Times are tough, but where can we find strong leadership?

In troubled times, people look for strong leaders — men and women who offer decisive action to address collective problems, and promise the capacity to deliver.

They initially present as larger-than-life characters, and we’ve had our share of them: Robert Menzies, Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and perhaps Kevin Rudd.

The dual problems of the pandemic (with its tail of economic problems) and of the destabilization of the international order, with the rise of an assertive China and the outbreak of war in Europe, has provoked a crisis mentality in which the demand for such leadership is intensified.

But when one ponders the daily newsfeed of the election campaign and the record of the past three years, the results are dispiriting.

Each of the major parties is spraying cash at carefully targeted demographic sectors and seats. Neither is showing leadership in addressing the budget problems that portend a horror budget after the election.

The one-man band that was Scott Morrison in the 2019 campaign has failed to deliver, and he is trying to run the same campaign in different circumstances.

The speculative superintendence of a small-palette agenda by Anthony Albanese has led many to castigate his lack of ambition. The major parties are in decline, and neither appears capable of delivering the big ideas needed for current challenges.

A look back at former PM John Howard reveals several weaknesses in Scott Morrison’s leadership. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Consider Morrison’s claim to the mantle of strong leadership. If one rates him against John Howard – not a larger-than-life character but certainly a strong leader – Morrison fails to measure up.

Howard had a rocky first term, but demonstrated the courage of his convictions early with gun law reform, despite opposition from the National Party and many in rural constituencies.

He ran a disciplined cabinet, and persisted with the economic reforms introduced by Labor but adapted them to his own purposes, building a coherent policy program. He made the brave decision to introduce a goods and services tax (GST), and never introduced a new policy measure without showing how it aligned with specific liberal values, rather than waffling about “Australian” values.

He carried his party with him, regularly visiting party branches to talk with and listen to members. He could rightfully claim that whether people agreed or disagreed with him, they knew who he was and what he was about. The result: eventually he “owned” the party.

Scott Morrison has been criticizing for his failure to deliver an ambitious political agenda. Picture: Joel Carrett/AAP

Now Morrison, too, has had a difficult first term, with challenges not of his making. But there has been no courageous decision, and certainly not the will to challenge the way in which he has been held hostage by the National Party and its costly demands.

Morrison has been reactive rather than proactive: rarely thinking long-term, but preoccupied with the immediate. He has failed to see crises coming or imagine what his role in addressing them should be.

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