10 May 2011

Thoughts on the end of the Stanhope era

| johnboy
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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 came.
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)

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JB, nice article and very pertinent thoughts.

Stanhope has been out of touch with us for a while now, only symptoms of the inevitable megalomanic attitude.


Above audio of Kevin Johnson’s ‘Over the hills and far away’ seems very apt – especially the last bit about being a ‘mayor of a busy city . . .’

He did deserve that medal. Jumping out of a helicopter and pulling an unconcious man out of a sinking helicopter is bloody impressive. What they did would have got a much longer run in the media had not the fires arrived and taken over.

But the fires business was a disgrace. he clearly saw to it that the people directly culpable, like Lucas-Smith, did not have to account for their failure. The way he manipulated the various enquiries, and mired them in nonsense, really blotted his copybook with me.

neanderthalsis said :

The sad truth about ACT politics is that you don’t get first rate leads in a second rate show. There are plenty of private and public sector jobs in this town that can give you more influence in the national arena (and more pay) and you don’t have to deal with the petty business of running what is essentially a local council.

But politicians aren’t in it for the money or influence. They do the job because they care about community and the area, they do it becuase it is a worthy cause… or at least thats what I’m told at election time.

But back on topic. I’ve only been in Canberra for 4 years however I can’t say that I am sad to see him go. It seems to me that every decision or stand he made (at least in my time) is about his legacy or out of the scope of canberra politics. Services to the community seem to be second rate compared to ensuring another public funded thing with his name on it erected. However I must say he was good at his legacy building, every time I drive down Yamba drive or along the GDE and see stupid yellow windmills or twisted bits of metal I shall remember he existed.

Excelent summary Johnboy. I think his background as both a lawyer, apparatchik and then Labor politician led to a world view in which everything was adversarial and political. When you listen to hsi responses there is alway a three stage justification. The Moral, the Political, the Legal.

Under ‘moral’ nothing the liberals/greens proposed would slip in, in fact it would be railed against in a tremendously entertaining chief tanty. This was his greatest blind spot. A tremendously capable and hard working individual with a few flaws. I think the Assembly and the Territory is too small to run along strict adversarial party lines – it needs to take the best talent from all parties present. I hope I live long enough to see that occur.

A beautiful piece of prose JB; love the inclusion of Ozymandias – a personal fave… A pity “better the devil you know” was the decider in keeping him in so long…

Mr Evil said :

I wish him well for the future, but I won’t miss the fact that he will have no direct role in deciding the future direction of the ACT.

Like +1000

Some people may be somewhat surprised to hear that I don’t have much time for Jon Stanhope, and I have to say that the main reason for my dislike of him was his performance in the aftermath of the 2003 fires.

When he stood up in front of the media the day or so after the fires and said words to the effect of “Don’t blame the firefighters, blame me”, I thought to myself, what a top bloke, and how good it was to see that he had the courage to say the buck-stops-with-me.

Well, didn’t that die a quick death, as he hurried to cover his and his cronies collective arses in the months and years to follow – even to the extent that they/he deliberately dragged the Bushfire enquiry out unnecessarily with little games and diversion tactics to try and focus attention away from what a clusterf#ck the whole firefighting effort had been as far as ESA HQ and the ACT Govt were concerned.

I wish him well for the future, but I won’t miss the fact that he will have no direct role in deciding the future direction of the ACT.

bitzermaloney2:50 pm 10 May 11

Stanhope came to be as a result of a complete lack of public confidence in the Carnell fiasco (esp after:

(1) Bruce stadium re-turfing at the expense of the public several times over because the Victorian company that did the job forgot that we get frost in Canberra and the grass all died; and

(2) driving home from a winery and having a small off road excursion (possibly from being slightly inebriated) Kate left the seen of an accident because the “ambo’s” said it was okay to go. She was then being breath tested at home by the cops a few hours later and was over the limit because “she had a wine after getting home”.

Needless to say the standard was pretty low, and so He came along like the promise Messiah, similar to Kevin 07, but the difference was he actually listened to people and didn’t flog (ALL) his underlings 24/7.

Unfortuately for John the downfall came in his greatest moment with his first re-election. He was so popular that he received enough votes to guarantee at least 2 seats. The ALP basically wiped out all other parties, leading to John the Invincible and the ALP having the balance of power (I believe the first time ever in an ACT parliament).

An unexpected consequence of this election was the abolishment of all the minor parties that were part of the ACT ballot box. With the help of the other major parties (including the Greens) the early distinctive parties (eg. The Smokers Are Voters And Civil Rights Party, The Party! Party! Party!, The Sun-Ripened Warm Tomato Party, etc.) are unlikely to appear again, which I believe is to our detriment (and is reinforced considerrably by large transitional population, many of whom no nothing about pre-self government times.)… back to the topic on hand…

Having weilded unyeilding power like none before him, the voters started to reminisce about the old days, the days before John the Dictator and more about John the Empathetic. But just like Anaken Skywalker the dark side of the force had taken hold (or the onset of Grumpy Old Man had set in).

This lead us to the latest ACT parliament where the Green’s manage to get balance of power simply because they were not either of the major parties even though nobody knew anything about them. (… actually I don’t even think the ACT Greens knew antything about their own party. I guess little has changed in 3 years).

So at the end of the era (or error), John’s time has come, possibly several years too late, but if I were in his shoes (and lets ALL be thankful I’m not), who would have been able to step into his boots?

The best conclussion… for a Chief Minister he made a reasonable Mayor, and just link Kevin, he’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.

That’ll do, JB. That’ll do.

Great post JB. Best write-up I’ve read on here in a long time.

Not bad, Johnboy. Not bad at all.

Excellent work JB. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

neanderthalsis1:48 pm 10 May 11

The sad truth about ACT politics is that you don’t get first rate leads in a second rate show. There are plenty of private and public sector jobs in this town that can give you more influence in the national arena (and more pay) and you don’t have to deal with the petty business of running what is essentially a local council.

Wow, great article.

100% agree.

Pommy bastard12:57 pm 10 May 11

I kept the faith and I kept voting
Not for the iron fist but for the helping hand
For theirs is a land with a wall around it
And mine is a faith in my fellow man
Theirs is a land of hope and glory
Mine is the green field and the factory floor
Theirs are the skies all dark with bombers
And mine is the peace we knew
Between the wars

Call up the craftsmen
Bring me the draughtsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I’ll give my consent
To any government
That does not deny a man a living wage

A well penned political eulogy, Johnboy.


In my view you could not have expressed the Stanhope era better.

I debated posting yesterday but decided not to. I have waited for the day for nearly a decade.

People died needlessly while human rights bureaucracy flowered.

He achieved less than nothing in terms of human rights, he was only interested in his ego.

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