Canberra media today is awash with pole smokers and spite filled turds all trying to paint Jon Stanhope as either the reincarnation of John Curtin or Ethelred the Unready.
As 95% of the Canberra population doesn’t actually buy into local politics these perspectives aren’t much help.
So let’s try something more measured.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
— Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley
Jon Stanhope’s greatest achievement was his longevity and his retirement on his own terms.
He is a fundamentally decent man and a hard worker which made him something of a star by the low standards of the Legislative Assembly.
He ran a competent office, which doesn’t sound like much but just look at Kevin Rudd as an example of how this can be botched at the highest level to bring down the most powerful man in the country.
Jon Stanhope’s repeated electoral successes owed less to the Canberra public embracing everything he stood for as much as the recognition that he was the only half sane grown up on offer.
He was fiercely loyal to his staff which was admirable in a way, but at times was simply foolish (such as in the Aidan Bruford fiasco).
When considering a leader’s mixed legacy it is often said “at least he didn’t burn the place down”.
Sadly for Jon Stanhope the 2003 fires mean this cannot be said of him. In my opinion terrible failures of his leadership in the day before and on the day of the fire contributed to death and destruction.
Jon Stanhope appeared to see the world as both binary and polar. All that is good in the world was embodied by the Labor party, and all that is bad by the Liberals.
For most people this is a ludicrously narrow spectrum. Both Labor and Liberal sit side by side in a very small part of the political compass.
The problem with a narrow polar view is it means anyone voicing an objection to any portion of public policy must be an evil Liberal.
One suspects this is the root cause of the famous chiefly tantrums. It created a dangerous bunker mentallity whereby Jon Stanhope and his noble staff in their minds faced off against the army of darkness when in reality they were players on a much more complex board.
The economy grew under his leadership, but it grew as a result of the expansion of the Commonwealth Public Service and the Australian National University.
For all his bold talk on human rights Canberra is now a harder place to live for the young and poor than when he came to office.
And while we’re on the subject of human rights how many people ten years ago looked around Canberra and said “the problem with this town is human rights violations”?
His great crusade was a solution in search of a problem.
We now have a large and expensive system of paper compliance with human rights principles which offers little real protection. Much like “bullying policies” in schools there’s a world of difference between the theory and the reality.
And while the economy has grown enough to support Mr Stanhope’s programs the planning to service the growing city is perhaps best summed up by the three letters GDE.
He did a lot of stuff only he cared about.
He didn’t do a great job on a lot of stuff many people did care about.
Only parts of the city burned down.
He was a lot better than the alternatives.
Now he’s leaving.
I wish he wasn’t, because the alternatives scare me.
The tragedy of Jon Stanhope is that he would have been a truly great Prime Minister, particularly having learned from some of the disasters of his time as Chief Minister.
If he runs for Parliament I’ll leaflet for him.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.” – Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 17-27)