Why Bucks & Dimma should run the Liberal Party & the country
By James Fitzpatrick
The knives are back out in Canberra with our helpless democracy copping yet another leadership spill. The last time an Australian PM served the entirety of their term, Lance ‘Big Red’ Whitnell was leading the charge at Carlton* and Richmond secured the wooden spoon in a bid to prove that finishing ninth wasn’t their only party trick.
Unlike our country’s leaders, Richmond have since demonstrated an ability to learn from their mistakes; a basic yet fundamental characteristic of running any project successfully (be it a country or a sports club) and Whitnell has long retired.
So what has a club with $65 million learnt that an organisation with $1.6 trillion still can’t fathom?
When your chips are down, sacking your leader seldom solves the problem.
For years footy club administrators were guilty of this gun-ho behaviour; have a bad season — sack the coach and dangle the allure to the AFL community that you know what you’re doing.
Richmond were a glutton for this charade, going through ten coaches in the 1980s and 1990s (eleven if you count somehow losing Tony Jewell twice). In 2016, the writing was on the wall for Damien Hardwick after a string of heartbreaks in finals followed by a backward step to 13th. (Even the infamous ‘Ninthmond’ remained elusive that year).
As political journalist George Megalogenis details in his latest book ‘The Football Solution’ (also the source of inspiration for this article), Richmond’s CEO Brendon Gale and President Peggy O’Neal valiantly ignored history’s script, media hysteria, and an attempted board coup by a delusional rebel group of supporters (that can be likened to Dutton’s latest flop).
Megalogenis explains that Gale had examined Richmond’s past and found that the array of coach sackings coming on the back of poor performance rarely generated good fortune in following years. Gale and O’Neal suspected Richmond needed to fix a variety of systemic problems on and off the field if they were to improve the club’s overall performance. The coach needed to be backed and shown confidence in his ability so that he could grow and develop as a successful leader over time.
It is no secret that many of the most successful coaches and leaders were ones that failed first and learnt from their mistakes. They’re stronger, more resilient, and already know what doesn’t work — placing them a step closer to success than a competitor.
Entrepreneur, Sebastian Kipman reminds us that Abraham Lincoln launched several failed political campaigns before becoming one of the most renowned US Presidents. Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time has missed the winning shot on 26 occasions. Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player, once held the record for most strikeouts (1,330). Tom Landry, now one of the most successful coaches of all time, previously had the honour of sharing the worst win record in the history of the NFL.
Gale and O’Neal’s strategy of backing Hardwick through the third longest serving reign as Richmond coach was paid back in spades as Richmond defied all odds by winning the 2017 premiership in glorious fashion.
At end of the 2017 season, Collingwood finished 13th, the same position as Richmond 12 months earlier. They faced a similar predicament; emotional and illogical pressure from media, fans, and power-brokers for heads (namely coach Nathan Buckley’s) to roll. Like the Tigers before them, the Magpies broke the historical mould, kept their cool, and backed ‘Bucks’ all the way.
The result? A stellar 2018 season (despite extensive injuries) with a red-hot shot at taking this year’s crown jewels. Only time will tell if Collingwood can re-trace Richmond’s footsteps but one thing’s for sure: everyone is back on the Buckley bandwagon and Collingwood executives are being applauded for sticking by him.
It’s becoming clear that football clubs have learned their lesson and for great reward.
Why haven’t our politicians evolved in the same way?
Maybe they’re incapable of taking responsibility, admitting failure and learning from their mistakes because that would show weakness in a media and political climate that rivals the volatility of the Bass Strait on a windy afternoon.
So what’s the solution?
Replace them with Pokemon who have already evolved: the Richmond and Collingwood football clubs.
When I presented this theory to a syndicate of budding sports nuffies, we were quick to allocate obvious roles in our new parliament:
Prime Minister: Nathan Buckley
Deputy PM: Damien Hardwick
Liberal Party President: Eddie McGuire
Treasurer: Brendon Gale
Governor General: Peggy O’Neal
Speaker of the House: Gill McLachlan
Minister for finding space out of the pack for our growing population:Scott Pendlebury
Party ‘Stiff-Arm’ Whip: Dustin Martin
Minister for Foreign Affairs: Mason Cox
Leader of the Opposition: Ross Lyon
Leader of the Greens: Stewie Dew
It’s a sure fix for our democracy and the country would be back kicking goals in no time.
To quote one Pies fan, ‘Buckley would be drilling bills into the Senate from 60m’.
Banter aside, while sport is a vehicle of entertainment for most and a professional career for few, right now, some of the most powerful and effective examples of leadership in Australia are coming from sporting clubs.
The Liberal Party (and Australian political parties more broadly) would do well to take a play from their game plan. If they did, you never know, someone might start governing the country with a purpose for a change — a scenario currently as likely as a Richmond premiership in 2017…
*Bonus (read: useless) fact: Lance Whitnell played all his 216 games under one PM, the fifth most, for one PM, on record