The Liberal Leadership and The Bligh Factor

By John Kananghinis

The current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and the fourth Governor of New South Wales, Vice Admiral William Bligh may be separated in their respective tenures by 207 years but they do seem to share a few ‘leadership’ characteristics.

Bligh (yes, the Bligh of the Bounty and progenitor of former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh) was a true master of his profession, an expert navigator, skilled cartographer and a highly regarded naval Captain who served, with distinction in battle, under Nelson.

He was mentored by the famed Captain James Cook and was Sailing Master of the Resolution on Cook’s ill-fated third voyage.

He seemed to be at his best in adversity. Many underestimated him and he lived to prove them wrong. When cast adrift in an open boat, with his small band of loyalists, by the Bounty mutineers led by his chosen first mate and a man he considered a friend, he completed an unthinkable 6,700km journey across the Pacific to arrive, with the loss of only one man, in Timor.

Years later, when the relatively new colony of New South Wales looked to be getting out of hand it was Bligh, known as a sound administrator and strict but fair disciplinarian, who was sent to clean things up. However, his confrontational style quickly put him offside with the colony’s power elite and then with his own troops. The result was the Rum Rebellion of 1808 that saw Bligh marched out of Government House in Parramatta and returned to England.

Bligh was described by some who knew him as an “enlightened naval officer” who had one or two faults. For example he would make “dogmatic judgements which he felt himself entitled to make; and he saw fools about him too easily … he never learnt that you do not make friends of men by insulting them”.

Do I need to highlight the parallels?

Prime Minister Abbott is no doubt a good and capable man, possessing mastery of the combative art of politics. Yet he seems friendless, unlikeable and now subject to ructions within his own team.

He was mentored by a legend of his party and was a faithful lieutenant to Prime Minister Howard even as the 2007 electoral rout became obvious to all.

Subsequently, when things turned a little pear-shaped, the electorate, somewhat reluctantly, turned to him but they have never loved him. And even if they did, as has been proved for millennia, the mob turns easily and quickly.

When the PM made his February 2 (post QLD electoral disaster) speech to the National Press Club he declared that government is not a popularity contest. In today’s political reality that is just plain wrong. Leaders not well regarded by the people will sooner, rather than later, be dispatched by their own side.

The PM’s Press Club address and subsequent interviews also suggest a lack of true understanding of the language of inclusiveness required to take the people with him.

It is difficult to support the claim of being more “consultative and collegial” when he keeps saying “my government… my plan” and referring to “what I will do for you”. Such paternalistic language perhaps betrays that his true view is that the people should leave it all to him as he knows best.

That may sound harsh, but use of language in leadership positions is very important when dealing with an ever more educated and critical electorate (or business workforce).

The PM’s continuing use of such language may suggest that he, like Bligh, cannot help but stick to his dogma and make the “captain’s calls” he feels he is entitled to make, even if they cost him his closest followers.

Inclusive language such as ‘together we will address the challenges of the future’ or even ‘as Australians together we will …” would certainly start to soften his image.

After all Churchill did not say: ‘I will fight them on the beaches …”.

In the end, even though his enemies underestimate him at their peril, it may all be too late for Tony Abbott. Despite the many good things his government has done, or at least begun to do, he may suffer the same fate as William Bligh on the Bounty and in New South Wales two centuries ago, i.e. cast adrift by those he thought to be friends; a great captain in a fight, highly skilled and intelligent, but lacking in the necessary common touch and flexibility to keep the rank and file by his side for the long term.

It may be that our current Prime Minister is closer in character to Admiral William Bligh than he would care to admit.


News Creators Miss The Real News

By Robert Masters

Business and communication leaders are no strangers to the ‘gotcha’ journalism that appears to be a fundamental element of news-making (as opposed to news reporting) today.

Instead of reporting news, by seeking to create it and get climate change on the G20 agenda, the media fell into its own trap, and largely missed the main story.

The St Petersburg G20 summit of last year identified the G20’s immediate task was breaking the cycle of low growth and diminished business and consumer confidence.  There are tens of millions fewer jobs and global trade still has a way to go to return to pre-financial crisis levels.

Not small issues one could say! But they don’t make headlines in the land creative news. You need the really important issues of warships off the coast, streets in lockdown, cops on buses, people heading out of town, and you need to manufacture a conflict or embarrassment… that will satisfy today’s news creators.

Because US President Obama agreed to a pre-conference climate agreement with China, to come into effect in 15 years (2030), and he raised the issue in a public address, the news creators played their game (no doubt influenced by climate change advocates) by claiming that the whole thing had become the ‘gotcha’ moment for the Prime Minister.

Let’s not worry about the next five years, let’s look 15 years ahead and postulate on this. Forget the need for jobs, higher living standards and greater financial stability in the next few years. Don’t worry about trying to lift G20 GDP by more than 2% by 2018, which would translate to $US2 trillion in real terms in global economies, bringing 100 million more women into the work force, creating millions of jobs.

Hardly any of this was reported in the following day’s TV and radio media; let alone the item, which showed that the G20 supported strong and effective action to address climate change. (Item 19 in the final communiqué). To their credit the major newspapers did give it coverage, but continued to speculate on the policy gap between Australia and China/USA, even though Australia has not announced its final policy for the Paris COP on Climate Change in November 2015.

If serious and important news is not an agenda item for the news creators of today, business and communication leaders need to take this into account when they are dealing with issues that they believe are important.

The ‘spinning’ of news stories by the news creators must be taken into account in any media planning. There is a need to  analyse how each media outlet, including social media, is likely to treat news if the key message is not to be lost in the noise of the news creators’  ‘gotcha’ journalism.

Crisis management crisis

Crisis management: Three or four word problem in a crisis

By Robert Masters

There is a major problem for business today facing a crisis or issue in the public domain.

We are in the midst of a bubble that is now international, with the crisis with Malaysian Airlines disasters and the conflict in the Middle East.

If you do not master the three or four word principles of crisis or issues management you will flounder.

However, you have a very good case study in the Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s handling of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 tragedy, and all sectors could do no better than take a leaf out of his book.

He displayed his strong understanding of the communication principles behind effective crisis management and put them into effect with precision and timeliness.

Acknowledgement, Sympathy and Action – the three principles of sound crisis management – were on display for all to see and study.

He also ensured that the supporting platform for the principles were also in place – Defend, Deny, Defer or Deflect.

He left the Australian community, and the superpowers, in no doubt that Australia was going to take strong action with the tragedy when he called on the world to ensure that the victims were brought home as expeditiously as possible and that the perpetrators be brought to justice.

His actions with families, international leaders and at the United Nations highlighted that he was not going to defer any decisions to a later date.

His naming of those responsible for the event highlighted that he was deflecting any doubts about who was responsible for the tragedy to the Rebels and Russia and what needed to be done to address this issue.

Further, he put into place a nationwide movement – which is now international – of sympathy and grieving for the families of the victims.

The Prime Minister implemented a most effective crisis management strategy that should be studied by all sectors.

To learn more about the three and four word foundations of effective crisis management contact Robert Masters & Associates, experts in effective crisis and issues management, planning, training and implementation.


Thumbs Up Clive Palmer!

Media relations: Feeding the Chooks, Clive Style

By John Kananghinis

At precisely 5pm on Wednesday June 25, 2014 the current “Clown Prince” of Federal Parliament gave a media relations master-class on political spin control.

As Clive Palmer strode into the press room in Parliament House with global warming Saint and former US Vice President Al Gore in tow, all watching knew they were in for an interesting few minutes.

What Clive actually said was not really that much of a surprise, but the way it was delivered showed that the former white-shoe-wearer from the Gold Coast had learnt a thing or two about media management from his old boss Joh Bjelke-Peterson who famously called his press conferences “feeding the chooks”.

How Palmer convinced Gore that PUP has an environmentally sound position is a topic for another time but the press conference and his immediate post conference media management, allowed Palmer to both control the news agenda for the next 24 hours and to avoid any media questioning without having had the time to fully prepare both key messages and specific answers.

A 5pm timing is perfect to hijack the evening news bulletins on both television and radio. It is just as prime time news shows are being finalised, allowing enough time to trump all other stories but not enough time for any meaningful analysis or comment from other sources.

Announcing at the outset that there would be no questions taken at the press conference ensured that no pesky journalist question polluted the pure message. Then by asking for all questions to be handed to his press secretary in writing Clive got full warning of any questions likely to come up.

Given that he was then unavailable due to having a very, very early dinner appointment, there was plenty of time to prepare answers before his eventual first post press conference public appearance on Lateline over 5 hours later.

As evident as it is that Clive hasn’t missed too many dinners, even he doesn’t need 5 hours for a nosh just after he’s dropped the equivalent of a news media atomic bomb.

In the meantime Al Gore, conveniently, had to fly out of the country.

The outcome was that Mr Palmer gave one of his best media performances on Lateline that night and he was front page in every newspaper and online news site in the country the next day and subsequent days thereafter.

His turning up to Parliament in his Rolls Royce and Mercedes-Benz SLS were cheap but effective stunts.

The June 25 press conference was so well managed that from now on pulling off a similar news media full sweep will likely be known as an ‘Al Gore Moment’.

It is easy to dismiss Clive Palmer as a clown and side-show act, but he and his advisors have shown consummate skill in leveraging notoriety, turning it into dominance of the news cycle and some considerable actual political influence.

It has often been said by commentators and electors alike that we need more colour and character in Australian politics. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.

If you think an ‘Al Gore Moment’ (of appropriate nature and scale) could be just what your organisation needs, ICG has over three decades of experience delivering press conferences, journalist briefings and media opportunities for the benefit of our clients.