Lack of confidence in US leadership adds to coronavirus panic


The Conversation/Google Earth, CC BY-ND

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When the Federal Reserve cut interest rates to the bone this week, this represented the most decisive action taken so far to forestall recession caused by a global health crisis.

The US central bank’s dramatic intervention is an acknowledgement that a health pandemic risks the most severe downturn in the global economy since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-09.

But the question should be asked: why it is being left to the Fed to do the heavy lifting in response to a global health emergency that risks morphing into an economic crisis?

What sort of leadership is the White House providing globally?

Why, indeed, has the US president not convened a meeting of G20 leaders, or officials, to coordinate a global response to the pandemic itself and to risks of a severe economic retrenchment?




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The short answer is that American leadership has been conflicted.

President Donald Trump’s initial response to the emergence of the COVID-19 contagion in China was to play down its likely effects.

At one point Trump referred to reports of an emerging pandemic as a “hoax” designed to harm his presidency.

His media allies attacked those who sought to raise the alarm.

Valuable time has been squandered in forging a global response to a global health emergency and now economic crisis-in-the-making.

Winston Churchill has had attributed to him what may be an apocryphal quote. This is that America always does the right thing once it has exhausted other possibilities.

In the age of Trump, it would take a leap of faith to assume American leadership will provide the sort of guidance the world has come to expect, even take for granted.

America may, as Churchill observed, step up, but precious time has been lost.

Various world leaders, including Australia’s Scott Morrison, have begun calling for an emergency G20 session to respond to the risks of a much more severe slowdown than had seemed likely as recently as late February.

At a G20 gathering in Riyadh, finance ministers and heads of central banks resolved to monitor risks to the global economy.

Surprisingly, these officials did not come forward with a plan beyond an agreement to take “further action” if global growth slowed more sharply than the International Monetary Fund anticipated.

In a presentation, the IMF predicted the pandemic would shave a modest 0.1% off global growth. Growth would pick up in the latter half of the year and into 2021.

Depending on the longevity of the COVID-19 crisis, that expectation now appears far-fetched and even laughable. China’s growth has been revised down sharply in the latest IMF assessments.

In view of what has transpired in the three weeks since the Riyadh meeting it is clear the IMF significantly understated the economic consequences of a mushrooming health emergency.

Riyadh participants, who included US Treasury Steven Mnuchin, would certainly not have anticipated the sort of dramatic action taken overnight by the Federal Reserve.

Nor would they have expected the speed with which coronavirus has spread across the globe.

The Fed reduced its benchmark interest rate to a range of 0-0.25%. This is effectively a zero rate of interest, trending towards negative interest rates. This is not a vote of confidence in the durability of the American economy, or in the resilience of the global system.

The central bank’s loosening of the spigots in the purchases of billions of dollars of Treasury securities and mortgage-backed debt – so-called quantitative easing – is designed to throw a lifeline to a sputtering economy.

The last thing America needs is another mortgage-backed securities meltdown. This is what brought on the GFC.

None of this reflects a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American and global economies to withstand the twin shocks of a health emergency and a global economy made vulnerable by an overdependence on Chinese growth.




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As a growth engine, China had been pumping up global growth, but the air is going out of those tyres. Irrespective of how long the COVID-19 crisis lasts, we will enter a new phase in which Chinese growth will be tempered.

In the meantime, the world finds itself at its most precarious moment since the GFC. The health emergency might be brought under control without lasting damage to the global economy. Global growth might be restored to an extent.

However, what remains in question is whether an American administration led by an avowed populist who has eschewed a global leadership role will become the champion of a much-needed multilateral response to a health and economic crisis.

When the GFC hit, America stepped up. Then Treasury Secretary Henry Paulsen guided an American response. The G20 played its part.

Lack of confidence in American leadership is not least of the contributing factors to a global sense of panic. The Federal Reserve has done its best. It might not be enough.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Morrison, compassion and coronavirus: when crisis refines leadership


Sen Sendjaya, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Monash University

News that the Morrison government paid A$190,000 last year for advice on how to empathise with the Australian people was met with ridicule.

Yet it might be worth the money.

In late January, Morrison was continually criticised for appearing to lack compassion over the bushfires.

He himself said, “there are things I could have handed on the ground much better”.

There are signs he has taken that to heart during the coronavirus outbreak.




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He has acknowledged unknowns and people’s fear of the unknown, and used inclusive language along the lines of, “together we will get through this”.

It’s been more than getting the narrative right. We’ve seen capable and compassionate leadership, even “servant leadership”.

Problems, not projects, make leaders. Real leaders faced with real problems put their followers before themselves.

Servant leadership works

Research shows that “servant leaders” make good leaders.

Their stories explain the success of many of the Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, including Zappos.com, Marriot International, and TDIndustries.

In a recently published state-of-the-art review of servant leadership, we argue that servant leadership makes sense empirically, financially and psychologically.

Our review of 285 studies on servant leadership in 39 countries finds the approach creates better leader-follower relationships, in turn boosting performance metrics including employee satisfaction and well being, commitment, and innovation.

It can help in the polls

It is probably why we react positively in the polls when our political leaders show compassion.

The latest Newspoll suggests his approach to the coronavirus has done him no harm.

Financially, servant leadership is a worthwhile investment because it is correlated with individual, team, and organisational performance better than other forms of leadership.

Psychologically, it helps individuals shift from a concern for themselves towards a concern for others, creating a culture of service.

Servant leadership is made up of six dimensions that can be applied on a daily basis:

It is a common misconception that in times of crisis we need leaders with a command-and-control and domineering approach, and those who demonstrate compassion will be seen as weak.

Compassion needs genuine strength

The truth is that being compassionate does not signal weakness, inferiority, or a lack of self-respect.

On the contrary, only those with a secure sense of self, strength of character, and psychological maturity are able to put aside themselves and instead serve others in times of crisis.

Being compassionate isn’t easy, as Morrison knows.

But it’s never too late to start.




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The Conversation


Sen Sendjaya, Professor of Leadership, Swinburne University of Technology; Mulyadi Robin, Senior Lecturer, Alphacrucis College, and Nathan Eva, Senior Lecturer, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Nationals have long valued stable leadership and being strong Coalition partners – this shouldn’t change now



Lukas Coch/AAP

Geoff Cockfield, University of Southern Queensland

The National Party turned 100 on January 22, but celebrations were overshadowed by leadership turbulence, with Barnaby Joyce challenging Michael McCormack for the leadership.

The failed move to restore Joyce as leader of the party was driven, according to Joyce and some supporters, by the “need” to have a determined and independent voice within the Coalition. As Joyce put it,

we have to speak with our own voice, we have to drive agendas.

The Nationals are a distinct party, but working within the Coalition has provided them with considerable policy influence throughout history. And Coalitions have worked best in the past with adroit leadership and by resolving conflicts out of the public eye.

McCormack may grow into an adroit leader but he is at risk of being set aside because of ambition and impatience, as well as a hazy view of the history and place of the party.

Early electoral successes for the party

The Australian Country Party, the precursor to the modern National Party, was integral to establishment of non-Labor politics in Australia. It started in 1920 with representation from all states and immediate electoral impact.

The party’s share of lower house seats peaked at the 1937 federal election, and from then until the 1980s, it was routinely able to win about 10% of the vote and 15% of lower house seats.

The golden age for the Country Party was from 1949-83 – a time marked by solid parliamentary representation, the routine holding of key portfolios and strong influence on agricultural and rural policies.

The success of this period was not just about electoral performance. During the Coalition’s many years in government, the partner parties were also ideologically close on issues that mattered to the Country Party, which helped minimise open conflict.




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These shared ideologies are no longer as strong as they once were, in part due to the increasing influence of market liberalism within the Liberal Party in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Furthermore, the Nationals are now an even smaller parliamentary party in 2020 than in 1980, holding only 10.6% of lower house seats.

Given tensions over policy, a need to maintain a rural identity and the rise of populist parties such as One Nation and The Shooters, Farmers and Fishers Party, the Nationals are now facing a challenge: how to express their independence, while remaining good partners in the Coalition.

Why good leadership and stable Coalitions have mattered

Throughout the history of the Country and National parties, it’s been critical for their leaders to maintain a fine balancing act.

It didn’t start out this way. The Country Party’s first leader, William McWilliams, wanted pure independence for the party, as was expected by the various farm organisations that supported “country” candidates in the 1920s.

However, his successor, Earle Page, set the model for future federal Coalition arrangements.

Earle Page.
National Library of Australia

After the 1922 federal election, Country Party members fired some warning shots in their tactical voting on legislation and procedures. This led to the offer of a Coalition with the Nationalists, who even sacrificed a leader to allow this to happen. The Country Party secured key portfolios and Page formed a strong working relationship with the new Nationalists leader, Prime Minister Stanley Bruce.

This also ushered in a long period of relative stability in the leadership ranks of the Country Party. For 63 years, the party had only five leaders. And four of those served for more than 12 years each: Page (1921-39), Artie Fadden (1941-58), John McEwen (1958-71) and Doug Anthony (1971-84).

Each of these leaders had a strong working relationship with their Liberal counterparts in the Coalition. Fadden and McEwen both worked well with Robert Menzies, while Anthony had a close partnership with Malcolm Fraser.




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Coalition stability was challenged briefly in 1939 when Page made an intemperate personal attack on Menzies, then leader of the United Australia Party. Page declared in the House that Menzies was unfit to lead government because he had not served in the first world war.

Page refused to work with Menzies, jeopardising the Coalition and leading to Page’s resignation as party leader. The internal turmoil contributed to Labor’s 1941 election win.

National leaders standing firm with Coalition partners

Since 1983, no Nationals leader has made it to 10 years at the top, though until the attempted Joyce resurrection, there had been only one direct leadership challenge.

Anthony’s successor, Ian Sinclair (1984-89) was one of the Country/National Party strongmen of the Fraser-Anthony era and an ardent coalitionist.

Ian Sinclair with his portrait when it was unveiled in parliament in 2001.
Alan Porritt/AAP

However, he was politically wounded by the “Joh for Canberra” push, an attempt by Queensland National Party premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen to become prime minister. This resulted in a Coalition split and the loss of the 1988 federal election, leading Charles Blunt to challenge for and win the National leadership.




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Most of the other National leaders in recent times, from Tim Fischer to Warren Truss, were strong coalitionists and worked to keep policy and personal conflict behind closed doors.

Even when the Nats felt pressure from their supporters for adhering to Coalition policies, their leaders held firm to maintain stability in government. Fischer, for example, stood shoulder to shoulder with John Howard on gun laws, despite the blow-back he received in many rural areas.

Prior to the 2019 election, McCormack also supported Coalition preferencing of minor parties like One Nation over Labor on ballot papers and attacked the Greens and animal activists in true agrarian populist style.

The result was good for the Nats: he led the party to unexpectedly retain 16 lower house seats.

Joyce has warned the National Party could cease to exist if more MPs decide to leave.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Why Joyce’s return would be a mistake

Yet, for Joyce’s supporters, this is still insufficient. Joyce’s time in leadership (2016-18) was a step back from diplomatic coalitionism with a more publicly combative style and demands for shifts in Coalition policy in key areas such as water.

But based on recent history, it is hard to argue the government isn’t paying enough attention to rural policy, given Prime Minister Scott Morrison has frequently been on the Wombat Trail to provide assistance to victims of floods, fires and droughts.




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Even so, there will be no return to the golden age of rural policy-making in Australia, and the Nationals could be content, though they won’t be, with a long history of punching above their weight.

Coalitions have worked well for the Nationals, in terms of electoral success and policy outcomes, relative to their representation in parliaments. The party should bear this in mind when selecting its leaders, since the fracturing of Coalitions hasn’t served it well in the past.The Conversation

Geoff Cockfield, Professor of Government and Economics, and Deputy Dean, University of Southern Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Michael McCormack’s battle to hold off a second shot from Joyce’s locker


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Scott Morrison dodged a bullet when the Nationals clung on to Michael McCormack. There was palpable relief when the news came through to the Liberals. “We still have a Coalition,” one MP was heard to say during the Liberal party meeting.

But it had been the Prime Minister who created the circumstances for Barnaby Joyce to get his gun out of the cupboard.

If Morrison hadn’t been in such a politically weak position, due to his summer missteps, he’d probably have brazened out the sports rorts affair.

Morrison didn’t force Bridget McKenzie from cabinet because she skewed the grants scheme – for which she deserved sacking.




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He acted because the price of keeping her became too high. But then suddenly the cost of ditching her skyrocketed when Joyce seized the moment. Morrison found he had destabilised the deputy prime minister he desperately needs to keep in place.

How things will pan out now is the unanswerable question. Of course no one believes Joyce’s protestation that “I support the vote of the [party] room”. Joyce can’t bear not being the macho top dog and he and his ally Matt Canavan – self-exiled from cabinet and a huge loser from the day – will continue to create trouble for McCormack.

The Nationals don’t release their voting numbers. McCormack people claim he had a healthy margin; the Joyce camp says they were line ball. If McCormack’s backers are right the secrecy harms him, fuelling uncertainty and the opportunity for mischief.

The easy consensus is McCormack must “lift his game”. Might as well tell a jogger to become a sprinter. McCormack isn’t the worst of leaders but he’s never going to be more than average.

And having acquired the reputation of a poor performer, he can’t win. Thus he’s criticised for having a low profile when Morrison was in Hawaii. But could he have raised it when the prime minister’s office was trying to hide their boss’s holiday?

The rebel (for want of a better description) Nats attack McCormack for not standing up to the Liberals, in particular to Morrison. They seek a more distinctive Nationals branding.

Now this is a real issue. A well-functioning National party has to strike a balance within the Coalition between, if you like, growling and purring. Each Nationals leader must find a sweet spot. Assertive but supportive in the government’s inner sanctums. In the electorate, distinctive while also a team player.

But if McCormack follows the wishes of the Nationals to be more aggressive, this carries its potential dangers. On the flip side of that coin is “division”, a bad look for the government as a whole.

McCormack might be a pushover but Morrison has not been sensitive to their mutual interest in the Nationals’ profile. John Howard gave them a few wins, and recognition. Morrison tends to occupy whatever space is available. His very personal central role on drought issues, for example, has overshadowed the Nationals on their home ground.

If Morrison wants to prop up McCormack he needs to pump his tyres. As former Nationals senator John (“Wacka”) Williams told Sky, there was a message in Tuesday’s events for Morrison: “Don’t make the Nationals irrelevant”. The Nationals had to be treated with respect and get some pats on the back, Williams argued.

The Nationals’ schism triggered a reminder that Morrison is in a no win situation internally on climate change policy, as he faces an increasing need to nuance it.

In Tuesday’s Coalition parties meeting (coming immediately after the vote) a bevy of Nationals – Joyce, Canavan, George Christensen and David Gillespie – sent hardline messages on climate among talk of regional jobs and industry. Joyce said some people were trying to push their hobby horse issues out of the fire tragedies. To one Liberal source, these outpourings from the Nationals’ losing side were a bit weird and not very coherent.

They were met by a counter from some moderate Liberals. Earlier, in the separate Liberal party meeting, Queenslander Andrew Laming criticised those who went on policy “solo flights” on climate. The government’s policy was based on the science, which had been overwhelmingly accepted, Laming said – to contest the science undermined the policy.

McCormack’s next test is immediate – recrafting his frontbench. He has two cabinet vacancies, with Victorian Darren Chester expected to fill one.

What happens with the key resources portfolio vacated by Canavan will be crucial, given the coal issue and energy battles. Whether McCormack should have invited Canavan back is a moot point. Canavan (a loud voice for the coal industry) has a sharp policy mind; also, he might have been less trouble for McCormack if still on the frontbench than rampaging round the backbench.

Among the complexities of the reshuffle is that with the fall of McKenzie and Canavan the Nats have no Senate minister, but the remaining three senators (all women) are parliamentary newcomers. Still, one of these women will surely be in line for promotion, at the least to an assistant minister. McCormack sources believe all six women in the 21-member party voted for him; certainly most did.

The significance of the Nationals new deputy, David Littleproud, should not be overlooked in considering the future. Littleproud is competent, ambitious and articulate. He was frustrated at having his portfolio sliced back after the election.

His presence could assist McCormack. At 43, he has plenty of time and, in the National party tradition, an incentive to support his leader and inherit the mantle rather than trying to snatch it.

But if McCormack can’t survive until the election, the party would be better off turning to Littleproud than to Joyce, who would carry a maximum risk factor, not least for Morrison.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Adam Bandt will be a tougher leader, but the challenge will be in broadening the Greens’ appeal



AAP/Mick Tsikas

Mark Kenny, Australian National University

Mad Monday usually describes sports teams “on the tear” at the end of season, not embattled governments embarking on a new parliamentary year.

But Monday, February 3, had that devil-may-care feeling when the two second-tier parties of the Australian parliament, the Nationals on the right and the Greens on the left, dropped depth charges into their respective electoral bases by putting their leaderships up for grabs.

For the junior Coalition partner, this occurred via an unsuccessful raid by Barnaby Joyce on the leadership of Michael McCormack.

That marked a woeful start to the parliamentary year for a Coalition already being hammered through its own policy indolence and the scandalous manipulation of public funds.




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Things went more smoothly for the Greens, where “mad” Monday brought the unheralded resignation of the party’s well-liked leader, Richard Di Natale. The Victorian senator was swiftly replaced in an uncontested ballot by the party’s sole lower house federal MP, Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne.

But the interest factor in the power transfer will not necessarily end there. Bandt’s selection raises important questions for the cross-bench party, ideologically, presentationally and functionally. And it may also prove to be a blessing for Labor, which has long bled green on its left flank, particularly in the inner cities.

Like his predecessors Bob Brown and Christine Milne, the outgoing Di Natale confidently predicted the Greens party was on the cusp of a significant expansion as voters opted for the only party not compromised by the fossil fuel industry, particularly coal.

Yet the imminent Green revolution never seems to come, suggesting there may be a natural ceiling on the party’s share of the non-conservative vote, almost all of which flows back to Labor as preferences anyway.

A large measure of the Greens’ electoral optimism derives from the view that, in trying to appeal to both inner-city progressives and blue-collar regional workers, Labor offers weak policies and confusing messages. The each-way bet on the Adani Carmichael coal mine at the 2019 election is most frequently cited.

But it is also possible there is effectively a cap on the Greens party expansion. This is because of its role as a party of progressive conscience rather than one that must appeal to a broad range of voters and offer policies that can be funded if elected.

As one Labor insider noted: “The Greens don’t need to talk to anyone outside the inner cities, and mostly they don’t try to.”

As a moderate type of Greens senator, Di Natale may have already maximised the party’s appeal among people who might otherwise find their natural home within Labor.

How Bandt performs remains to be seen, but he is widely regarded as more aggressive – purer in his orientation to, and reflection of, the party’s base, yet correspondingly “scarier” for mainstream voters.

“He’s a jump to the left, that’s for sure,” said the Labor functionary, who claimed Bandt is less disciplined and measured in his communication style than was Di Natale.

“He forgets who he is talking to – his base is not the same as the electorate and where Di Natale was ‘reassuring’, Bandt can be just plain scary,” the observer said.

When the young WA Greens senator Jordan Steele-John accused the major parties of being virtual arsonists during the bushfire crisis last November, Bandt leapt to his defence amid the furore. Bandt told ABC’s Insiders program:

I think he’s the youngest member of parliament, he’s part of a generation that is terrified and aghast with what they’re seeing with the climate crisis.

Scott Morrison has been put on notice, and his government has been put on notice for many years now, that if we keep digging up coal at the rate of knots that we’re doing at the moment, it is going to contribute to making global warming worse, and that is going to make bushfires like this more likely and more intense when they happen.

If Bandt’s angularity is to be tempered by the responsibilities of leadership, it was not evident in his first press conference, where he railed against climate inaction and inequality. He said:

I refuse to adapt to kids wearing gas masks.

Summer is going from being a time to relax to a time to fear for your life and health.
People are angry and anxious because the government clearly doesn’t have the climate emergency under control and has no plan to get it under control. But people are also angry and anxious because the basics of life are no longer guaranteed … even if you do everything they ask, people are no longer guaranteed a good life.

Finally, Bandt’s leadership has a structural peculiarity built in.

Like the short-lived Palmer United Party after the 2013 election, Bandt leads the Greens from the lower house while every one of his other party members is in the Senate.




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There were many reasons why that structure was disastrous for Clive Palmer, not least that his party had no clear idea of what it stood for, and Palmer himself was both mercurial and absent.

But having the members – on whose loyalty one’s leadership relies – located together in one chamber and the leader in another seems risky, especially in these times when mad Monday is a 365-day possibility.The Conversation

Mark Kenny, Senior Fellow, Australian Studies Institute, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the coronavirus has become a major test for the leadership of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party



Wu Hong/EPA

Yun Jiang, Australian National University and Adam Ni, Macquarie University

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared coronavirus a global health emergency. In the same statement, the agency said it

welcomed the leadership and political commitment of the very highest levels of Chinese government, their commitment to transparency and the efforts made to investigate and contain the current outbreak.

Indeed, Chinese authorities have put in place unprecedented measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, including quarantining Wuhan and surrounding cities, home to over 45 million people.

While some have praised Chinese authorities for these tough measures, others have criticised the local and central governments for cover-ups, a lack of transparency, being slow to react and mishandling the early stages of the outbreak.

For some, China’s authoritarian political system is to blame for making the situation worse and delaying action until it was too late.

Now, the crisis is being seen as a key test of President Xi Jinping’s leadership and the ability of the Communist Party to effectively respond to and manage a health emergency.

There wasn’t national attention on the outbreak until late January, weeks after the government reported the first cases to the WHO.
Alex Plavevski/EPA

Too slow to react

Suspicions of the new virus first emerged in early December. But it wasn’t until the end of the month that the Chinese government reported 27 cases of pneumonia to the WHO. The state media mentioned this only briefly.

A day later, police in Wuhan detained eight doctors for spreading “rumours” about a new outbreak of suspected SARS.

China reported the first death from the outbreak on January 11, but without accompanying warnings to the public to take extra precautions. No new infections were reported until January 20, when Xi issued a directive for party committees and governments at all levels to take effective measures to combat the outbreak.




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During this time, it was business as usual in Wuhan, with the government organising a New Year banquet for 40,000 families.

By the time Xi issued his directive, it had been seven weeks since the virus was first recorded and three weeks since it was reported to the WHO.

Crucially, it was also 10 days after the official start of the Spring Festival (Lunar New Year) travel period, the largest annual human migration in the world.

At this point, the central government finally sprang into action, locking down Wuhan, shutting down public transport, building new hospitals and giving more leeway to the media to report on the unfolding crisis.

But it may have been too late. According to some estimates, five million people had already left Wuhan before these measures took effect.

Silence, followed by censorship

The initial reaction of the Chinese authorities to the outbreak was to rely on traditional forms of censorship rather than transparency.

This is clear from the initial suppression of whistleblowers – the detention of the eight doctors for spreading “rumours” – as well as the subdued reporting from the state media before January 20.

One possible reason for the silence is Beijing believed it could contain the outbreak without any extra measures, particularly at the start, when the nature of the virus was uncertain. The authorities may have believed mass panic would do more harm than the virus itself.




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Coronavirus fears can trigger anti-Chinese prejudice. Here’s how schools can help


But after containment appeared unlikely, the central government wasted crucial time deciding what to do. Without clear direction from Beijing, the authorities in Wuhan chose not to act, which allowed the infection to spread.

Media coverage of the outbreak finally exploded after Xi’s January 20 directive, including by non-state media. However, strict censorship returned after two weeks, ostensibly to combat misinformation.

Playing the blame game

As anger deepens over how the crisis has been handled, the public will want to see officials lose their jobs and even be prosecuted.

The process of finding people to blame has started within the Communist Party. And already, we are seeing local government officials being sacked.

But the central government’s role should also be scrutinised. Beijing must have known about the outbreak by December 31, when it reported the cases of pneumonia to the WHO. Serious questions need to be asked, then, about why the central government chose not to respond publicly for another three weeks.

When things go right in a dictatorship, the credit goes to the leader. But when things go wrong, the blame can also rise to the top.




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Xi Jinping’s grip on power is absolute, but there are new threats to his ‘Chinese dream’


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the party was able to push the blame for the Great Leap Forward and the subsequent Great Famine onto local cadres. However, Mao’s prestige within the party also suffered greatly as a result.

Xi has followed Mao’s leadership style in many aspects, not least the cult of personality he has built around himself. He has also been consolidating power since he became party general-secretary in late 2012.

Sensing the potential political damage from the current crisis, the state media is now trying to shield Xi from direct criticism and blame.

Instead, it is focusing on the responses of other top leaders, particularly Premier Li Keqiang. In fact, for nearly a week from late January to early February, Xi did not appear on the front page of the party mouthpiece, People’s Daily, in stories related to the outbreak.

Premier Li Keqiang was mocked online for leading workers in a cheer when he visited Wuhan.
Shepherd Zhou/EPA

Propaganda and trust

All propaganda must have heroes and villains. The virus is the villain in this story, and the biggest heroes are the front-line doctors who are working long hours in dangerous conditions to fight it. The people, government and party have also been cast as heroes, united against a common threat.

The party knows the public has low trust of authorities when it comes to transparency, as it has an extensive history of cover-ups of everything from natural disasters to accidents to outbreaks of other diseases like SARS.

It hopes the focus on unity and heroes, coupled with more timely updates, will restore people’s trust in the government’s handling of this outbreak.

However, this is unlikely given the scale of public anger at the moment. This, in turn, may explain the state media’s search for other villains, particularly the US and other western countries that are shutting their borders to China.

A key test for the party

The party’s prestige and legitimacy are both on the line. Crises like this are a serious test of the party’s assertions about the inherent superiority of China’s political system.

Ultimately, the Chinese people are likely to judge the party harshly, despite its efforts at narrative control.

One thing is for certain: the unfolding crisis is a human catastrophe, and Beijing has much to answer for.The Conversation

Yun Jiang, Senior Research Officer, Australian National University and Adam Ni, China researcher, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How should leaders respond to disasters? Be visible, offer real comfort – and don’t force handshakes


Rosemary Williamson, University of New England

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been harshly criticised for being on holiday in Hawaii as the catastrophic bushfires were burning Australia.

Since his return, he has visited stricken communities – most recently, on Kangaroo Island yesterday. He has acknowledged the emotional toll on victims and promised practical support.

But the criticism continues. Every detail of the prime minister’s performance is being scrutinised via the 24/7 news cycle and social media. There is plenty of scope for perceived missteps, and little tolerance of them.

Disaster of any kind throws qualities of leadership – or the perceived lack thereof – under the spotlight. By what criteria, then, do we evaluate a leader’s performance at such times? What do we look for?

Criticised for being out of touch, Scott Morrison made a visit to Kangaroo Island to tour the fire damage and meet with locals.
David Mariuz/AAP

How Jacinda Ardern got it right

These are questions that have guided my research on how prime ministers have historically connected with Australians during times of peril.

During crises, people expect two things, broadly speaking. One is practical information, advice and support to minimise the risk faced by those directly impacted. The other is “humanistic communication” – or, the ability to offer comfort.

Last March, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed both of these qualities in her decisive response to the massacre of 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch.




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She immediately provided detailed information and promised aid and tighter gun control measures. And she unambiguously aligned all New Zealanders with the Muslim community by what she said – “They are us” – and by standing with community leaders and comforting those in distress.

Importantly, Ardern also wore a headscarf when meeting the families of victims. This was seen as a strong and culturally sensitive statement of solidarity and support – a mark of good political leadership.

Women across New Zealand wore headscarfs in solidarity with the victims of the attacks after Ardern’s gesture.
SNPA Pool/EPA

Being on the ground to see themselves

Australian leaders have long shown strength in times of need, but the way they do so has changed over time. Today, there’s much more emphasis on being visible.

Following the Black Sunday bushfires in Victoria in 1926, for example, The Age printed a speech by Prime Minister Stanley Bruce in which he promised federal government aid and praised the heroism and altruism of Australians.

When the Black Friday fires devastated the state 13 years later, The Age quoted an “appalled” Prime Minister Joseph Lyons, who promised aid and expressed his “heartfelt sympathy” to victims.

But nothing was said in the newspapers back then about either prime minister interacting directly with victims.




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A leader wouldn’t get away with that these days. Since televisions became ubiquitous in people’s homes, it’s become necessary for leaders to be on the ground following a disaster, surveying damage and consoling victims.

Prime Minister Harry Holt, a savvy user of the media in the early years of television, travelled to Tasmania in the aftermath of the Black Tuesday fires in 1967. Holt said he had to go to see for himself, to better understand people’s experience and needs. A detailed study of the 1967 bushfire response notes that Holt’s visit, while short, “caught the imagination” of journalists, who reported his reaction to the devastation in vivid detail.

This is what we now expect. Visits to disaster sites have become rituals vital to crisis management and a fixture of disaster reporting.

Listening to victims

For a prime minister, such visits are also a chance to express those inherent qualities of “Australianness” that guarantee a full recovery. Everything that is said and done matters, which is why small details are heavily scrutinised.

People do not expect to be held at arm’s length on these occasions. Expressions of empathy are often reinforced by physical contact, even hugs.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd demonstrated this following fires in Victoria in 2009, as did John Howard in the wake of the fires that swept through Canberra in 2003. They shook hands, patted backs and embraced survivors and emergency service workers.

John Howard comforting a fire victim in a Canberra suburb in 2003.
Pool/AAP

Others have got it completely wrong. Among his many missteps in his response to Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush delayed returning to Washington from his vacation by two whole days. An image of him surveying the damage from Air Force One then backfired – a decision Bush later called a “huge mistake”.

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in 2017, President Donald Trump was likewise criticised for paying too little attention to victims when he toured the site. And after the Grenfell Tower fire in London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May admitted that not meeting residents on her first visit was a mistake.

Misjudging what type of response is welcome from a leader also risks being seen as symptomatic of poor leadership, of being out of touch with the people. As we saw recently with Morrison, not everybody appreciates a handshake.

Stilettos and camouflage jackets

Even what a leader wears may be important. First Lady Melania Trump, for instance, was widely mocked for wearing stiletto heels to tour the Harvey devastation.

And when Prime Minister Julia Gillard went to Queensland in early 2011 following extensive flooding and held a press conference with Premier Anna Bligh, some commentators focused on the differences in their attire. Gillard, with her tidy suit, was criticised for not striking the right note. Bligh’s more casual appearance, meanwhile, had the look of someone more in touch with the suffering of the people.

Earlier this year, Morrison was also faulted for wearing a military camouflage jacket when touring a north Queensland flood zone, with some saying he was “hamming it up” for the cameras.

Morrison visiting flood victims in Townsville last February.
Dave Acree/AAP

Authenticity matters more than anything

The reactions to Morrison’s handling of the bushfires shows how important these qualities are in our presidents and prime ministers and how they will continue to influence perceptions of leadership in times of crisis.

Just as every leader is different, every disaster also requires a distinct approach. Each demands quick and sensitive judgements about what’s appropriate for the occasion. Reaction to any perceived errors of judgement will be swift and will spread quickly.

Above all, we look for authenticity in these moments, rather than obviously scripted photo opportunities. And in times of crisis, we’re more attuned to those out-of-touch moments when authenticity seems to be lacking.The Conversation

Rosemary Williamson, Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, University of New England

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison returns, with regret



Scott Morrison doesn’t seem to grasp that while he likes to emphasise his relationship with the ordinary Australian, as prime minister he is not an ordinary Australian.
AAP/Paul Braven

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

We don’t often hear an apology from Scott Morrison – indeed, it is hard to think of an earlier occasion – but he finally swallowed his stubbornness and issued a sort of one early Friday.

“I deeply regret any offence caused to any of the many Australians affected by the terrible bushfires by my taking leave with family at this time,” he said in a statement. It came after the deaths of two fire fighters and the injury of others, and Morrison’s decision to cut short his Hawaiian holiday.

But the prime minister still remained quite focused on why he’d taken leave just now, telling 2GB how he’d had to bring his holiday forward because of his commitments to visit India and Japan in January, missing a break at the coast. So he’d wanted to give his girls a surprise with this family trip to Hawaii. Etc. Etc.

He didn’t seem to grasp that while he likes to emphasise his relationship with the ordinary Australian, as prime minister he is not an ordinary Australian.

There’s been a lot of talk about how people don’t, or shouldn’t, begrudge Morrison a holiday. But, with the exception of family illness, a prime minister’s priorities should be the needs of his position ahead of personal matters, especially holidays. It sounds harsh, but that’s the nature of the job. And many firefighters are sacrificing holidays (and much more) this summer.

A national leader has, at the very least, a duty to provide the support of his or her presence at such times, including, indeed, as a gesture to state colleagues who are shouldering so much of the administrative burden.

Also, Morrison missed the point that it was inappropriate for a prime minister to disappear from sight – literally – without a public explanation or an adequate reason (such as a visit to Australian troops abroad, when news organisations rightfully respect a blackout).

This applies any time, but especially when the country is burning. All week his office would not say where he was. While there had been talk of both privacy and security concerns for this extraordinary refusal, Morrison admitted on 2GB “it’s more about privacy at the end of the day”.

Even if he’d made an initial misjudgement and flown off on his holiday, Morrison should have quickly realised his mistake, left Jenny and the kids at their destination, and got on a plane back home.

It was a classic case of a tin ear, which was rather surprising from a man who has proved pretty astute at reading the electoral mood. “This had been arranged some time ago and that’s just how it was,” he said lamely on Friday.

“[Australians] know that … I don’t hold a hose … and I don’t sit in a control room. …

“But I know that Australians would want me back at this time out of these fatalities. So I’ll happily come back.”

The public make judgements about a PM’s leadership qualities from their behaviour during crises.

Gough Whitlam was criticised when he only briefly broke a long and indulgent (official) overseas trip to return to see the devastation Cyclone Tracy had wrought on Darwin.

In a 2016 article, “I Had to Come to See for Myself: Prime Ministers, Natural Disasters and the People”, academic Rosemary Williamson presented a historical rundown of prime ministerial responses to disasters.

She noted “growing emphasis in parliament and press on the prime minister ‘being there’ for Australians – physically and emotionally – when disaster strikes”.

“Disaster can quickly shift attention to the qualities of the prime minister at a time when Australians are most vulnerable,” she wrote.

Presciently, she added, “Experts tell us to expect more, and more intense, sudden natural disasters. Australians will have expectations of prime ministerial leadership at these times. Apart from promises of federal aid and co-operation with state governments, Australians no doubt will expect prime ministers to come and see for themselves , to demonstrate empathy and to instill confidence in recovery.”

The trouble for Morrison after he returns on Saturday is that having been absent, whatever he does to reinforce his presence will likely trigger some cynicism. One report predicted he would “hit the ground running”. Doing too much would invite comparisons with when he wasn’t doing anything (except receiving briefings at a distance).

The most extraordinary part of this saga is how Morrison and his office thought they could keep the holiday story, and in particular the destination, under wraps.

When the PM leaves the country, there is an acting prime minister, and that is a matter of public record. And as Morrison is normally out and about all the time, it was beyond belief he could be quietly absent for days without questions being asked and those questions mounting as the fires became worse.

Finally, there was the danger of the almost certain random spotting. Once Morrison was reportedly seen boarding an aircraft for Hawaii, the genie was out.

Some journalists are adamant the media office told direct lies, a point contested by the PMO. Regardless, this affair reflects badly on the media team, as it does on the prime minister.

Journalists will be surprised at the naivety involved, but not so much at the attempted media manipulation by the PMO.

All prime ministers try to manage the media but Morrison is an extreme example. He is shameless about his use of favourites, whether individuals or outlets. The government regards The Australian as its bulletin board for announcements.

When it comes to dealing with the media, the prime minister’s office tries to exert maximum control, through a combination of privileged treatment and occasional threats.

This background perhaps partly explains Morrison’s delusion that his holiday frolic could be kept in house.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tory leadership race: it’s Jeremy Hunt (who?) vs Boris Johnson (yes, really), with the future of the UK at stake


Ben Wellings, Monash University

The United Kingdom will have another prime minister by the end of July, when members of the Conservative party choose between Jeremy Hunt (who?) and Boris Johnson (yes, really).

Aside from the morbid fascination of watching this from afar, this leadership contest matters because it will determine who will (presumably) lead the UK out of the European Union, with or without a deal.

One way or another, this will affect Australia’s future trade relationship with the UK.

Selecting a new Tory leader

Selecting a leader of the Conservative party (or Tories) used to be easy. As late as 2003, a series of potential candidates would be “sounded out” behind-the-scenes by grandees, including lords and senior MPs, to see if they wanted the honour of leading the party (and, as a happy by-product, the country).

As with all leadership positions, not everyone wanted the job. When the men in suits offered Sir Alec Douglas-Home the honour of being prime minister in 1963, he famously replied: “Please, please not me!”

They ignored him and he went on to become one of the least successful prime ministers in British history.




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But the sounding-out process was democratised in 1998 so that the party base could have a say. The process for electing a new leader of the Conservative party is that any or all members of parliament (MPs) can put their hat in the ring. If they gain enough support from fellow parliamentarians, they compete against each other in a series of votes among MPs, until there are only two contenders left standing.

At this point, the party members in the towns and shires (the so-called grassroots members) get to vote on who next becomes leader.

This innovation came at a moment in time when the Conservative membership was becoming highly unrepresentative of the country as a whole. And since the late 1990s, the number of members in the Conservative party is declining, the average age is increasing, and the membership is overwhelmingly white. This has led some people to describe the conservatives as “pale and stale”.

Johnson vs Hunt

This time round there were 10 runners. The field became “pale, male and stale” when the two female contenders, Esther McVey and Andrea Leadsom, did not gain the required number of votes to progress to the next round.

Eventually we got down to Hunt and Johnson.

Johnson, the former London mayor and foreign secretary, needs no introduction. Yet, despite a campaign mired in controversy about his personal qualities and his avoidance of most TV debates, Johnson was still in front among party members as of late June.

He may scandalise opinion outside the Conservative party, but the grassroots members still rate him. This is partly because he stands for leaving the EU without a deal on Oct. 31, 2019 – an article of faith among Brexit-supporting Conservatives.




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In contrast, Hunt, the current foreign secretary, is more measured and presents himself as the more likely of the two candidates to secure a deal with the EU, as Johnson is not taken seriously in Brussels.

What’s working against Hunt, however, is that he voted to “Remain” in the EU in 2016, leading some to call him “Theresa May in trousers”.

Of course, Johnson and Hunt’s respective positions on Brexit matter only so much because no change of leader affects the numbers in parliament. The real question then becomes, will the new leader call – or be forced into – a general election to break the parliamentary deadlock over Brexit?




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What this means for Brexit

Brexit has radicalised the Tory base, which is broadly in favour of leaving with a no deal (unlike the rest of the country). A no-deal, or hard, Brexit means the UK would leave the EU without any agreements in place to soften the economic shock of leaving its largest trading partner, the EU. This is now Johnson’s stated position.

Underlying this drift towards a hard Brexit is the de-alignment of voters from the two main parties, which has scared the Conservatives.

The success of the Brexit Party and a threat from the resurgent centrist and pro-Remain Liberal Democrats makes these challenging times for party strategists. In fact, the Conservatives are only united in their dislike of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Significantly, neither leadership contender really understands the multinational United Kingdom or seemingly cares about the strain Brexit is putting on the union.

Neither candidate has an answer to the Northern Ireland “backstop” issue, for instance, which seeks to avoid the reestablishment of a political border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland in Ulster (the source of past conflict). And a hard Brexit will see increased support for independence in Scotland.




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What’s more, the results of a recent YouGov survey of Conservative party members and their attitudes toward Brexit added more weight to the idea that Brexit is, essentially, an English nationalism movement.

So, in keeping with the permanent state of political misery induced by Brexit, any outcome of the leadership contest and the subsequent UK-EU politics will make almost everyone unhappy.

Both sides feel like they are losing. This is a result of the referendum format; in an election cycle, you at least think your side might have a chance next time.

But deep divisions over Brexit mean that the future of the Conservative party is at stake. Like turkeys voting for Christmas, if Johnson is elected leader, there may not be a next time for either the Conservative party or the United Kingdom.The Conversation

Ben Wellings, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No matter who wins the election, many Australians think real leadership will be lacking


Samuel Wilson, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Swinburne University of Technology, and Timothy Colin Bednall, Swinburne University of Technology

With the federal election a little over a month away, it appears many Australians have little faith the winners will be able to provide the type of leadership that can change the country in a meaningful way.

According to our recent research, nearly a third (29.8%) of respondents believe that the Coalition shows no “leadership for the public good”, compared to just 5% who believe the Coalition shows such leadership to an extremely large extent.

Labor fared only slightly better – 24.9% of respondents believe it shows no “leadership for the public good”, compared to 7.3% who said it shows it to an extremely large extent.

Our findings revealed that minor parties, the Greens and One Nation, didn’t inspire confidence, either. About a third (32.9%) of respondents believe the Greens show no “leadership for the public good”, while just over half (50.3%) believe the same of One Nation.

Equally concerning is the collapse of Australians’ trust and confidence in their democratic institutions of government.

Just over a quarter (26.3%) of respondents believe that the federal government, as an institution, shows no “leadership for the public good”. This score is somewhat worse than perceptions of state governments (24.6%) and significantly worse than perceptions of local governments (16.2%).




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The findings come from the initial results of the Australian Leadership Index, a new quarterly survey from the Swinburne Business School that measures and tracks community perceptions and expectations of leadership across 12 institutions in the government, public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

These results were drawn from two nationally representative surveys of 1,000 Australians we conducted in March.

Taken together, the results provide more bad news for the Coalition in the lead-up to the federal election on May 18.

Accountability and ethics are key

We hasten to add that the disillusionment with the federal government does not extend to voters’ perceptions of the public sector. On balance, voters think the public health and education sectors show leadership for the public good.

This indicates that public disillusionment lies squarely with the people who make the policy, rather than those who implement it.

Consistent with other studies, our findings confirm the importance of transparency, accountability and ethics to perceptions of trust and confidence in leadership.




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From a community perspective, political leadership for the public good occurs when leaders demonstrate high ethical standards, prioritise transparency and accountability even when it could have a negative impact on their administrations, and are alive and responsive to the needs of the people they serve.

In other words, leadership for the greater good is reflected in what value leaders create, how they create this value, and for whom they create it.

Political leaders in Australia are currently lacking on all counts.

For whom is value created?

Our survey results shed light on where the public thinks the federal government is failing to create value and what the community expects of political leaders to serve the greater good.

Notably, creating economic value has no bearing on perceptions of politicians’ leadership for the public good. As former Liberal Party leader John Hewson recently observed, voters now take effective economic management for granted from governments.



The same could be said for the creation of social value through, for example, the provision of social services and the enactment of policies that enable people to flourish.

From the public’s perspective, the creation of social and economic value is essentially “core business” for the federal government.

In order to be seen as showing leadership for the public good, the federal government needs to go beyond business as usual.

What looms largest in the public mind when thinking about leadership for the greater good is how political leaders create value and for whom they create value.

Specifically, politicians need to behave ethically and demonstrate accountability for their actions. Australians have had enough of the opportunistic, short-term game of point-scoring and blame-shifting.




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Moreover, political leaders need to be seen as responsive to the people they serve, in addition to balancing the needs of different groups of stakeholders. Concern about the use of donations to gain access to, and exert influence over, politicians looms large in the public mind.

In the lead-up to the federal election, and in the wake of recent Royal Commissions into banking and religious institutions, it’s the ideal time for Australians to consider the kind of leadership we need for the Australia we want.The Conversation

Samuel Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Management, Swinburne University of Technology; Jason Pallant, Lecturer of Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology, and Timothy Colin Bednall, Senior Lecturer in Management, Fellow of the APS College of Organisational Psychologists, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.