There has been a lot to like in Australia’s leadership response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and most of all the cooperation between all levels of government, between government and opposition and between government and the people. National cabinets embracing federal and state leaders have set the tone, views respectfully listened to, decision making based on the best scientific advice and everyone united in their ultimate aim of protecting Australian lives, while not forgetting that the economy needs to be maintained and ready to kick into action when it is safe to do so. And achieving results that are the benchmark for the rest of the world.
Prime Minister Morrison has been able to put his leadership failures during the fire season into the background and hasn’t been required to force handshakes for photo ops, and, frankly, when compared to the ill-begotten president of the US of A, he appears to be positively Churchillian. Frankly, I don’t think I can remember leadership of this quality in Australian federal politics since the Accord under Hawke and Keating. The leadership has been so successful one could hope that our politicians might see the light and be more serious about their leadership post COVID-19.
Unfortunately, by the end of last week, we seemed to be seeing Morrison revert to form.
The first instance was his conditional offer of funds to private schools in Victoria, the funds being contingent upon them bringing students back to school now, against the advice of the Victorian Chief Medical Officer, and against the advice of the Victorian Government, which has a strict policy of following the scientific advice. So, as a leader, he has decided to throw cooperation out the window and attempt to influence schools in dire financial straits to go against the medical and government advice of their state. A conscious decision to use financial power to undermine a partner in the fight against the pandemic and perhaps score some political points.
The second instance was Morrison’s public calls for an independent investigation into the handling of the outbreak in China, and in doing so supporting calls from President Trump and soliciting support from Germany and France. He can easily say that this is just common sense, that transparency is required and the world needs to better understand the outbreak and prepare for the next one. Fine as far as it goes, but if you seriously want a successful outcome, you must match your ambitions with an effective method, and in this case the bull in the china shop version of diplomacy undercuts any possibility of a cooperative response from China. Four European heritage countries ganging up on the Asian country? Seriously? Diplomacy 101 tells us that China will never want to lose face, so the discussion should start privately, and not be in partnership with a President who is currently picking and choosing his intelligence reports as to the origin of the virus so that he can maintain his preferred conspiracy theories.
So, for all of us that appreciate good leadership and have been despairing of seeing it under Australia’s current crop of federal leaders, it has been an opportunity to realise that even under mediocre leaders our system can generate good leadership. Let’s hope that some traces of it survive the pandemic. It seems that with a political system which is respected, i.e., the norms followed and no one trying to game the system, then the best outcomes can be achieved by cooperation between all parties, taking the best scientific advice without shopping around for advice that fits your ideologies and putting all decision making against a clear measurable outcome, in this case, the physical well-being of Australians, while keeping in touch with their social and economic well-being. Pretty simple really.
At MetaSkill we try to do our bit and specialise in conflict leadership, leading conflict situations through the journey to cooperation and collaboration.