Thursday, October 17, 2013

Nicola Roxon's John Button Memorial Lecture 2013

The full text of Nicola Roxon's John Button Memorial Lecture 2013 makes interesting reading.

Bernard Keane in Crikey has labelled it "revisionism", but primarily for the comments made about the PJCIS review of data retention.  He has found a few quotable sources to regret the focus on Kevin yet again, and to create concern that it will provide the basis for yet another Rudd set of whispers.

But the speech was structured around ten points as a guide to future leaders. Ms Roxon said it herself best;

I want to provide some practical tips for the next Labor Government, and for Labor MPs, on how best to conduct themselves. And how to ensure that a fresh Labor purpose is constantly in focus, and ways that mission can be delivered. I hope it might be of use to Bill Shorten as the new leader, and to others, as they go about their work of regaining ground for Labor.

Superficially it may seem boring to talk about housekeeping and conduct, when a party of progressives wants to be about ideas and improving lives. But I use examples to highlight their necessity if we want to deliver fabulous policies effectively.

We can want power, but we have to want it for a purpose. So we have to know how to use that power well, and to full effect.

The structure of her speech necessitated talking about bad examples from the party's immediate past, and it didn't focus on KRudd exclusively for that.  Of course, the structure could have been chosen just to provide an excuse for that, but the points she made seem appropriate when stripped of their examples.

The focus should be on her "ten points".  I've listed these - with an additional sentence or two in some cases - below. 

1) Labor must always focus on the fact that good policy improves people’s lives and that is why the party exists.  (and a related issue here is: don’t do too many things at once.)

2) Governments as a whole, and the prime minister in particular, need to keep their focus high level - spending time and energy on the things that really matter.
If you can’t describe what you are doing in general terms, and its purpose, then either the policy isn’t right, or you’ve descended into detail most people don’t need and probably don’t want to know.

3) Good leaders are good delegators.

4) Labor needs to welcome debate, not fear it.
A progressive party needs to be able to argue over issues and not see it through the prism of internal politics.

5) Be polite and be persuasive. Or I could call this "Keep yourself nice".

6) Always ask what you can do for the party (and the nation) not what it can do for you (with apologies to JFK).

7) Good governments run best with good diaries - so boring, but universally true.
This is not just about housekeeping, as it seems, but you actually can get better policy, get more done and protect against foreseeable problems if you plan a diary and run to plan. You can only get to an end game if you have planned where you want to go.

8) Choose good people - as leaders, as MPs and as staff.
In every walk of life, successful organisations need a pool of talented people, and politics is no different.

9) Accept you are not always right, and cannot always fix everything. It’s easier with this as your starting point.
If the public is promised a messiah, they’re inevitably going to be disappointed.

10) And lastly, never forget polling is only a snapshot, not a predictor.

She makes the case well for the leader in the Hawke tradition.  One who delegated.  One who was able to engage in a public discussion on policy.  The secret to that discussion was always to have a range o options, and include in it something more extreme than you were happiest to go.  Coming back from that extreme is then seen as a consequence of consultation. 

On the point of polls it is surprising that Labor has never developed a better understanding of the way Mark Textor uses polls for the Liberals.  Textor uses polls to determine HOW to frame the Liberals messages, not WHAT the message is.  They use polls as part of the process of persuasion, not as a way to decide what to reflect.

Roxon finished with a rallying cry.

And now the invitation is to the next generation to think how they will refresh the Labor purpose - to pump some new blood into its beating heart. And to be ready to conduct themselves with dignity, so they get time to bed down the vital reforms of the next generation, reforms that we know only Labor will deliver.
We should never, ever as a Party be ashamed of our past.
We should celebrate it, learn from it, and use it to improve our nation’s future.
Good luck - and thank you.

That is a great peroration.

The speech as a whole makes a great manifesto for aspiring politicians.  It should be read as such, and not as a critique of one or two PMs.

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