Transcending the trivial: It’s time we demand more from our leaders

With political decisions based more on the 24 hour news cycle than long-term outcomes, the"what's in it for me" mentality of our politicians and adolescent point scoring needs to stop.

Like many Australians, I often struggle when I consider the state of our politics.

In our community today political decisions seem to be based more on the 24 hour news cycle with little space or interest for any in-depth political debate or discussion, and yet we need this more than ever.

A "what's in it for me" mentality tends to shape the decision-making framework, particularly evident during the cross-aisle political point scoring during the recent G20 summit. If certain commentators are to be believed Australia often behaves like an adolescent on the world stage when on so many levels – including our political and social heritage – we have much to be proud of and a strong legacy upon which to build.

As Victorians, with a state election looming, we sit at an important juncture; one in which we can – and should – demand our political leaders transcend the trivial and the mundane.

What has been missing is the kind of leadership across all levels of government that is broad, bold and inspiring enough to properly address the extraordinary challenges we are facing as a nation in a globalised world. We face forces of change that Australia's historically thick insulation will do little to temper and only this kind of leadership and political will can prepare us.

Here's one such challenge. The rapid maturation of the digital economy will transform Australia. In the next decade, there will be serious displacement. Entire industries may even vanish. There will be a soul-searching journey that will probably redefine what work means for many people. Already we are seeing this: youth unemployment is projected to reach 40 per cent, yet our IT industry still needs to import technological talent from abroad.

Each of us likely has an issue or issues like this begging for a long-term political vision. Energy and the environment. Immigration. Education. What do we stand for as a nation? Where are we going? Most of all, I struggle with the lack of public and political debate of what I believe most of us are troubled by but never discuss.

What is going to happen to our parents and us as science enables us to live longer? How will the care be funded in a system that is already stretched? How will our children ever be able to afford a place to live on their own?

The leadership that will answer these questions won't come from the corporate world. It must come from our politicians and it must be far-seeing, inclusive and built to inspire.

But as an Australian I am also hopeful. In many ways leadership springs from those being led and for Australians it should begin by demanding more of both ourselves and our leaders. We need to remember that we have a venerable history of progress and community mindedness. We have unparalleled prosperity and we have shared it with others. Our charitable giving leads the world and attests to a generousness of spirit and a desire to make a difference that is integral to the Australian character.

While the coming challenges may shake us they need not shackle us. There is hope that our political leaders will find the energy, the courage and the ability to inspire each of us so that we feel not only the need to participate, but the want to participate. A hope that our leaders will foster a desire to be engaged in a discussion and debate that extends far beyond just “what’s in it for me”. A discussion about the real issues we face.

As Victorians, and as Australians, I believe we are blessed. Blessed with an amazing opportunity. But we need to be inspired, engaged, and led, and there is no time to waste.

Rodd Cunico is CEO at Dimension Data Australia  

This commentary piece has been adapted from a speech delivered to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce earlier this month in Melbourne.

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