Tall Poppies

Tall Poppies

I don’t get excited very often about Australian politics… nor any other politics for that matter.  Winston Churchill once made the now famous remark: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Like most of us I’m heartily sick of the “coup mentality” that has infected both sides of politics in Australia in recent years.  We have lived through a period of Labor politicians stabbing their leaders in the back and replacing them with equally short-lived leaders.  The media-driven campaign to do the same to our present Liberal Prime Minister didn’t quite succeed, so Tony Abbott survived the recent leadership spill.  Sometimes I just want to yell out: For crying out loud, just let them get on with the job for which we elected them!

Australians have a reputation for “cutting down tall poppies”.  For those who are recent migrants: that’s Australian slang for cutting down people who are highly successful.  It probably stems from something deep in the Aussie psyche that goes back to our convict heritage.  There is a good side to the “tall poppy syndrome” in that our “underdog” culture has been accompanied by a respect for humility and a dislike of those who see themselves as better than others.  But the negative side is all too obvious in politics – a desire to remove those in leadership the moment things get a little tough.

All of this came to a head again today as I sat down to think of another weekly blog.

On the day before Tony Abbott had called the leader of the opposition “the Dr Goebbels of economic policy”.  That wasn’t very nice.

Joseph Goebbels was the propaganda minister of Adolph Hitler during the Nazi era.  To compare someone to Goebbels is not only to question someone’s truthfulness but also to accuse them of blindly propagating the party line at all costs.  Furthermore it links someone to the incredible evil of the Nazi holocaust.  No!  Mr Abbott, that wasn’t very nice of you.

Understandably there was uproar in Canberra.  Two Jewish MPs left the chamber in the ensuing outcry from the opposition.  The Prime Minister hastily withdrew the comment and later apologised.  But the damage had been done.  This morning’s newspapers show that Abbott had provided the media with more ammunition to prove that he is an incompetent Prime Minister and needs to be removed and replaced by the Liberal party.

What the media conveniently forgot was something that Andrew Bolt from Melbourne’s Herald-Sun pointed out: that four Labor politicians have all used the Goebbels insult “but the media is angry only with Abbott.  This is sick.”

As a Christian I want to say that there is room for sometimes cutting down tall poppies.  When pride and arrogance are the mark of a leader then he doesn’t deserve to last long – and maybe the recent loss by the Liberals in Queensland is a case in point.

But Christians will want to be very careful about the tall poppy syndrome.  Lopping down tall poppies is not particularly productive.  In politics in recent years it has become a huge distraction from the job of governing.

A further problem I have as a Christian is that so often the tall poppy syndrome thrives on another evil – the popularity stakes.  One person’s arrogant narcissist is another person’s idol.  People in government often have to make tough decisions that will lower their ratings in the popularity stakes.  But that’s not yet a good reason to discard them for someone more popular.

We as Christians should instead uphold our leaders before God’s throne of grace.  May the Lord guide with wisdom all those who serve the nation in our federal government.