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Typecasting our leaders robs us of the joy of discovering their full selves – Sydney Morning Herald

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If only the inner-city cafes were open to further discuss the looming catastrophic prospect of a person of faith, Dominic Perrottet, assuming the office of Premier of NSW, as prophesied by alarmists who have abandoned objective reflection, business would be booming.
The main contention is that people of faith should be disqualified from high office or at least suffocate their own belief system the moment they take their ministerial oath, lest a narrow world view takes hold within a government. Historically, we have seen this concern for democracy used as a veil for sectarianism of one sort or another, this doesn’t mean we should avoid the discussion.
There are those who fear a looming catastrophe with Dominic Perrottet at the wheel of state government.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
The supposed threat from “fundamentalist thinking” can be countered with a concern about a strident form of secularism that seeks to extinguish the Judaeo-Christian traditions that begat Westminster democracy (rule of law, personal liberty, living free of persecution), a tradition that explicitly authenticates the stated goals of secularists.
The gracious interpretation of the argument is a concern that our leaders are being drawn from an increasingly unrepresentative gene pool with limited life experiences and too quick to have their public service informed by perspectives on faith and religious beliefs. This is not a new or original argument, but it’s as persistent as it is shallow.
We could ignore the Aristotelian wisdom to value the whole and take the low road that judges our leaders as merely the sum of their parts; if we continue to do this, we are bound to be disappointed more times than we are pleased. Nor are we allowing ourselves to get the full picture of those in whom we entrust the heavy responsibilities of civic or government leadership.
A hyper-accelerated news cycle that eschews reflection, modern workflows that don’t value deliberation and the illusory benefits of quick judgment calls too often leave us with an impressionistic portrait of the world and nothing more. This sells everyone short.
Consider the example of Marie Bashir, one of the most distinguished leaders in NSW history. We could recall her as being a daughter of the Riverina, or part of the Australian-Lebanese diaspora, a violinist, a psychiatrist, a mother, governor, university chancellor or Nick Shehadie’s wife.
Bashir was proudly all of these, but it’s only when we take the full panoramic view of her talents and gifts and not the atomised version of Professor Bashir, do we fully appreciate her genius and gift to public life.
If the concerns of the alarmists persist it is likely they are not giving enough consideration to the internal strengths and bulwarks of Westminster democracy, including the uniquely Australian version that we have developed. It’s the (Edmund) Burkean principle of representative duties that guards against special interests owning a leader or a government. As Burke told his Bristol electors: “Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; … but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole.”
Australian leaders have adhered to this principle for the betterment of our country, a famous example being Bob Hawke, propelled to high office via the union movement. As prime minister, in the national interest, Hawke led a strike-busting campaign against the pilot’s union, even urging legal action against their industrial wing. Hawke was never captured by his industrial background.
There is also the Australian inclination for elections, we have them quite frequently, general and byelections, and they put the Australian public in the box seat; allowing the voters to pass regular judgments on elected officials is the absolute antidote to special interests becoming entrenched in government.
So, let us be open to the joy of being confounded by our leaders, pleasantly surprised even, before we entrap them in quickly constructed typecasting. There is enough room for all Australians to take their positions in public life, men and women, city and country folk, lawyers, activists, the married and unmarried, believers and non-believers; there is a dividend in such diversity, as our history shows. We can be confident that the system holds for the greater good.
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