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Not fit to Govern or Nicola Roxon’s bucket list

It usually takes years for members of a bad government to “fess up” to the failings and dysfunction  within their  administration and under the cover of the smokescreen of Labor’s  new and wacky way of selecting their leader a few admissions have slipped under the radar things like Stephen Conroy admitting that their NBN  roll out was an utter farce, with no ability to meet anywhere near the  targets that were so loudly trumpeted. Its an admission that has largely gone unnoticed. However I very much doubt that the bucketing delivered by Nicola Roxon  in the John Button lecture will be as invisible and as that is the topic for to day I will now provide some highlights for discussion:

1) Labor must always focus on the fact that good policy improves people’s lives and that is why the party exists.

If this is always at the front of our minds and the top priority in decision-making, we will be less easily diverted by polls, personalities and punch-ups.

This must be a constant focus. In government, a Labor party needs to choose a few big areas and focus on them, taking people with them.

A government needs to take time to explain the problem, work on a range of solutions, build coalitions to campaign for them, understand the opposing arguments so as to improve its own and measure their validity. It must allow enough time and sufficiently foreshadow the change so local MPs, branch members and citizens can be part of the campaign for change. And take time to get all the technical detail right.

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.

The art as a minister should be to be across the detail and be sufficiently trusted by colleagues to manage and explain the policy detail when needed, but to allow the PM to focus only on the big picture. The Cabinet should be used to sign off only on purpose, direction and broad structure, but not excessive detail.

In our first term of Government we struggled with this. There were some contentious issues and policy problems that ran for months, in some cases years, without there seeming to be a way to bring contentious issues to a head. There was no avenue for ministers to bring genuinely difficult issues, where there were legitimately tricky calls to be made, to Cabinet for a real discussion. Health and climate change were the two longest running “non-discussions” for the first term of Government, with some other contentious policies getting only cursory cabinet approval at the last minute. There was a reticence by the Prime Minister for big strategic calls to be made by Cabinet, or sufficiently in advance to prepare properly.

3) Good leaders are good delegators.

If they don’t delegate, they and their governments ultimately drown in less important matters.

Having seen it up close, I have a huge amount of sympathy for just how much work a PM has to do. The sheer weight of government and the crushing level of personal demands are far more intense and all encompassing than most people can imagine. Kevin and Julia fully devoted themselves day and night to this task. For all their issues, no one could fault either of them for heroic work ethics and sheer determination to do everything humanly possible in the job.

But the prime minister is still only one person.

We can’t let the system slide, if it hasn’t already, to expect this person to have superhuman powers. Our increasingly presidential-style campaigning doesn’t help this. I hope any new Labor leader will not continue this pretence – it will ultimately be a great benefit to the Party and protection for them.

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.

Both internally and externally Labor, in the time I’ve been involved, has become more afraid of real debate. For a progressive party that prides itself on constantly renewing its social purpose, this is not good news.

Of course, a shallow and manipulative media can make debate or dissent difficult, sometimes nigh on impossible, but we need to push past that and learn to welcome a contest of ideas.

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

(I know I’ll be accused of being “nanny Nicola” here, but it is an age-old rule that needs to be re-imposed.) If you don’t do this, you lose ground for no political purpose. You waste time apologizing and you lose arguments for no good reason.

And this is not a tip just for the sake of nice manners. It fundamentally affects political outcomes too.

When Kevin was flashed across the TVs icily ignoring Kristina Keneally in health reform negotiations, it cost us an awful lot to recover from and actually gave NSW the upper hand for the first time. Disparagingly calling her “Bambi” behind closed doors was pretty silly when she was whip-smart and went on to run rings around us at the final COAG negotiating table. As a result, Kevin conceded more to NSW in hospital beds at the expense of money set aside for mental health. As was predictable, mental health became a thorn in our side later on, and in the 2010 campaign was the major health issue that weakened our otherwise great story.

The Garden Island announcement during the 2013 campaign underscored that this lesson had not been learned and we lost a day or two of the campaign needlessly.

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

If you don’t ask this question first, you’ve lost your focus and purpose and the public will mark you down fast.

There were plenty examples of people putting their individual interests ahead of the team’s, particularly in ministerial ballots and appointments. Reports of able MPs declining particular portfolios, perhaps because it didn’t suit their long term personal plans, is a sign of this going off the rails. The only correct answer if a PM calls and offers you a particular ministry is surely “Yes, Prime Minister”.

Of course it is natural to have ambitions, and to be disappointed if they are thwarted, but the focus must always be on the team.

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.

The machinery of Government is enormous. And it can be put to enormous good. But it is a slow moving beast – no matter how bold or impatient a government may be. If plans and projects are set, parameters identified and clear instructions given, with regular and consistent oversight, the work produced can be excellent. Thousands of people can work more effectively around you if direction is set early, timetables stuck to, and materials are read.

But if political direction chops and changes, if the questions being asked constantly move, if deadlines come and go without meaning, it is very inefficient, and ultimately dispiriting. It’s politically confused too.

Kevin had a terrible habit of attending meetings not having read detailed papers that he had commissioned at the last meeting – often very complex ones, at very short notice. For example, I remember a meeting only days before Christmas 2009 when a total rewrite of a health policy was demanded. Despite many, many hours of work into the night, I do not believe that paper was ever – even to do this day – read by the prime minister, let alone read over a Christmas holiday he had already ruined for others.

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.

This seems pretty basic. And on this front, I have to say I am very optimistic about our future. We get this right more often than we get it wrong. Having a strong choice of two capable politicians in the recent leadership ballot is just one measure of this. And I reckon Bill Shorten and Tanya Plibersek are as close to “the dream team” as you can get.

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.

Political messages do need to be clear. They don’t have cut-through if they are not. In the beginning, Kevin was brilliant at this. It’s why he was so successful at the 2007 election. He talked straight and people understood and liked him.

The curse, of course, is that the problems you are trying to solve and the policies needed to do so are often complex. So we came unstuck when the solutions were necessarily more subtle or convoluted than the cut-through message initially delivered.

“The buck stops with me”, “the biggest moral challenge of our time” are examples that made sense and garnered interest and support, but they come with big risks, as the realities of government can make this cut-through language a dead weight or burden. It’s always more convincing to say you’ll “fix” something, when “improve” is a more accurate statement.

In 2007, Kevin was great at cut-through, then struggled at follow through.

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

Otherwise we resign ourselves to a static life – and a progressive party will never win without new ideas, and new ideas take time to be absorbed.

Over-analysed, published opinion polls are having a corrosive effect on Australian politics. Their meaning and value have been given enormous weight, way, way above their real value. This is perhaps exacerbated by the advent of online media as these polls, paid for by old print media, are often among the few exclusives they have – so they are inflated by the same media who commission them.

But apart from that, we have allowed the polls, and the way journalists interpret them, to have too much influence. Polls can tell us what the current state of play is, but not what might happen.

What a poll can never tell us is what the results may be after a six month concerted effort to turn an argument around. They are unable to show what might change with persistence.


So, perhaps there is one remaining question you may have about my perspective on this time in government. And it is a biggie.

After all these tips for good and bad behavior for the future, do I believe we behaved properly in removing Kevin as PM in 2010?

While I think the Labor caucus made the right decision, we handled it very poorly.

I think we had all the right reasons to act, but I think we were clumsy and short sighted in the way we did it. We didn’t explain the dysfunctional decision-making and lack of strategy I’ve focused on a lot tonight. We didn’t talk about his rudeness, or contempt for staff and disrespect for public servants (a measure of this was public servants saving up briefs to send to the PM’s office as soon as Kevin went overseas because they got quicker and more thoughtful responses from Julia as acting PM).

Removing Kevin was an act of political bastardry, for sure. But this act of political bastardy was made possible only because Kevin had been such a bastard himself to so many people.


So I hope my take on events might be worth something to the next generation. I hope they will have learned from this period, and will not repeat its mistakes.

The new Labor team will need to lift itself above the personality politics, stop seeing things as “Kevin legacies” or “Julia legacies”, and just see them proudly as “Labor legacies”. This will better honour our forbears like John Button.

I really hope that readers have taken the time to read the whole speech , but even if you have not done so I hope that my highlights give you the gist  of Roxon’s argument here,namely that the labor Government was very much a dysfunctional one that was in the thrall of   Kevin Rudd, in its first term because of his inability to properly delegate and trust his ministers  and his utter inability  properly run the government and its instruments and after he had been removed for those sins he was then allowed to foment dissent and disloyalty that undermined   his successor, who herself had many flaws. Its a far from pretty picture if you ask this humble scribe. and rather like the curates egg the last Labor government was “good in parts” according to Roxon . The judgement of the people was however that those good parts were considerably smaller than the unpalatable aspects of Labor’s six years in office.  On balance when we look at Labor’s CV I find it very hard to see any reason to believe that they were ever “fit to Govern”  on the whole they provided a perfect example of the promise far exceeding the delivery and had their lack of fitness to govern been less concealed by Rudd’s admittedly slick campaign in 2007 they would have never won office.

The Coalition have for some time been espousing the very reasonable adage that in government one should under promise and over deliver which is a very good starting point in any democracy and until Labor and its minions likewise realise that is the way to political nirvana they will not be in any way fit to govern again.  You see in the real world good government is about 90% good governance and sound administration and 10% good ideas, by my reckoning Labor scored well below 50% over all….

Cheers Comrades

One of the few acts by labor taht I broardly endorsed was the plain packaging of cigarettes thanks to Nicola Roxon

One of the few acts by Labor that I broadly endorsed was the plain packaging of cigarettes thanks to Nicola Roxon


  1. Ray Dixon says:

    What a load of crap. Roxon was a lightweight and comes across like a primary school teacher talking to students. What the hell would she know about leadership? Seriously, this is so condescending and out-of-her-depth it’s astounding anyone listened to it.

  2. JamesJ says:

    Ray you certainly are a very confusing, no better rephrase that, a very confused person.

    You have stated time and time again you’re a Labor supporter, yet voted for an Independent. You praise and expound so called Labor values. You stand behind Labor policy, don’t know whether you just find in you mind that it’s a good place to hide behind or what.

    And now you’re bagging one of the last Labor governments ex ministers.

    She’s just put into words, meaningful words publicly what most of us more educated people already knew about Labor and Kevin Rude. She hasn’t been the first prior or since the election from the Labor camp to do so, even staff members of Rudd’s have spoken out about Labors perceived Mr nice guy.

    You must be about the only person in Australia who can breath with your head buried that far down in the sand or is a case of you head that far up your …. well we won’t go there me thinks.

  3. Ray Dixon says:

    James, you are an insulting, anonymous and cowardly twerp who focuses far too much on personalities and not on issues. I barely owe your unnecessary, pathetic and petulant personal description of me a response but I’ll give you one and then I’ll ask you to kindly refrain from your pissant character attacks:

    It may not occur to you that there are some people who think outside the square and are not so glued (or rusted) on to one side of politics that they are not able to be pragmatic and unbiased when talking about their preferred side of politics. In my case I generally support Labor over the Coalition for a variety of reasons (none of which I need go into here – I just do) but I don’t see them as without fault or without problem people within their ranks.

    As for voting for McGowan, I’ve explained that that was the best choice given the particular issues in this electorate and the overwhelming need and desire to be rid of the horrible Sophie Mirabella as our MHR. That need and desire was obviously felt by Labor & Coalition supporters alike who deserted Sophie in droves. There is no contradiction in my decision to vote independent this time.

    As for Roxon, I regard her as a lightweight and part of Gillard’s little ‘school committee’ of self-appointed “I know best” types. She’s not a big picture person and has made no allowance for the fact Rudd’s (short) first term as PM was put under extreme pressure by the GFC, which clearly diverted his attention. I don’t care how much of a “bastard” or how “rude” he was to others and I don’t doubt he was – but I guess someone as small minded as Roxon would. Roxon herself was such a stunning success that as soon as the going got tough for her & Gillard what did she do? She bailed out – took the big payout and ran. Now she’s running down someone who’s still there while she sits back and talks like the know all nobody that she is. Says it all.

    Now, kindly refrain from your chatracter attacks. You choose to hide under anonymity here, James, and that’s fine. But being anonymous means you have limited rights. You should do the decent thing by not making personal remarks and/or character assassinations on those of us here who are not anonymous. Got it?

  4. Iain Hall says:

    Roxon was formerly a senior cabinet minister so hardly a “light weight” by any measure, more to the point as a former insider to the machinations of the Labor administrations she has clear first hand knowledge that she is working from here but sadly from your point of view its clear that the message she brings is consistent with the other messages about the Rudd leadership style. To be entirely Francis I think that she has been very even handed in the way that she acknowledges Rudd’s strengths as a PR person but she also confirms what we know about his inability to delegate and to trust his team to do a “proper job” in their portfolios. I think she was also pretty fair in the way that she considered Gillard.

    In fact she was probably well placed to be a fair dealer about such things because unlike those with a horse in the race (like Rudd or Gillard themselves) she has nothing to gain or lose and no incentive to spin the story to make herself look better.

  5. Ray Dixon says:

    She has plenty to gain by going around talking about her experiences, Iain. Plenty of paid gigs and interviews, I bet. A book will be the next – ‘How I changed cigarette packaging’ maybe? Being a senior minister doesn’t mean she can’t be described as a lightweight either. She was never anyone of substance in my opinion and was promoted way above her abilities. Proof’s in the eating, Iain – she whimped it.

  6. Iain Hall says:


    As for Roxon, I regard her as a lightweight and part of Gillard’s little ‘school committee’ of self-appointed “I know best” types.

    She was good enough to be minister under both Rudd and Gillard Ray so you can’t just dismiss her the way that you do, here. Frankly its pretty poor form for you to just go the Ad-hom instead of addressing what she is saying in her speech,but I suspect that you are avoiding that because you don’t want to admit that she could be right and that your beloved Kevin Rudd was precisely what his critics have claimed.

    She’s not a big picture person and has made no allowance for the fact Rudd’s (short) first term as PM was put under extreme pressure by the GFC, which clearly diverted his attention.

    That is the biggest load of horse apples Ray and you know it. The GFC had nothing to do with his woeful management style which had been part of his persona from the very beginning even before he went into federal politic as , It had nothing to do with his very poor ability to make good decisions,fear of delegating. You keep banging the GFC drum as if we were all living in Athens or Spain where they had a real financial crisis because they had so much structural debt instead of Australia where we had money in the bank and a solid minerals export industry underpinning our economy.

    I don’t care how much of a “bastard” or how “rude” he was to others and I don’t doubt he was – but I guess someone as small minded as Roxon would.

    Managing any sort of big organisation can not be done by just one man, you need team work to make it viable and its mangement101 not to abuse your staff and fellows if you want to have things run smoothly. Roxon is certainly not the first person to point out just how woeful Rudd was to his staff, how he wanted to micromanage every aspect of government.

    Roxon herself was such a stunning success that as soon as the going got tough for her & Gillard what did she do? She bailed out – took the big payout and ran.

    She managed to get up plain packaging for Ciggies which is something to be proud off in my book compared to so many Labor “achievements” over the last six years its at least something positive that will endure.

    Now she’s running down someone who’s still there while she sits back and talks like the know all nobody that she is. Says it all.

    Rudd still being there is no positive for the party Ray,he is like a pustular canker still full of a foul ooze and ready to poison all around him. The irony is that despite being lauded for getting Labor out of the wilderness in 2007 he is also the cause of it returning to the desert of opposition this year and many to follow.

  7. GD says:

    Well said, suh! (It’s my army training)

    btw I was about to reply and the phrase I was thinking about Rudd was:

    ‘a festering sore ready to poison all those around him’

    but you beat me to it and in better form


  8. Iain Hall says:

    Rudd and co remind me of this…

  9. James says:

    You choose to hide under anonymity here, James, and that’s fine. But being anonymous means you have limited rights. You should do the decent thing by not making personal remarks and/or character assassinations on those of us here who are not anonymous. Got it?

    No Raymond I haven’t as you put it, “got it?

    What should I get, that you want to know my shoe size, what side of bed I get out of in the morning, how many rice bubbles I consume at breakfast, whether I prefer to stay at 5 stay hotels than some of the crap joints you hear about.

    Well Ray, let it keep eating away at you, because you are the last person in the world who’ll see a dollar from my estate.

    As for your so called “limited Rights”, just what do you mean by that. I was of the understanding that this is Ian’s setup and your illustrious blog went down the gurgler some time ago, guess it might have had something to do with attitude. I’ve read some reports about your attitude towards people, and it sure doesn’t read well.

  10. GD says:

    There’s so much to work with, isn’t there, James

  11. Ray Dixon says:

    You’re really a piece of work, James. Where have I said I want to know anything about you? I don’t, yet you respond like that. Are you paranoid?

    As for your so called “limited Rights”, just what do you mean by that.

    Just keep up the personal shit and you’ll see what I mean.

    Now take your personalised crap and shove it. I don’t care who you are but just lay off the personal remarks. Okay?

  12. Ray Dixon says:

    I’m not interested in debating the pros and cons of a has been (or a never was) like Roxon, Iain. Interesting (mildly interesting) that you raise her to some kind of meaningful status when it suits you (ie when she’s putting Labor down). That’s like saying your enemy’s enemy is your friend and I didn’t think you believed in that, Iain. You can count me out of this one please, it’s a self-serving argument.

  13. Iain Hall says:

    Mate, don’t ever forget that it was with great reluctance that I abandoned the Labor as my party of choice only in 2007 after a lifetime of support through think and thin. So there is still part of me really wants to see the Labor party as a functional viable political force. But it just keeps disappointing me and I am tending to think that it will never raise above its very clear structural problems.

    As for Roxon herself well I have no real opinion about that apart from just wishing that more of her fellows could share her candor about the party instead of just regurgitating the usual bullshit spin.

  14. GD says:

    How many times were we (conservative commenters) admonished for doubting the wisdom of rolling out the NBN, how many times did we ask for cost evaluations and how many times did Spilt Milk Conroy brush off our concerns like flies on a BBQ?

    Stephen ‘spilt nuclear milk’ has a lot to answer for.

    Now he admits that he was wrong.

    Meanwhile Roxon is venting her spleen about Kevin Rudd, a far overdue assessment.

    Once again, this is an admission that Labor was out of control, and in particular, KRudd was out of control.

    Then they installed/sacked Gillard, an experiment gone wrong, and re-installed Rudd.

    You couldn’t make this stuff up. It is beyond the credibility of fiction.

    Roxon herself bailed out only when she realised that her totalitarian views wouldn’t wash with the Australian public, which is tantamount to admitting she was wrong.

    So, two ministers admitting they were wrong. How many more will there be, confirming what every sane voter could see from the outset?

    Even rusted-on Laborite, Ray Dixon has now given up on former Attourney-General Roxon and her successor the sneering Mark Dreyfus. Given that he already dislikes Gillard and Shorten, he’s already pulling apart his beloved Labor Party.

  15. Ray Dixon says:

    Iain, I thought you abandoned Labor in 2001, not 2007? Oh well, whatever. I don’t think the party is f*cked, just that it’s got the wrong mix of MPs (something about the unions I believe). I think it’s finally on the path to reform although with Shorten in control it might be a slow path. I haven’t actually discounted a Rudd return post the next election because I think he’s the only one who can truly reform the party by removing it from its union/factional links (as he has no connection whatsoever to the unions and actually loathes their influence).

    GD, I’ve never liked Roxon and I’ve never thought Shorten was right either. But you are being myopic if you think the Labor Party is alone in having its share of problems. Your lot are a real bag of trouble too mate, and you might not have to wait long to see them unravel.

  16. Iain Hall says:

    My disillusionment with the ALP certainly started back in 2001 but I still gave them my vote until 2007 with ever increasing reluctance.

  17. Ray Dixon says:

    I would think you’d be about the only person in the country who actually ‘swung’ to the Liberals in the 2007 election, Iain.

  18. Iain Hall says:

    Maybe so Ray but I was utterly indifferent to the workchoices campaign run by the Unions.

  19. Ray Dixon says:

    Completely off-topic, Iain, but what sort of sentence do you reckon someone might get if, as the result of a police raid, they were found to have:

    48 marijuana plants under cultivation in a shed
    All the required cultivation equipment including heaters
    Swords & other weapons

    I’d say, oh, about 2 to 5 years, wouldn’t you?

    Well …. I think I’ll put this up as a post later today with the news article (from our local paper). It’s a drug grower’s heaven around here!

  20. James says:

    Don’t worry Raymond, we’ll hire some stuntmen, to visit you in, will it be Barwon; Beechworth, we’ll find something suitable for you.

  21. Iain Hall says:

    I don’t know what the usual bid would be for such an offence Ray, personally I think such herb growing should not be an offence, home made pills and white powders on the other hand should earn a capital sanction.

  22. Ray Dixon says:

    You’d reckon having 48 plants suggests trafficking wouldn’t you?

  23. Iain Hall says:

    As I said earlier I am rather unconcerned about that sort of home growing activities because I think that Cannabis should be decriminalised, regulated and taxed.

  24. Ray Dixon says:

    Well, that’s a whole other issue, Iain. Some day we might debate that because I actually hold an opposite view.

  25. […] current government ministers or by our Prime minister. The ability for anyone anywhere on the planet to find out just what has been said domestically  by our political players means the more important consideration should be that they produce a […]

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