Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Australia's Political Message to the World: Grime Pays

Australia recently held an election and the subtext of that election was this: grime pays -- he who plays the dirtiest wins.

Or, in this case, "she".

It was a sad day for politics. Not that politics has ever been for sissies. It's hardball. Your life becomes the proverbial fishbowl. Every detail is scrutinized, analyzed, sensationalized, paraded, caricatured, cartooned, berated, and blogged. You know the drill. "Par for the course," as the familiar golfing metaphor goes. People who go into politics know this. They've got to be tough. It's not just a recommendation; it's a requirement.

Be that as it may, we still expect a certain amount of integrity from those we elect. We trust them to do what's right for us and for the country. That doesn't mean each individual gets everything he or she wants. It should mean the needs and concerns of individuals get heard and balanced with the needs and concerns of other individuals ... that decisions will then be made which benefit the greater community. In other words: it's about serving the people.

The background of the Australian election is this: Kevin Rudd was elected Prime Minister in 2007 on a platform of educational reform, cutting greenhouse emissions, and increasing Australia's profile in world affairs. Youthful, energetic, and full of promise, Rudd was swept into office by a landslide. But Rudd's progress stalled. His popularity plummeted. And Rudd's Australian Labor Party (ALP) did what any good political organization -- or tin-pot dictator -- would do: they staged a coup. They killed off their leader. In Australia's case, I'm speaking politically. But the similarities are tragically similar.

You see, these days politics is not so much about policy, it's about popularity. How in the world is a leader supposed to lead -- to make tough choices -- when his party cares more about winning the next election than doing what's right by the people? No wonder nothing gets done. No one wants to make a tough choice for fear of falling ratings.

Recalling the drama of ancient Rome, when Julius Caesar was stabbed by his good buddy, Brutus, Rudd was unceremoniously "knifed" by his deputy, Julia Gillard, who led a blindside revolt against Rudd's leadership. The ALP voted him out and installed Gillard as Prime Minister just days after Gillard was proclaiming her steadfast loyalty, insisting she was positively not interested in the job. Three cheers for the "grime" of politics ... for playing dirty to get ahead. Thankfully, the deed did not go unnoticed by the world, as this video spoof from Taiwan illustrates (subtitled in English).

Did Rudd deserve what he got? Was a change in leadership warranted? If he was a waffler on making important decisions, then his advisors should have kicked his butt. That's why you have trusted advisors. To tell you hard truths you need to hear. But that didn't happen. What happened was a betrayal.

The rub for me wasn't that change occurred. It was needed to get Australia back on track. The rub for me was that the people Rudd trusted lied to his face and then stabbed him in the back. What does this say to the governments of other nations? It says beware of Australia. They will betray you if it serves their purposes, no matter what they tell you to your face. It means "fair dinkum" -- doing what's right and fair -- no longer is the Aussie standard. It's an unfortunate message, because there are many honest, hard-working people in government. Sadly, in this election, that's not what people saw.

The good news is that a major segment of the Australian public voiced their disapproval at the ballot box. At least on the street (in many places, at least) "fair dinkum" still rules.

"We the people." It's something elected representatives should never forget.