Government | Regulation

Politics is a contest of ideas not a public relations competition

Politics, above everything else, is a contest of ideas, and not a public relations competition, former Prime Minister the Hon. John Howard OM AC, has told the CEDA Sydney Economic and Political Overview event.

“Public relations is important, but ideas and values, and the arguing of ideas and values in the public arena is the thing that…encourages voters not to follow the nostrums of people who preach easy solutions to difficult problems,” he said.

Mr Howard also said political correctness has become a problem in Western society.

“We’ve become far too apologetic about our Western identity, and anything that is seen as some kind of defence of cultural traditionalism or national identity is, in many ways, frowned upon,” he said.

Mr Howard said US President Donald Trump’s ability to articulate the resentment of many Americans towards “the avalanche” of political correctness was key to his success in the 2016 US election.




The other contributing factor to Trump’s success was the democratic party’s use of identity politics, Mr Howard said.

“When I was first involved in politics, I thought the goal was to appeal to people from every group in the community by the strength of your common values and principles,” he said.

But Mr Howard said that during the course of the campaign the democratic party candidate had tailored beliefs and values for each strategically aggregated group that was identified.

“That’s not the way I think politics ought to be conducted and I think there was a reaction.”

Brexit was another topic Mr Howard highlighted during his speech, saying he was delighted by the result.

“I think the British people made the right decision, I saw that decision as being very much a cry for national sovereignty and control of your own affairs, and I can sympathise with that,” he said.

Also speaking at the EPO event, The Australian Financial Review, Political Editor, Laura Tingle shared her views on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his position within the current political landscape.

Ms Tingle said that events had conspired so that Mr Turnbull had very little agenda of his own to start with.

“I’m not saying that none of that is his fault but the reality is now, that we well know, that it’s very difficult to rewrite a government’s mandate when you change Prime Ministers mid-term,” she said.

The Coalition had locked itself into a “completely barmy” position on tax before the election, Ms Tingle said, when Scott Morrison took to the ‘there is no revenue problem’ and ‘low tax’ positions with “such machismo”.

Ms Tingle said that the Coalition had abandoned the mantle of tax bravery to Labor.

“The reason is that the Coalition has, it seems, as little faith in the capacity of its own base to look beyond its own self-interest, as the Coalition base, apparently has, in its parliamentary representatives,” she said.

Ms Tingle said that tax has been such a powerful element of political brawling for so long, they’re having trouble finding new powerful ideas with which to encapsulate political fights.

“Cabinet ministers wistfully acknowledge that the Prime Minister needs the one big idea, to light up and define the government,” she said.




Meanwhile NSW Treasury, Secretary, Rob Whitfield focused on the importance of harnessing and developing innovative thinking and leadership skills within the public sector.

“I was really pleased…to come in to an organisation that had all of the investment in people systems already there,” Mr Whitfield said.

Mr Whitfield said investing a small amount in top quality people inevitably attracts negative media attention.

“Leadership wasn’t seen as a useful investment in one’s time and in the public sector that’s a difficult strike to balance,” Mr Whitfield said.

However, Mr Whitfield said the investment was justified as leadership roles within the public sector have enormous responsibilities.

“It’s a very sensible and pragmatic and important investment for the government to do,” Mr Whitfield said.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Economics and Chief Economist, Managing Director, Michael Blythe updated his presentation on Australia’s economic climate for 2017 following the release of new statistics.

“Well at 11:30am on Wednesday you might have heard a collective sigh emerge from…around Australia as the nation’s economists exhaled, after the ABS told us that in fact, that negative GDP print that we saw in the third quarter, was a bit of an aberration, it was a pothole, and in fact the Australian economy is still expanding.”