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Thursday, 17 September 2015

The world can learn from Australia about leadership change

This was Tony Abbott on Monday announcing the party room ballot to decide the prime ministership. In his speech he notably said he believed "that our party is better than this, that our government is better than this and, by God, that our country is so much better than this", in order to show his regret at Malcolm Turnbull's challenge earlier in the day.

But what's there to regret? Back in February, when there was no challenge by Turnbull but only a motion to spill the leadership position coming from two Western Australian MPs, Abbott won the party room ballot. But he was warned. The party gave him six months to clean up his act. In the end he failed and so, seven months after that event, he was challenged by the most likely alternative for the leadership.

Abbott wasn't up to scratch and the party dealt with him appropriately as the people in it watched poor opinion polls come in week after week. Starting with the disastrous 2014 Budget Abbott's government suffered a series of failures in policy and in execution. And Abbott can hardly have blamed his party when they were the people who put him in the leadership position in the first place, in December 2009. At that time he won in the ballot by a margin of one, but he led as though he were born to be in the role.

The events of Monday themselves demonstrated a country totally in control of its destiny. When you compare this leadership transition to such abject failures as those in recent times in Egypt and Syria, you'd have to say that Australia really knows how to switch political leaders. We've got the art down pat. I spoke with a person from China on the day who was surprised at how orderly the transition turned out to be. Another person I spoke to, on Wednesday, said that in his country - Brazil - you could never have such a transition even though many people wanted something similar to happen. And on Facebook I saw someone from Malaysia admiring our polity for its sangfroid and rhetorically pointing his country's leaders to take note.

Australia in its politics in the age of radical transparency turns out to have a lot of things others can learn from. The bloodless coup was orchestrated and executed almost entirely within the public gaze. Noone got hurt. Reputations were damaged, sure, but lives were not ruined. Houses and businesses came out of the process without a mark on them. How much better than that can you get? And the next day people woke up to have a leader most had hated replaced by someone potentially much better. Leaders can come and go, but the institutions that make all of it possible, remain.

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