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14 September 2013 Posted by 

GWSRR: Leadership: definitions and issues

THE Greater Western Sydney Regional Roundtable (GWSRR) is an initiative of Adjunct Professor Jim Taggart OAM and Western Sydney Business Access (WSBA) that brings together people of influence in the region to discuss and share insights that impact upon the region for the purposes of public education. GWSRRs are held bi-monthly. This GWSRR was held at the Parramatta Parkroyal Hotel in August on the subject of: Leadership: Definitions and Challenges. Following is an edited transcript of this GWSRR. All photos by Milestones Photography. Attendees: Dr Jim Taggart OAM (chairman), Karl Gessner (Deloitte), Luke Coleman I(Parramatta Stadium), Steve Phillips (3-steps Consulting), Michael Edgar (Hills Shire Council), David O'Neil (Castle Hill RSL), Chris Hekeik (Mode Media), Michael Walls (WSBA), Lyall Gorman (Western Sydney Wanderers) and John Robertson (Leader of the NSW Opposition).

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Well good morning everyone and on behalf of ACCESS I’d like to welcome you all here today. Today’s subject is very exciting one. Let’s start with introductions around the table please. Karl?

Karl Gessner: Karl Gessner. I have been with Deloitte for 15 years and with Deloitte Private for the last four years in Australia. I am originally from South Africa and have been in leader¬ship roles just about my entire career. Essentially I look after private and family-owned businesses.

Luke Coleman: Luke Coleman. I’m Director of Parramatta Stadium. I’ve been there for seven-and-a-half years. About two years ago, there was a transition of the three trusts that actually ran the three stadiums at Wollon¬gong, Parramatta, and New¬castle, and we’re all under one umbrella called Venues NSW now. The stadium has had quite an interesting history.

Steve Phillips: Steve Phillips is my name, from 3-Steps Consulting. I was previously General Manager of a commercial planning franchise for around 13 years, called Jani King, and also the premium sponsor of the Round Table events. 3-Steps is a fairly new company that’s formed, I guess, to fill a little bit of a gap in the market as far as those budding entrepreneurs that have all the ideas and not necessarily the grunt or horsepower at street level.

Michael Edgar: I’m Michael Edgar and I work at The Hills Shire Council as Group Manager Strategic Planning. Our challenge as we know, is about population increase. We know that Sydney will attract another 1.1 million people over the next 20 years, and The Hills Shire is expected to accommodate around 100,000 of those people. So we’re dealing with issues surrounding a population base of 175,000, growing to about 275,000 over the next 20 years. We look after several billion dollars of community assets such as roads, parks, open space net¬works, community buildings, and draining systems through¬out the shire.

David O'Neil: Dave O’Neil General Manager at Castle Hill RSL. I’m married with two children. For a bit over the last ten years now I’ve been at Castle Hill RSL Club and through the whole transition, the re¬development, and also the re¬positioning of the business and the organisation within our community. I’m a local resident, lived in the Hills when I very first moved to Sydney. My role in my organisation is to build an organisation that’s relevant to the community.

Chris Hekeik: Hi Chris Hekeik. Jim, Mike, thanks so much for the privilege. I’m just totally honoured to be here. I’ve got a design and marketing company called Mode Media; “The Branding Experts” We’re a branding company, specialising at taking businesses to the next level and making sure that their brand stands out and is effective in the marketplace. What we ultimately do is, help businesses look great. People call us, the “image doctors”. Since 1999 we have created and managed 100’s of successful brands. I am married with three children and live locally in the Parramatta area. I have a heart for the greater west of Sydney and Love seeing businesses proposer.

Michael Walls: My name is Michael Walls; I’m the editor and publisher of the newspaper, Western Sydney Business Access. We’ve been doing that for about five years now, and over the last 29 months it has evolved into a Western Sydney brand. Before, it was Parramatta-centric. We saw the opportunity to, I suppose, connect with the expansion of the area with a regional business newspaper. I’d like to thank everyone here for coming today.

Lyall Gorman: Lyall Gorman, Executive Chairman, Western Sydney Wanderers. Proud westie; born and grew up in Bankstown, and loved the west. I think we’ve been incredibly privileged to be able to work in this economic and social and diverse powerhouse. I’ve been much driven by legacy and making a difference, and making a contribution, over very much a karma philosophy; what we put out there comes back in bucket-loads. If we can make a difference to this region, and you know, the rising tides mentality, we’ll all grow together. So I’m not driven by the football club that I happen to be the Chairman of; I’m more driven by the region, and how the football club can be an influence, not an asset, and make a difference, and make a real contribution to the region holistically.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Fantastic. Thanks, Lyall. Okay. Let’s start. Walter Bagehot says this: “One of the greatest pleasures in society is doing what others can’t do.” What’s leadership, in your mind? I really want to get some really robust debate – in this room; Lyall Gorman doesn’t employ 30 or 40 people or 50 people. He employs 20,000, when they come to the stadium. David O’Neil does employ 550 staff; he employs another 45,000 people who make a conscious decision to come to that club. You’ve got 100,000 people you employ, because they make conscious decisions. So the magnitude and diversity amongst this room about leadership; you are really in big roles. Who’d like to start?

Michael Walls: Well, I’ll just put a couple of thoughts out there if I can Jim. I think a lot of leadership can be situational, and I think the model of a leader being born or genetically or intrinsically skilled up with a certain amount of ability to be able to lead, set a vision and lead, I think that’s a bit of a myth. There are pragmatic forces at play and in different situations, people lead differently. I mean, look at the situation with the Wanderers. Could another person other than Lyall be able to do what he has done with the Wanderers?

Lyall Gorman: Yeah, yeah. But the interesting concept there, Michael, is that it wasn’t me.

Michael Walls: It wasn’t you?

Lyall Gorman: It wasn’t me. It was everyone around us. And the leadership component of that was being there. But we were able to unite a massive group of people, not just in our office, but our playing group and the community at large.
So it wasn’t just about one person as a leader – I think that’s a really critical point of difference about leadership. I saw a definition the other day at an Australian Business Congress where they were saying leadership is the capacity to have people follow you when they don’t have to, when they’ve got a choice, got a real choice, not to have to follow.

Karl Gessner: I think that’s a very important point to make. Because I see leader¬ship as being able to direct people to follow you without you necessarily leading them: that, is very powerful. And using the Wanderers as an example, it’s not just one man; it’s the sum of all of the different leaders doing their different things, and pulling people along to follow them. If you look at Deloitte a couple of years back, I mean, it had a pretty bad image as image goes, in terms of a professional services firm. And with our CEO stepping up and saying, “Listen, we need to change this because we’re falling further and further behind in the market,” it takes courage to basically say, “We are going to change this,” and then actually take real steps to get rid of what doesn’t have to be there. But ultimately, there needs to be authenticity. If you don’t believe what your CEO is saying or what your leader is saying, then you’re not going to achieve anything. What is important, is having authenticity in terms of what you’re doing and your message that you’re delivering. And credibility comes from that.

Steve Phillips: I think you’re right; but the thing is, there has to be a decision made at the forefront. Someone’s got to make a decision as far as, “Okay, this is where we’re going.” The fact is that this person must be believable and respected. One of the biggest things is the buy-in; and then from that, the culture and the development will then flow over. Because if people aren’t happy to be there or be with you, then really, doesn’t matter what you say.

David O'Neil: I actually don’t believe the leader actually has to be the most intellectually intelligent in the room. I actually think they need to be the most understanding and astute. They have to actually recognise the people in the street. I mean, we spoke about the size and diversity of our business – you cannot possibly run every single department. I mean, we’re operating five restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, sports complexes, gymnastics – I can’t be an expert over all those fields. However, what I actually have to be able to do is make somebody responsible, empower them to make the decisions; but more importantly, at the end of it, I actually need to give them the acknowledgement and the recognition of what they’ve done and they’ve achieved. And my role as a leader, for want of a better term, is to actually bring those people through as part of the success story. And the strength of that relationship of how they will work with you is how they feel engaged, they feel recognised, they feel … from that point of view. And that doesn’t always go back to dollars. I mean, I’ve had lots and lots of people over the years actually work within an organisation that I’m leading, for less money than they get somewhere else, but have stayed for an awful long time because for the work environment, the work culture is so strong. But that’s that time where they deliver, because they know they’re going to get the recognition.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: So can I ask a question, David? What part do you believe that you play in that whole process?

David O'Neil: Mine is actually co-ordinating and developing the organisational culture. And what I mean by that is, we’re full of human bodies; we’re not four walls. Every single one of them has a different emotion and a different feel. And they’re there for a different reason. I see my role is to actually work out what my managerial team is, what drives them. And I’ve used it in reverse over the years. I have to understand what someone’s Achilles heel is to understand what their strength is.

Steve Phillips: We all have our own ways to understand people, don’t we?

David O'Neil: I think the key with anyone I work with is family. I mean, if they’re not happy in their personal life, they’re not going to be happy in their professional life.

Steve Phillips: What you’re saying makes total sense. But obviously over the period of the time that you’ve been there and the respect you’ve earned, you’ve shown an example. One of the biggest problems in today’s world is that leaders need to lead.

David O'Neil: Yeah. I mean, I get paid more than anyone else because I’m the guy they throw in gaol. I’m the one that lies awake at three o’clock in the morning and go, “We’ve had a 2% down¬turn in a certain part of our business.” We also try and carry that through into our philosophies about our staff. We introduced an acronym around about seven, eight years ago, which is called “PRIDE”. And that’s our staff awards. And it’s Personal Responsibility in Delivering on Excellence. I can’t control what you do; you can only control what you do. So if I set the environment up where you want to give me your personal best every single day, and everyone’s doing a PB, then we just can’t help to succeed.

Lyall Gorman: That’s right. And that’s our philosophy. We’ve got a simple under-lying philosophy that organisations grow when the people within them are growing. And for us, that’s our core leadership responsibility and account¬ability, is actually to understand and tap into that. And this is where I think the quantum shift in leadership today has moved away from the old traditional roles of setting business plans. You know, you can’t build a business through an Excel spreadsheet anymore. You can’t. You’ve really got to liaise and understand people. This whole emotional intelligence is what you’re talking about, as being the shift in leadership to me significantly. Go back in time and I pulled a few examples out. I just thought I’d give a few examples if I can …..

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: No, by all means. Because it’s a question I was going to ask.

Lyall Gorman: Historically, there are seven critical traits of effective leaders – integrity, visions, supportive listening skills, open-mindedness, strong communication skills, inspirational intelligence. This is where we came from. This is where we came from. Integrity, willingness to take risk, optimism, enthusiasm, commitment to great vision, pragmatism, responsibility, self-confidence, courage, integrity, humility, strategic planning, focus, and all that sort of stuff. And on it goes. But I think the real shift today is this self-awareness that you’re talking about, that emotional intelligence. And that’s what the critical role of a leader is, is be self-aware and to understand that organisations will grow and blossom when the people within them are.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Let me ask you a question: In your mind, who are good leaders? Lyall has talked about some of the attributes of what leadership is, and I think we’d all come up with the same 10. They might be in different priority, but I think we’d kind of come up with those. Who are good leaders, in your mind? Just as a role model. It could be your grandmother. Many parental figures have had a big influence on which we are today. You know, Lyall and Luke … I’m involved in sport – nowhere the level you are – but I notice people who know when the game’s over, are just there, taking the corner posts, doing those, just those little important jobs that most people don’t want to do. They want the glory. But all of those little jobs, they do them for you and for the culture and the organisation. And it’s just really interesting. So I’m just asking you, who do you think is a good leader and why?

Michael Edgar: I thought in sport, as an example. You could compare and contrast Steve Waugh with others. Steve Waugh is the bloke that you’d really want to have beside you because of his intrinsic qualities of depth, courage, drive, passion and belief. He also had that ability to have people follow him. So I think someone that shows those qualities, those same qualities we talked about, Stave Waugh to me in sport would epitomise a good leader.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: So what about comparing and contrasting just to test leader-ship? I watched the debate three weeks ago that, you know the famous debate. And then two days later, I was at a luncheon where John Howard spoke. And the comparison there in our leadership – someone with presence and class and style, who’s statesman-like.

Karl Gessner: I have to agree with you. You look at the two political leaders – I’m not having a political debate – neither are they, actually – but if you look at the two leaders, I don’t think they inspire anybody to follow them. I mean, it’s a case of…they’re both pretty average speakers. I know not everybody can be a great oratoror be a statesman. But ultimately, if you get picked by your party to lead the party, because you’re going to be governing the country, you’d want some charisma and be able to actually bring people to follow you, because you’ve got the conviction in what your policies are going to be. And I find that’s quite poor at the moment in terms of political leadership across the spectrum.

Michael Walls: Charisma is often mentioned as being beneficial to leadership. Is charisma overrated?

Karl Gessner: I don’t think so.

David O'Neil: I think it’s really, really hard. Like the generic question of, “Who do you consider a great leader?” I mean, you consider a great leader of what you’ve actually seen the public persona of what’s actually been put out there. And we’ve spoken about Steve Waugh, and whatever else. People say to me, “Is so-and-so a good Manager?” I go, “I don’t know, I’ve never worked with them.” So until I work with somebody, and the personality and whatever else comes through it’s hard to know. I believe a good manager is the manager that actually has the ability to influence an out¬come with what they’re actually dealing with.

Michael Walls: You mentioned about environment. If you try to change the environment, that’s the hardest thing to do; you change yourself first don’t you?

David O'Neil: Change the culture, yeah. Yep.

Michael Walls: Change yourself first, then the environment will follow. So are you looking to change you’re … I am just fascinated by that process. You’re changing the environment of a Board? A lot of people, lot of people I come across, and I think that’s a very misunderstood thing; they think they have to change the environment. And they spend all their time trying to change the environment, and the environments just don’t change. They’re better off to change themselves, so their attitudes grow.

Michael Edgar: The fundamentals of our democracy are that, we choose someone to represent us in the houses of parliament and Councils. A person who we believe takes the values and leadership into that forum to make decisions on our behalf. We can’t all end up at Parliament House. Being represented is a key and our sporting teams are no different. I was at Lyall’s talk at the Western Sydney Business Connection, and what really resonated with me was that you saw the Wanderers as a cultural asset to the community of Western Sydney. There is a big void … Western Sydney’s a powerhouse, no doubt about it; full of very good and diverse people. But as a region we need our representation, and I think the Wanderers filled that void wonderfully. Parramatta Eels can, the Penrith Panthers can as well. The Wanderers is a success story in representing a region, that people in that region were happy to pin your brand or your name to.

Steve Phillips: It’s ingrained into the culture now.

Karl Gessner: Just a question for Lyall. The Wanderers went through this thing, and everyone got behind them. Was it because we started winning that everyone started getting behind it? Or did you, did you feel as a leader that there was a following behind this thing? Because I think there was a certain – we used the charisma word – there was a certain charisma about what you guys were doing, that the culture built prior to even starting; there was already that following. Am I correct in saying that?

Lyall Gorman: No, you are, you are. So the reason we do it comes back to a word that I like and David used when he first spoke, and that’s "relevance". You just can’t come upon something somewhere; it needs to have relevance to where it is. And the relevance that we talk about is being a community asset to the region, and that’s how you position yourselves. I was just going to say – sorry, if I could just illustrate your point – leadership’s very complex. There’s no one silver bullet that makes you a good leader. And similarly, with the Wanderers story as I see it, I mean, you know, it’s your DNA; I just see it from the outside. And I saw what happened in our office, with the Wanderers moving as well. I don’t think it was just the winning; there were a whole lot of planks. Now, those three values – stand up for us, make us proud, and be competitive – every signing, whether it be a recruitment in the back office or a recruitment on the field or the orange peeler, I don’t care who it is, would have been scrutinised for those values, as to how they would, not so much contribute, because there is a difference between contribution and commitment; I think there’s a commitment to those values, and if you don’t commit to them, you don’t survive, you’re not part of it.

Michael Edgar: I often say to some of the Managers that report to me when they come up with an idea they’ve read it in a textbook “Now do you believe it, or do you believe it just because you’ve read it and someone else believed it?” The trick is translating from a textbook theory into real life applications and the successful ideas are those where the theory is understood, believed and applied. If you don’t believe it, you won’t carry it off and people won’t follow you.

Chris Hekeik: Leaders create the atmosphere. One day I met Sir Richard Branson, it was a setting like this, we had an opportunity to meet him … there was probably about 40 people in the room. And all of us got our suits on, and ties. Casually, he walked in, pair of jeans, T-shirt, sandshoes; the most relaxed guy. And everyone thought he was going to come through the front door where the stage was, and everything else; he walks through the back door. No security, no one around. And I thought, “Wow.” He is a great example of a leader who is dynamic and effective yet his relaxed approach to doing things has created a culture of fun that can not only be used by the team but enjoyed by his customer’s every day.

Michael Edgar: I think one of the best messages for organisations that I’ve seen recently was a piece written by the Sydney Swans coach after last year’s premiership. John Longmire was referring to what happens next and from memory it was the day after the grand final and his message was our season starts today and we are busy looking for ways to improve. We can’t expect to be in this position next year without changing or doing something different to this what we did this year. I think that’s a takeaway for all organisations, you must be looking for ways to improve and be different.

Karl Gessner: Yeah. That’s, that’s a very good point. I mean, our organisation … the world is moving so fast that if you don’t change every day, you actually go back-wards. Your result might be the same as what you had 12 months ago, but in reality, you’ve actually gone backwards, because everyone else has moved forward. So the Swans, for example, the Wanderers this next season will have to do something different to be able to compete with what their result was last year. And one of the things that we do in our leadership of the firm that is very strong; they basically instil in part of our culture that innovation is just part of what we do every day. And we have to come up with ways of doing things differently every day, compared to what we did the previous day. In terms of our service offerings, we need to generate about 30% new service offerings that we didn’t have in our arsenal of offerings last year for the next year.

Chris Hekeik: As leaders we need to ‘lead by leading’ – the most impressionable leaders ever will always lead the way into any victory. The Leader is the most important figure in an organization, business, team or family. They will make or break the result of what is to happen. They are the director and producer of the set. John Maxwell says it like this: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: You mentioned an offering, Karl? Define an offering.

Karl Gessner: Difference of work or audit work or tax work, consulting work. So things like that. Cloud technology becomes a game-changer for us as an aspect of our business. Social media and digital becomes something that we have to focus on. And we want to try and stay ahead of the curve by developing products faster than what they’re actually developing in the market, to be able to stay relevant to our clients. Because our clients aren’t always in a position to say, “Well, what do we do? We want to know how to get ahead in business.” And we can’t tell them, “Well, you do this,” if we don’t try it ourselves. So the philosophy and the culture of innovation is that we are trying to instil with everybody, from top to bottom within Deloitte.

Steve Phillips: How do you do that from the identification of new offerings? Is it by going, looking at your competitors, looking at external industries and things of that nature, to see what type of things are there, and then try and relate it back to what you do?

Karl Gessner: It’s a combination of all of those things. Our senior leadership spend a lot of time in other countries learning about new innovations. For example, they spend time in the United States, at some of their Universities, and work with some of the Universities to develop young leaders. Deloitte Digital started off with a group of five or six people thinking, “How do we take digital and make it part of our DNA?” And they created Deloitte Digital, which is focussed purely on social media, digital innovation, and designing service offerings / products that are client-based.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: If we could take a pause for a minute, I'd like to welcome John Robertson, Leader of the NSW Opposition who has just joined us. Thanks so much for coming John and make time from your busy schedule. Let me ask you, what are the qualities do you think are as a good leader? Because you are the Leader of the Opposition, and that’s a very prestigious role. And you’ve been put up there for a reason. I don’t want to get into the politics of the reason. But what do you think you’ve got as good leader qualities?

John Robertson: I think a good leader’s got to be able to inspire people. A good leader will never ask anyone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. You’ve got to be, as a good leader, prepared to listen and then make a call, and not keep searching around for someone else to give you the answers that you might be looking for. You’ve also got to have enough confidence in yourself to do two things: one, to back your judgement, but secondly, be prepared to admit when you get it wrong. And in doing that, be conscious of not making those same mistakes again that led you down a particularly wrong path. You’ve got to be accessible, you’ve got to be open, and people have got to feel comfortable in your presence. You do need to have a certain gravitas about you, but people need to feel comfortable in your presence. Now I think if you can encapsulate all those things and do that effectively, you’ll do very well. I think in politics, to be a leader, you’ve got to be a bit odd. “I think to do this job; at whatever level it is, on either side, you’re not quite normal.” And I genuinely say that, because it’s a view I’ve held long before I had this job, but it’s a view I hold because I think most normal people, and in particular I think successful business-people, sit back and watch politics and go, “Why would I do that? Why would I give up my life? Why would I put myself and my family under the micro¬scope in the manner that our media do?” And so I think we’re all a bit odd in politics. I look at some people who’ve just come into the Parliament on both sides, in the 2011 election, and I watch them at various points, particularly in Question Time. In New South Wales the Parliament’s called the bear pit for a reason; it’s pretty rough and-tumble. I watch their faces and their body language, and I’d like to read their minds, because I’m pretty certain they’re sitting there going, “What the hell am I doing here?”

Michael Walls: You think you can grow into that, John, or you think you have those skills? Or do you think you’ve grown as a leader since you’ve had the leadership job?

John Robertson: I think you do grow into it. I was fortunate. I ran the union movement for seven years in New South Wales. And it took me about 12 to 18 months to recognise certain things that you have to do as a leader. And you obviously bring a set of characteristics and traits that give people confidence that you can make that transition, but in the end you’ve got to realise that you can do it. I would say in this job, it’s taken me slightly longer. That might sound odd considering that’ve had a leader¬ship position before. But the demands and the issues that you’re juggling in this job are much greater than anything else I’ve ever known.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: That’s what I was going to ask, because people mightn’t know but John came from a trades background, as an electrician. And I think it’s an incredible story – working class, all of that, to end up like many of the other leaders who have taken on roles, and like many of us here. It’s an incredible story. What did you think you had at that time, though? Because you don’t get catapulted into the leader of the union movement, like do you know what I mean?

John Robertson: My father says now, which I was completely oblivious to when I was a kid, which I was like the leader of the pack. And he only said that to me probably in the last five or six years, and it was something until then I was completely oblivious of. So I think there must have been something there that you can’t talk about now. Someone once sat with me and said, “Robbo, you have “it”. “It” is not something you can learn, it’s not something you can acquire; you either have it or you don’t.” Maybe that’s right, maybe it’s not. I guess my peers saw something in me and selected me to do that job, and subsequently selected me to do this job. Could I put my finger on it? No.

Michael Walls: Do you want to?

John Robertson: It’d be all right for a conversation like this, and in my next life, I could write books on leader¬ship.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: I was going to say, it’ll be a bestseller. Can you read people?

John Robertson: I’m relatively good at that. I had a good mentor at a very early age. There was a bloke who only just passed away last year, called Joe Owens, who used to run the BLF with Jack Mundey years and years and years ago. He mentored me in some ways about reading crowds. And I remember watching him at big meetings. How he’d watch, Joe could read the meeting, and read the mood of the meeting. And in the union movement, you often go to meetings with anywhere between 200 and 800 people. And contrary to popular opinion, a lot of the time you’re actually encouraging people not to go on strike and accept particular arrangements, and those sorts of things. And so being able to read the mood of a room is absolutely critical in the way you deliver your message to get the outcome that you’re aiming to achieve.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Sorry, John. You haven't been sitting out there for the last half hour, have you? Because that’s exactly what … sorry, it’s fantastic, because that’s really what we were talking about.

Luke Coleman: I think the point also that John’s making there, it actually goes back to some of our conversation earlier. We’ve been talking about emotional intelligence, humanistic work environments, and things of that nature. However, the key message is, you don’t need to be airy-fairy.

John Robertson: Most people – go out of their way to avoid conflict. And I would argue that, it probably goes back to the Stone Age, where genetically we avoid conflict as much as we can. And so to sit across the table and have to have a pretty serious conversation with people, most people go out of their way to avoid that. You have to treat the action in the Parliamentary Chamber like a foot¬ball game. Play hard, but outside, shake hands, sit down and have a meal.” And the other thing is, for all the hype that you see on TV … and we have school¬kids visit, Parliament run the leadership programs, and the school students from Year 12, the local leaders in the school communities, come in. I always make the point that 90% of the legislation that passes, passes by consensus. There’s no divisions, there’s no votes, there’s no screaming across the Chamber; it’s all done by agreement. On the really big issues, that’s how you make stuff happen.

Dr Jim Taggart: I mean, that’s really refreshing to hear. And I had an awareness it was happening. But I sort of … coming in today, thinking about leade¬ship, and your mind naturally wanders to political leadership. And I’ve got to say, I don’t know whether to feel sorry for politicians or just get angry, but…

John Robertson: Never feel sorry for a politician, we do it by choice. Part of the problem today is, no one’s prepared, to stand up and say, “Hey, you’re wrong.” I’m concerned that we’re actually losing what I think made us so proud of who we were. But it’s what we do now to show we’re good people, but we don’t actually open ourselves up to the people who are trying to escape conflict. And I think there’s a real cultural shift as well going on. A lot of it is associated with, everyone’s just dumbed down. And secondly, at the point where … there’s been a political consensus that breaks down, there’s this mad race to the bottom.

Michael Walls: That said, are politicians simply reflecting what people want?

John Robertson: Well this is always the conflict with politicians. I remember I had a discussion one day in Blacktown, when someone said to me, “Aren’t you elected to represent our views?” And I said, “Well that’s part of my job, absolutely. But it’s also my job to lead. So part of my job is to engage people in a conversation, and actually take you to a place where I think we should be.” So I don’t sign up to this, “You voted for me, therefore I have to do exactly what you say.” And I said, “You can exercise your right at the ballot box in a couple of years’ time, if you don’t like that.” My job is to actually go out and say, ‘Here’s my vision for New South Wales. This is how good this state can be. Here are the opportunities. This is how I think I can deliver these things.’

Michael Walls: Having a background in media I have always believed the relationship between politicians and media is not a healthy one. It’s essentially a game where each uses the other in a game scenario. Nothing wrong with that except that I believe that people in suburbia – the voters - are simply not as obsessed with politics as those in the game believes them to be. Media is too pre occupied about politics and politicians are too obsessed with media. The result is that the public is no better off in many cases. There are far more interesting things and people out there beyond what happens in Canberra or Macquarie St, with respect. I think there needs to be a real understanding from politicians what the media’s role is; what they do and vice versa. And I don’t think that’s there.

John Robertson: The worrying part is the people who read the news¬papers and still believe they’re gospel. The best thing those news¬papers could do is say, “We’re selling entertainment; we want you to buy the paper. So we’re not going to tell you news, we’re just going to give you things that are attractive to read.”

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: John, I’m conscious of your time, sorry to interrupt. Any other questions that you want to ask John?

Luke Coleman: I was just going to ask John – we talked today about leadership and what have you. And I mean, in your position, I mean, I’m sure you’ve seen a whole lot of things. What’s been the biggest challenge in leader¬ship for you with people?

John Robertson: To stare down your opponents when you want to back your own judgement. Being prepared to back yourself in those circumstances. And I think that’s the biggest challenge for any leader, is to be prepared to back yourself. And I’ve had to do that on a few occasions, just recently.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: Well John, on behalf of Access and our colleagues and friends, thank you. Particularly in your position, did you hold a New South Wales … in my humble opinion, the second-most important position, if I can just say – that’s my own personal view. And for you to give us your time this morning, says that you have respect for us. And we equally have respect for you.

John Robertson: And I’m very happy for you to do that. There’s not too much to enjoy in Opposition, but one of the things is actually, to come back next time and listen to you rather than you listen to me.

Dr Jim Taggart OAM: We’d be delighted. We might do something along that line.


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