Well we certainly don’t have any on the political stage in Australia at the moment. And maybe that explains the high dissatisfaction level of our political leaders in on-going opinion polling.
The simple fact is we don’t have a Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam, Robert Menzies or a John Howard out there at the moment. If there is, that individual is keeping his or her light well and truly hidden under the proverbial bushel.
As the country heads towards the next general election due in November no one has captured the imagination of the Australian people. The politics of charisma that was associated so much with the larrikin antics of Hawke, for example, are nowhere to be found.
Sure, the prospect of another three years of Julia Gillard and her crew is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. But there is no mood of excitement about life under the alternative government.
The 1972 ‘It’s Time’ campaign lit the fires of anticipation for change with Whitlam emerging as the popular hero who could lead Australia out of a conservative wilderness. The problems that beset the country in the years following the election of the Labor Government in 1972 are another matter.
The ‘Kevin 07’ campaign, which saw Kevin Rudd defeat Howard’s conservative Government in 2007, was similarly fought against a background of electoral excitement at the prospect of change. But Rudd, who held out the prospect of a “big Australia”, did not learn from the mistakes of the Whitlam Government and stumbled from one disaster to another until he was politically assassinated by the current Prime Minister in 2010.
In the 1972 and 2007 campaigns there were core issues that deeply affected the lives of everyday Australians. They were issues that triggered high emotion and even anger.
In the first instance they were conscription and the Vietnam War, both of which Whitlam promised he wouldn’t have a bar of.
In 2007 it was Howard’s Work Choices legislation which the Labor Party, with significant financial backing from the union movement, cleverly exploited as an opportunity for rapacious employers to make miserable the lives of their employees, particularly battlers such as single working mothers.
There is no doubt that Labor will claim that this policy or at least a son of Work Choices will be reinstated under a Liberal Government. Anticipating this Abbott has adopted a defensive stance on the Opposition’s industrial relations policy that we are yet to see spelled out.
Both party leaders have swamped us with pre-election platitudes. Gillard says she feels strengthened by her experience as Prime Minister and is clear eyed about her plan for the future, whatever that is, other than the promise of a strong, fair and smart Australia.
Abbott says the Coalition has a positive plan to build a strong, prosperous economy and a safe secure Australia.
Malcolm Colless is a freelance journalist and political commentator. He was a journalist on The Times in London from 1969-71 and Australian correspondent for the Wall Street Journal from 1972-76. He was political editor of The Australian, based in Canberra, from 1977-81 and a director of News Ltd from 1991-2007.