There's a great deal to fix
November 27, 2007/the AGE
THERE'S a lovely story, probably untrue, about Nikita Khrushchev's speech to the 22nd congress of the Soviet Union in 1956, when, behind closed doors, he denounced Stalin and unveiled to 5000 shocked delegates a catalogue of Stalin's crimes
As Khrushchev was detailing Stalin's atrocities, a voice called out: "And what were you doing then, Comrade Khrushchev?"
Khrushchev stopped, put down his speech, and glared intently at the crowd. "Who said that?" he roared. "WHO SAID THAT?"
Five thousand delegates froze in their seats, too frightened to move. The vast hall was filled with a deathly silence of fear. Then Khrushchev relaxed, and spoke again: "That's what I was doing."
In Australia, our leaders don't use show trials, firing squads or salt mines. But they have other means to enforce obedience, and they are used to getting their way without dissent from their followers.
When John Howard introduced WorkChoices in 2005, giving employers control of workplace bargaining, it must have been clear to his MPs that this could cost them their jobs.
On this page, I warned: "Make no mistake. What Howard is proposing is the kind of change that costs governments elections, and flings parties into the wilderness
Don't Coalition MPs see where this will lead?"
If they did, they were too frightened to say so. Barnaby Joyce raised some doubts, but his small business constituency was onside, so he complied. The rest remained silent as they signed the collective suicide note.
We have built up a mystique of the leader in Australia. Leaders have to pretend that they are infallible.
A party has to follow its leader wherever he chooses to go. To demand collective decision-making, to insist that many heads are better than one, is seen by commentators as automatically a bad thing, regardless of the merits of the case.
In the Howard government, all decisions of any consequence were made by the leader. Ministers took the flak Now Kevin Rudd has led Labor to an emphatic victory
. It was a personal triumph, in a campaign marked by his extraordinary self-discipline, self-assurance, and competence. Measured against the short-term goal of winning the poll, his policy choices were sound, if unimaginative. Measured against the long-term goal of governing Australia, of course, they were bloody awful, but you can see why opposition leaders can't allow themselves to think that way.
But it was also a campaign run in a presidential style, from the "Kevin07" T-shirts to Rudd's power grab when he announced that he, not the factions, will decide the ministry.
The danger is that he will govern the same way in office, running a presidential administration as Howard did: making the decisions, using ministers as advisers and salesmen, and caucus as a chorus of support for whatever he proposes.
I hope not. ...<cont>