You may have heard that Australia is in the throes of a federal election campaign. The incumbent Kevin Rudd and the challenger Tony Abbott are competing for the office of Prime Minister - the gloves are well and truly off as the September 7 election date looms.
Unsurprisingly, our news cycle is awash with images of the two leaders hugging babies, shaking hands, and posing for "selfies". Speeches -- with supporters artfully positioned in the background, heads simultaneously nodding, eyes wide with adoration, seemingly hanging on every carefully scripted word - are being made from multiple locations each day.
Nothing new. That's the campaign trail and that's politics. These tried and tested tactics have been used for decades. Still, as I watch, listen and, at times, cringe, I ask myself: sans the advice of their myriad of aides, private office staff and ministerial advisors, would these candidates run their campaign in the same sort of contrived way? On their own, would they promise what they're promising, say what they're saying, appear where they are appearing? Or is the precise choreography reflective of the work of advisors, where the leaders have outsourced their leadership instinct to unelected staffers?
Putting a precise figure on the exact number of ministerial staff in the government is an inexact science. The Australian newspaper had a go last year, analysing the Labor Government's contact directory and found there were 430 ministerial staff. This tallies fairly well with previous estimates of around 445, with 45 in the prime minster's office alone. Common sense says that for a country of 23 million people, that's a lot of ministerial advisors. Facts confirm it. The United Kingdom has a population of more than 60 million, yet the government of David Cameron has just 135 ministerial advisors.
Reasons for requiring such a large entourage of staffers include managing the meteoric rise of social media and the ever-hungry 24-hour news cycle. And yes, leaders reasonably require support to speedily write their slogans, speeches and Tweets, develop strategy, find the baby in the crowd. There is also correspondence to be attended to, meetings to be organised, departmental briefing notes to be scrutinised.
The support of an efficient team is, of course, paramount in assisting any leader to lead, but are the demands on Australia's politicians that much more onerous than for their UK colleagues? And what particularly concerns me is this: with so much advice on tap, I feel that for too many leaders there is an overreliance on advisors. Decisions and directions that people would expect, and hope, are coming from their leader are the recommendations of others.
I respect the advisor's role. They provide valuable support for their 'boss' and a counterbalance to the views of the public service. However, their dominating KPI must be to keep their leader in power, which is not an objective in the national interest. Taxpayers do not elect and pay their elected political leaders to outsource their instinct and leadership decisions to unelected people behind the scenes. It may be that Australian politicians have lost sight of this.
Based on numbers it's clear that they are currently being over-used by our country's political leaders. And maybe, just maybe if we'd enjoyed six years of stellar government you could argue that the large advisor corps is worth the investment. Sadly, with multiple leadership changes, policy backflips and declining economic performance, the reverse is true. Little wonder that the election campaign, this far, has been such a predictable and lackluster affair. The system isn't working.
Whether it's politics, business or in the community, real leaders know when -- and when not -- to follow the advice of their team. It's part of the challenge when you're at the helm. As the chief executive of a global business, I have no shortage of people giving me advice, but I can tell you that I make the decisions. I've never deferred a decision. I have many talented employees who are specialists in their fields, but if instinct tells me their advice isn't the right direction, I won't go along with it. I'd rather make a mistake than compromise what I feel is the correct course for the benefit of the business and my staff.
On September 7, Australia will go to the polls. I hope we will be voting for the leader and not their team of advisers to lead the country.