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Does courage shorten a political career?

Geoff Gallop entered the political scene in the late 1960s fired up and believing he could take the ideas he into the political machine and put them into action. Politicians he said define themselves in terms of their beliefs or objectives rather than by who they are.

“I wonder,” he said. “If I’d been more self-aware maybe I would have made it better through the hard bits.”

Geoff Gallop held a ministerial position in WA for nearly 20 years, and served as Labor premier between 2001-2006. Gallop was absolutely frank about his decision to stand down in order to deal with his depression. Referring jokingly to 2006 as the “Gallop year of emancipation” he speaks fondly of working in academia.

Gallop talks passionately, shifting from side to side, his hands animate every sentence he utters. You can almost see his thoughts racing ahead as he jumps over Petria Wallace’s questions, unable to contain his passion for the topic. It’s clear his heart belongs to politics. Once a politician always a politician.

The responsibility of a political leader, Gallop believes, is to have courage and purpose. Politicians need to project vision as well as integrity onto the public. Sometimes this courage shortens a political career, but maybe a short and successful career is better than a long passionless one.

Gallop wonders about the passion of politicians today: “We had an obligation in the 1960s-’70s to change Australia. It was the obligation the absolute belief in change that put us all in politics. Managerial ability can only get you so far.”

Wallace wondered whether the 24-hour news grind was responsible for the seemingly aimless modern political career. How can a politician make effective decisions when they are accounting to the press every moment?

Politicians are trapped in the news cycle, “by the grab for a headline when they aren’t even sure what it will take to implement the policy behind that headline,” said Gallop.

News cycle campaigning prevents a long term view; the future isn’t being viewed as part of the present. We need to remember this is politics – not event management.

While Gallop advocates for passion in politics, he isn’t a fan of fundamentalism.  Politicians need to learn to compromise, one step back, two steps forward, he said. The Greens decision not to back the carbon trading scheme was a changing moment for Australian politics, he raised the point several times. When asked about the legitimacy of the Greens as a contributing party in Australian politics, he has much that was positive to say – but everything came back to his frustration at that decision.

You cannot hope to mould a society to one ultimate truth, politically that sort of idea leans to authoritarianism. True democratic politics, says Gallop, is about “negotiating difference rather than obliterating it”.

 

Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University student.

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