– John Hewson

It’s about Leadership, Stupid!

You were elected to Lead Mr. Morrison. It was a “surprise” and great that you won against the polling, and that your marketing slogans cut through better than those of Shorten. 

But they are only slogans. There was no detail. While you have been cut a lot of electoral slack so far, it is not just about being there. You are expected to govern in the national interest, to lead on several key policy issues and, where possible, prepare our nation to deal effectively with challenges before they become crises. 

Nobody would expect you to “hold a hose” against the fires, but they do reasonably expect you to lead with both, an immediate response to the current fires, and to implement a genuine longer-term strategy to deal what will be an increasing challenge into the future.  

To date, you have made a mess of leadership opportunity.  You have repeatedly failed to understand what is expected of a Leader in several defining moments and, unfortunately, tagged yourself as arrogant, unwilling to listen or to take advice, demonstrating poor judgement, compounded by attempts to mislead, bully, cover up, and generally obfuscate.

Populism, and its slogans, will ultimately fail. Trump will ultimately fail as he is not “Making America Great Again”, and Boris won’t “Get BREXIT Done” without a very elongated and painful transition with serious economic and social consequences, and risking of a “Disunited UK”.  

You have done nothing to “Keep Our Economy Strong” – improved economic management remains an immediate challenge. Also you have not shown the leadership expected to mange bush fires, or make us more drought resistant, or to lead our nation on a host of other fronts, including indigenous recognition, national productivity, broad-based tax reform, and ensuring a genuine transition to a low carbon society over the next three decades.

Slogans mask a “shallowness” of leadership skills and strategic thinking. Neither Trump nor Johnson should be seen as “role models” for you. Remember Turnbull failed to deliver the “better government” that he promised on seizing the leadership. The die is already caste on your Government and, if you continue as you have been doing, time will not now be your friend. Ultimately, you will be judged on authenticity and policy outcomes – on genuine leadership. 

Given your demonstrated hang-ups on the climate issue, why not come at it from a different perspective? Why not focus on challenges such as pollution, waste, regenerative agriculture, and fuel security? The effective resolution of all will involve something of a “technological revolution”, with the possibility of many new jobs, and of global leadership, while contributing significantly to our emissions reduction objectives.

While successive governments have done much to penalize the polluting of rivers and dumping of the likes of asbestos, why is it still OK to pollute the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels – particularly, coal, gas, diesel and petrol – without penalty, even though they produce some 50-60% of total emissions and have serious health consequences?

The argument is well established in the electricity sector with renewables now cheaper than coal or gas fired power, and developing storage technologies are about to stabilize power supply and network services. Attention can move more on to the transport sector.

Vehicle emissions kill more people annually than the road toll? Why isn’t this a constant front page story”?

We persist with the second dirtiest petrol among all OECD countries (after Mexico), yet our Government has consistently delayed the introduction of say Euro 6 emissions standards, from early signposting as far back as 2011 (to take effect in 2017), a recent Morrison Government announcement has delayed the standard until mid 2027.

New Zealand introduced Euro 6 in mid-2018. It will be an interesting situation if new European Cars compliant with the standard effectively can’t leave our showrooms on our dirty fuel? 

The transition to electric vehicles will occur faster than the government has admitted, especially once the major manufacturers release their affordable models – it took only 10 years (1903-13) for the transition from horse drawn to petrol driven vehicles in the US. The Government should recognize and lead this!

Related to this is our lack of fuel security, leaving us to depend on some 44 ships coming from Singapore annually. Why would the Government do a deal with the US for us to draw on their fuel stocks in an emergency, rather than develop a domestic bio-fuels industry? Related – Why do we accept that some 80% of our exports of canola to Europe are used to manufacture biofuels there rather than here? 

Waste is a serious problem now we can no longer export it. Yet, technologies exist, and can be improved, to convert almost any waste (green, sewerage, household, industrial, plastic, animal) to electricity or biofuels, and a host of other bi-products. Moreover, as the waste feedstocks are spread right across regional Australia, the opportunity for many regionally centered recycling and refining businesses is significant.

Recognising the significance of droughts, getting more frequent and intense, there is an enormous opportunity for regenerative agriculture programs to improve the resilience and drought resistance of our soils, to the financial benefit of farmers. 

Indeed, agriculture can, in time, make a net negative contribution to our national emissions, and farmers can sell the credits as additional income from improving the carbon content of their soils, with simple changes to their farming practices – land clearing and management, shallow or no tilling, organic rather than chemical fertilisers, and crop/grazing rotation. 

Morrison’s imperative for 2020 is to stop playing his ill-conceived political games and to lead. It’s do or Die!   

(John Hewson was leader of the Liberal Party from 1990 – 1994.)

First printed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Reprinted kind permission  John Hewson. )

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