As far as kick-offs go, Xi Jinping’s speech upon his ascension to the Chinese Communist Party throne was a ripper. If I could have tweeted, that’s what I’d have said.
I watched it on telly in my Beijing living room. With me sat my husband, a Hong Kong-born, Brisbane-raised Australian investment banker, our five month old baby girl and a friend of ours, a smart, driven young twenty-something from Hefei.
On two sofas and a play mat we watched Mr Xi and the remaining six new members of the Standing Committee walk onto the red carpeted stage in front of that vast depiction of the Great Wall.
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Nearly two years ago, I wrote in The Punch a piece that suggested the current way we select our political party leaders should change.
Under the present system, members of parliament in the major parties determine their own leader. However alternatives are being considered.
The recent NSW Labor Party state conference passed a motion to further consider how they select the NSW Labor State Leader. That decision, if implemented, has the potential to impact the entire Australian political system.
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When Kim Beazley resumed the Labor leadership in early 2005 he faced the freshly re-elected John Howard - by then the nation’s second longest serving prime minister.
“Naturally speaking, if I had my druthers, I would rather have your record than mine,” he noted warmly congratulating Howard on the milestone. It was a welcome reprieve from the verbal violence of his predecessor Mark Latham and a perfect example of why Labor had gone back to him.
“On this occasion, as in no other period of time in his prime ministership, the Prime Minister has spoken for the whole nation, and that includes all of us,’’ Beazley continued, referring to Howard’s response to the Indonesian tsunami.
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Since the huge news of Bob Brown’s retirement last week, new leader Christine Milne has emerged as a leader just as canny as her predecessor, crafting her own stamp on the party leadership rather than walking in anyone’s shadow.
Despite her somewhat school matronly exterior, the new leader is emerging as a tough, razor sharp and sophisticated player in Federal politics.
Bob Brown has left the party in its strongest ever position. The reality facing the Labor Party now is that it can’t survive without the Greens. With the latest polls showing the ALP at 29 percent and the Greens around 14, there are only 15 percentage points now separating the two parties in terms of popularity among voters. The Greens have cemented themselves as the third political party in Australia, and the ALP had better look out the Greens don’t swallow them up.
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Sometimes, you’d swear a higher power was trying to tell us all something. Not that the universe would trouble itself over anything as trivial as Australian politics, but all the same.
On the weekend, former Australian cricket captain Ricky Ponting was brought back as a fill-in for the injured Michael Clarke. Ponting proceeded to do his customary lousy job, and was duly punted for good. Could the message be any clearer? Do we really need to spell this thing out?
The Ponting return was a screaming reminder for Kevin Rudd to stay the hell clear of a leadership challenge. Second stints don’t work. As the American novelist Thomas Wolfe once nearly wrote: “You Can’t Go Home to the Lodge Again”.
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Typically, leadership contests have that nagging chicken-or-egg feel about them.
They usually involve a period of intense public speculation with various insiders anonymously cited as backing this option or that.
It is a process which can leave voters suspicious of motives if only because change, division, and conflict, make great news copy.
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It is called the killing season in Canberra for a reason - a curiously fractious time of year when weakened leaders hit the fence - Simon Crean, Kim Beazley and Malcolm Turnbull spring to mind.
They are among others, usually in opposition, who have fallen in the dying days of the parliamentary year when earlier optimism among colleagues gives way to disappointment and thoughts turn to another year in the wilderness.
All were victims of the poisonous concatenation of the two necessary pre-conditions for a change: the threat of a challenger and the opportunity while all are in Canberra to bring it about.
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Leadership has become one of the central questions of our time. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the demand for strong authoritative leadership has been palpable. I remember participating in a NATO sponsored workshop in 2002 on the psychological impact of terrorism.
One of the challenges thrown at the participants was to imagine they were facing a major incident akin to 9/11 and to decide who could be trusted with the task of informing the public about what had happened and what needed to be done. In other words, who would provide communicative leadership at a time when society was facing an unprecedented catastrophe?
The very posing of this question caught most of the participants unaware. It was evident that many of the elected leaders of European nations would prove unsuitable for this task. Could the Italian people trust the reassurances of a Berlusconi? How would the Greeks or the Belgians respond to the instructions of their prime ministers?
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Should Julia Gillard just cut her losses and quit? Or should Caucus make the decision for her and just put her out of her misery?
With the High Court striking down the Malaysian solution on asylum seekers as an unconstitutional non-solution, the perception that the Gillard Government is listless and unable to deliver has never been more pronounced.
Some of the names being bandied about to step in save the party from electoral Armageddon now border on the absurd. There has been speculation for months about a leadership change involving everyone from Stephen Smith and Bill Shorten to Greg Combet and Simon Crean, all of which make a kind of sense on paper.
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UPDATE: US President Barack Obama has announced that a deal has been signed to raise the debt ceiling, saying “the leaders of both parties… have reached an agreement that will reduce the deficit and avoid default”.
The gods are angry in Asgard. Odin is hurling thunderbolts at Balder. Balder is whirling his two-handed berserker sword. Puny earthlings are trampled underfoot. And this is before Götterdämmerung on August 2, when the US financial system threatens to collapse, taking the world with it in a vortex of fire and ruin.
You know, I’m just a wee bit weary of the American penchant for transforming their politicians into gods and goddesses. Think I’m exaggerating? Check out the August edition of Esquire magazine, where Obama is put forward as a kind of spiritual deity.
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Peter Costello has been busy, by all accounts, since leaving politics. Yet somehow, he just seems like a guy kicking cans at the moment.
All that talent. All that fight. All that political nous. And there he is now, not in the Capital Hill moshpit, but on all those advisory boards… Sigh.
Costello’s website states, with uncharacteristic blandness, that he is currently managing director of a thing called BKK Partners, and that he reports to the World Bank and a bunch of other worthy entities. Point is, no one really knows what he does. But it’s clear that he’s spoiling for a fight, any fight, with anyone.
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The Real Julia could do with a few lessons on real leadership. One of the great leaders of the 20th century was the late President Ronald Reagan. This week we celebrate the anniversary of his 100th birthday.
Abraham Lincoln once said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
It is difficult to reconcile the two different perceptions of Ronald Reagan. On the one hand, the modest former actor who revelled in self-deprecation; and on the other, the conqueror of communism who said, “Democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honourable form of government ever devised by man.”
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Last week a woman fainted during a speech former President Bill Clinton was giving for a Democratic senate candidate in West Virginia. Clinton immediately demonstrated exactly why women still see him as the most rockstar-charming world leader in living memory. “I’m going to save her reputation,” he drawled as the woman was led away, his honeyed southern vowels slow and sweet like January molasses. “It was the sun and not me that made her faint.” Such a dude.
It’s no secret that power is sexy. Add a little Tabasco-splash of Arkansan charm (Clinton), a sprinkle of George Clooney salt-n-pepper (Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of Norway) or some smouldering Latina sizzle (President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina) and you got yourself a recipe for hot that no ordinary civilian can match.
But there are a few world leaders that don’t fit the obvious parameters of sexy – yet are.
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