Cashing in on public service? What do Arthur Sinodinos and Bill Clinton have in common? They have fallen victim to the Blair disease, which compels former politicos to leave public life and take up lucrative new careers.
Since leaving office, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has amassed a private fortune by working for JPMorgan Chase bank and the regimes of Qatar and Kazakhstan. Commentators have long noted his fondness for yachts, jets and luxury houses in the Caribbean.
Sinodinos, who was John Howard’s chief of staff for nine years, left the confines of public life for the National Australia Bank, where he was well paid. As the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated last week, he then joined the board of Australian Water Holdings. Enter the Obeid family.
AWH will also feature in the next ICAC inquiry, which starts in three weeks. Operation Spicer will examine allegations that the Central Coast Three — a right-wing power bloc consisting of MPs Chris Hartcher, Chris Spence and Darren Webber “corruptly solicited, received and concealed payments from various sources in return for favouring the interests of those responsible for the payments”. It will be alleged that AWH was one of those donors; all three men have already stepped down from the NSW Liberal party and sit on the crossbenches.
The episode eroded the integrity of the O’Farrell government, which had been one of the key points of difference from its Labor predecessor. The common thread here is allegations of greed and its evil twin, conflict of interest.
The problem for some people in power, of course, is that close proximity to rich people changes one’s perspective. It’s like owning a cat — you think you have a relationship, but the cat stays with you because you feed it. And it’s very easy to lose a sense of perspective about money. Politicians always complain about their salaries, forgetting that they are paid at least three times average weekly earnings.
A few weeks ago, the Financial Times’ Simon Kuper noted that Clinton, Gerhard Schroeder and Nicolas Sarkozy had all amassed private fortunes after leaving office. In order to stop this, former leaders should be banned from doing paid work for private interests, he wrote. If such a rule had been applied to Arthur Sinodinos, he wouldn’t be in the situation he is in now, with his political career under a cloud.
Stopping former legislators from cashing in would “instantly deflate populism, keep experience inside government and attract a better class of person to the job”, Kuper wrote.
What political types fail to acknowledge is that all the goodwill they have amassed in public life belongs to the voters. So post-political life should involve benefiting others by sharing your wisdom and experience, not cashing in on your connections.
How to be interesting. If you want to be a success on social media, give a TED talk or just generally be known as a “thought leader”, you need to remember only one rule: It’s much more important to be interesting than to be right.
Sociologist Murray Davis wrote in 1971:
“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great because his theories are true … but this is false. A theorist is considered great not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting.”
Davis argues that there are only a handful of main ways for an idea to be interesting. “To grab people’s attention, you should argue that something we think of as bad is good, or vice versa; that some apparently individual phenomenon is really collective; that several seemingly disparate things are actually part of the same thing,” and so on.
“A new theory will be noticed only when it denies an old truth, proverb, platitude, maxim, adage, saying, commonplace, etc … All interesting theories, at least all interesting social theories, then, constitute an attack on the taken-for-granted world of their audience … If it does not challenge but merely confirms one of their taken-for-granted beliefs, [the audience] will respond to it by rejecting its value while affirming its truth … An interesting proposition was always the negation of an accepted one.”
One of the greatest proponents of the “be interesting” school of writing is best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, whose books turn accepted ideas on their head and challenge long-held assumptions.
And if your thought bubble, book or article turns out to be wrong? Well, have a few glasses of the Red Infuriator, get onto Twitter at about 11pm and start an argument. At that time of night, facts are extra.
Libs, Nats turn on each other in NSW. The fascinating evidence emerging at ICAC is not the only headache for New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell. The latest talk from Macquarie Street is that just one year out from an election, two long-serving National Party MPs, party leader Andrew Stoner and deputy leader Adrian Piccoli, are facing preselection challenges. Stoner, the Deputy Premier, won his far north coast seat of Oxley in 1999. Piccoli has held the central west seat of Murrumbidgee since the same year; however, it will be abolished at the next election due to a redistribution, and he is expected to seek preselection for the neighboring seat of Murray. Relations between the coalition partners have been less than cordial due to a row over a three-cornered contest in Goulburn, which has now been resolved in favour of the Liberals.
In living colour. Tomorrow morning, contemporary fashion label Romance Was Born will unveil its first exhibition at Carriageworks, in collaboration with Perth-based visual artist Rebecca Baumann.
The large-scale installation will combine Baumann’s kaleidoscopic world of colour and light with the eclectic style of Romance Was Born. The exhibition will be up for a month, and is an interesting mixture of fashion, sculpture and theatre.