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Is Canberra canny?

By Michael Hewitt-Gleeson - posted Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Canny is shrewd. Canny is worldly. Canny is wise. So what about Canberra? Is Canberra shrewd? Is Canberra wise?

On leaving Canberra recently, Bob Carr told the Canberra Press Gallery, "I was struck by a lack of canniness in the government. A lack of caution, cunning - canniness is probably the best word. Regarding people smuggling he told the press conference, "I thought the government was too ready to cater to one section of opinion in Australia and dismantle what Howard had left in place, without weighing carefully, cannily, what effect that might have on people smuggler activity."

Yes, it's true that he was specifically referring to his experience in Canberra with the recent Labor government but it does leave us with the question about "Government in Canberra" as an ongoing whole. Is it shrewd? Is it canny? Can we the people trust Canberra to be worldly-wise?


What about the new Liberal-National government?

PM Tony Abbott recently visited Washington where his performance was described as that of a 'rookie' by one of Washington's oldest think tanks. Dr Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute said he 'winced' when Abbott "violated a basic principle of diplomacy to drag in your domestic politics when you go abroad". Commentators describe Abbott as having left Washington with an impression of "coarseness, amateurishness and viciousness".

But, even more important than Beltway insiders, what about the Electors of Australia? Do the majority of electors in Australia think that government, as a whole in Canberra, is shrewd in the way they conduct our national business?

True. We have seen that when is comes to putting in for travelling and expense reimbursements that Abbott & Co in Canberra can be very canny indeed. But what do Australians really think about our men and women in Canberra?

Here's some recent research:

• In a 2011 Galaxy poll conducted for the Institute of Public Affairs, 60% of Australians said that Canberra decision makers do not understand the needs of families and businesses living in Northern Australia. Only 16% of Australians did think that decision makers in Canberra were in touch with the needs of Northern Australians.


Mapping of Social Cohesion by the Scanlon Foundation reveals new depths plumbed in our distrust of government and politicians. Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University finds nearly 90% of us trust hospitals and police. Nearly 85% of us trust public schools. Three-quarters of us even trust employers. But little more than a 25% of Australians trust Canberra to do the right thing by them most of the time.

• Roy Morgan's annual research on Image of Professions in May 2013 found that while 90% of Australians trusted nurses only 14% trusted Canberra MPs but still ahead of car salesmen at 4%.

So if Canberra is not even canny enough to win the trust of the majority of Australians how can it win the trust of Washington or, for that matter, the rest of the geopolitical world?

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About the Author

Michael Hewitt-Gleeson is a Melbourne-based writer who blogs at School of Thinking

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