Milne heads to political wilderness, needs to go bush
Christine Milne is 100 days into her leadership and shows little evidence of filling the large shoes left by Bob Brown. This period coincides with a deep split in the Labor alliance and could mark the beginning of the end for the Greens’ influence.
And to make things even more difficult, the ongoing and unseemly stoush between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott deprives Ms Milne of the crucial oxygen she needs to give life to her leadership.
The transition from Bob Brown to Christine Milne preceded a number of events which are central to the Greens’ agenda, but none of which she has been able to exploit for political advantage. The Greens-backed carbon tax and mining tax became a reality. The asylum seeker debate continued its death spiral while the Greens stood by and arrogantly argued only they were in possession of the real facts and hence the correct solution.
The end of the marriage of convenience between Bob Brown and Julia Gillard left Ms Milne with the fallout.
The foundation of high level leadership is found in Triple A Leadership: the effective integration of authenticity, authorship and authority. Looking at Christine Milne from this perspective raises concerns about her future. But the situation is not terminal, and can be turned around relatively easily at this early stage of the game.
There is little doubt about Ms Milne’s authenticity. She knows what she stands for and lives according to a deeply held purpose. She demonstrates a long and consistent commitment to core values, which connect with the Greens’ agenda.
Whether one agrees with Ms Milne’s values or not, the societal trends towards caring for the planet, gay marriage, and embarrassed apologies for the errors of the past, mean that she is well positioned to become a conviction politician and a suitable successor to Bob Brown.
But in the nexus between authorship and authority, which builds on authenticity, she is falling short.
What is Christine Milne’s story, how does that link to the Greens’ narrative and - more importantly - how does that tap into and align with the Australia of today and tomorrow? Can Ms Milne tell a story that captures the imagination of a sufficient number of people and so contribute to her standing in the electorate, and translate into more Greens in Parliament? Very little in the first 100 days suggests a positive answer.
Her first initiative to ‘start a conversation’ in rural Australia showed great promise. This was an inspired effort to weave her own story, being a fifth-gen child of a dairy farming family, into a wider narrative and away from inner city urbanites. Unfortunately the conversation has shrunk to a whisper.
Whilst Julia Gillard accuses Tony Abbott of saying no to everything, the story of “no” really belongs to the Greens. No carbon. No growth. No offshore processing. No compromise. And all couched in the language of care compassion and justice under a narrative developed and finely honed by Bob Brown, but which Christine Milne is struggling to make her own.
The story of no could become the story of no relevance.
Unlike Julia Gillard who has never recovered from seizing authority in a backroom coup, Christine Milne enjoyed a smooth transition to power. Genuine authority is not given by the title on a business card however, but by the strength of character and leadership that one brings to the role. Only time will tell if Ms Milne has what it takes, but the first 100 days do not bode well for the future.
It appears she has not yet fully embraced her authority, has chosen to say little and keep to the familiar. In so doing she continues to project an image of a deputy leader, not the leader. This tension between the role she has and the role she embraces subtly undermines her authority with the public. The solution involves finding a way to integrate her authentic self - the female leader, the environmentalist, the farmer and gardener, the mother, the social activist - with a consistent narrative which bridges both her own and the Greens’ past present and future.
This will lay a foundation for inner authority, enabling her to grow in stature as the leader of the Greens and a politician of influence.
If Ms Milne continues on her current trajectory she risks leading the Greens back to the wilderness, rather than to a central place in Australian politics.
She needs to navigate a difficult path as she grasps the leadership baton, embraces her authority, finds her voice, and stays true to her values. Welcome to the world of high level leadership, lived in the glare of the media, with little room for error.
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