I just want to make a point about political party leaders and how important they really are, as opposed to how important the media and public (and, often, they) seem to think they are.
The answer: not so much.
You know what a parliamentary leader is? A spokesperson. Someone who represents the other MPs in public. Someone they’ve appointed to debate on their behalf. They serve at the other MPs’ pleasure, not the other way around.
You know what a parliamentary leader is not? The MPs’ boss. They can’t sack them, or hire them. The leader can’t make MPs vote a certain way, or say certain things.
A parliamentary party is not a company, and its “leader” is not a CEO.
Now, certain parties – cough, the ALP, cough – have adopted conventions in which most of the time they act as if the above was not true, as if they were a company where the MPs work for the Ministers who work for the PM. (And, because that fiction is easier to understand and more dramatic to portray, the news media go along with it.) But that system regularly breaks down, because in fact that’s neither how the parliament, nor the electoral system, nor the party branches, are actually set up.
Other parties, like the Greens, who have not adopted the ALP model – because it’s contradictory and undemocratic – are regularly attacked by journalists who don’t seem to understand what parliamentary democracy actually is. Bob Brown, for example, is excoriated for not having up-to-the-minute knowledge of what the party’s preference committee, mid-deliberations, has negotiated , as if he was their boss and they worked for him. Which he isn’t, because they don’t. The media like to speculate on who would “take over” from Brown, to the bemusement/frustration of Greens members and MPs – because although it matters to the extent that the Greens will need an effective spokesperson when Brown retires, it will make no difference to the party’s policy positions, whoever “leads” them.
I suspect the only reason the Greens even nominate a “leader” is that the collective heads of the national media would explode if they didn’t. “Does not compute! Does not compute!”
But a bit of perspective wouldn’t go astray. The issue for voters on August 21 is very simple: which candidate on your ballot paper will most consistently advocate for your views in parliament over the next three years? That’s the question we should each be tackling. All this garbage about leadership battles and leaders’ personalities is, at the end of the day, an irrelevant distraction – even if it does seem to make up most of the national coverage.
But it only does that because we let it.