it truly is, nature can humble the mightiest ego.

They don’t call them environmental warriors for nothing. There is a fight on that demands courage enough to stand against convention and take on the reality that modern living exploits nature. It is hard for even the simplest sustainable action to be easier or cheaper than business as usual.

So far, so good as we can expect that most environmentalists are curious, humble and courageous.

Confidence is a feeling of self-assurance usually arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities — the expression of self-belief.

Now here I would argue that environmental leaders have a problem. Many are strong, articulate and outgoing individuals for sure. And they are often passionate, sometimes fearless, advocates.

But these traits are not confidence.

Confidence can be very hard for environmentalists because at some level they all participate in the actions that exploit resources. They drive cars, fly in aeroplanes, consume the products of commercial agriculture and feed their dogs. They live a life that they know contributes to most environmental problems.

Only true narcissists can overcome such incongruity to be truly confident. Normal folk cannot overcome the flaw and appear fake or overly aggressive.

Confidence

Blinded by the disbelief of another prime minister sworn in on the back of 54 party room votes I almost missed the real political change last week. After 5 attempts in as many years Australia has an optimist in charge.

Once the claimer of moral heights Kevin Rudd capitulated over climate policy and we realised that he could get things done for Kevin but not for everyone else, Australians have been led by negativity. Julia Gillard tried her best to be positive but the bloodied knife she carried was just too heavy for progress to prevail. Then she was knifed too.

Mr Abbott who squeaked past Mr Turnbull in 2009 by one vote to become party leader is supposed to be a nice guy. He works for charity on his time off and is loyal to a fault but every phrase he uttered in the top job came from a place of fear.

Stop can be a positive word but from Tony Abbot it was never really clear why things had to stop. They just had to. Anything that should be positive —more jobs, more growth, less deficit — came across as a justification. As if proof were always needed that the government was doing well, when they were just scared.

Then yesterday for the first time in many a year a prime minister of Australia stood up at parliamentary question time and said that the country has a great opportunity and that times are exciting for the nation. Mr Turnbull was positive. He almost led a rendition of ‘yes we can’ and it felt like he wanted to.

This is momentous.

If he can keep it going, and admittedly that is a big if, we could see some confidence return. We might actually join the many other countries with far worse economic outlooks and social challenges than Australia who are finding solutions because of a belief in the best of their people.

As a social centrist myself I would rather this breath of fresh air to have come from the left side of politics. Mr Turnbull may look trendy but he is still a brown. But the labour party are mired in their own brand of negativity that cannot hide the fact that they spend too much time playing with knives.

So instead I will take Mr Turnbull at his word for confidence has great power to do good. And we really need that.

Numbers that tell a story

  • $70 billion agricultural investment as bank loans to farmers
  • $40 billion on warships to be built in Adelaide
  • $2 million average farm debt in Australia
  • $1 a kilo for onions

Numbers in words…

While Australians have the 15th highest per capita GDP in the world [on IMF estimates] and the 5th highest average income among OECD countries, consumers pay next to nothing for their food [around 10% of disposable income].

Ageing farmers work an average 49 hours per week and are in debt up to their eyeballs.

The bankers insure this lending against the land value and know that global demand will keep the price of prime agricultural land high enough for their shirts to be safe.

Rather than provide food security to the region the Australian government invests in warships that the Chinese navy would overrun in the time it takes to order special fried rice.