A word of advice to the 30th Prime Minister of Australia: the country’s reputation is now in your hands

By Sinead Moore

“The museum has now lost confidence in the ability of Australian politics to retain a leader long enough to build their likeness out of wax.”

An article by Jenny Noyes in The Age (24 August, 2018) described how work on a wax figure of Malcom Turnbull had been brought to an abrupt halt by Madame Tussauds Sydney as Australia came to terms with the fact that it had another new Prime Minister … the 30th in history and the 5th in the last 8 years.

"Due to the high turnover of prime ministers, we cannot see ourselves making a figure of a sitting Australian prime minister again," said the wax museum’s general manager, in the same article.

At first I laughed when I read the piece, as I did scrolling through all the skits, memes and wind-ups on social media over the few days after Scott Morrison was installed in office.

But then I thought, this is too serious an issue to keep making light of.  Australian politics has become a laughing stock at home but the implications from the high turnover of prime ministers is real:  important and sometimes long awaited policies get put on the back burner, or scrapped altogether; the international markets get spooked whenever there is political instability; business is forced into a constant state of inertia as the policy vacuum created by all this unpredictability wreaks havoc on future planning and decision making; and compounding all of that, ordinary citizens become even more cynical and disillusioned with politics and politicians.

And then there’s the issue of reputation …

This isn’t the behaviour typical, or expected, of a developed country yet Australia’s political leaders – the people who apparently seek office in order to advance the greater good - seem to be unaware of the fact everyone is watching the Aussie version of House of Cards. 

This isn’t a case of political partisanship, either, as both of the main parties are guilty of contributing to this seemingly farcical situation.

In our world of reputation management, we primarily deal with private and public sector organisations who have long understood the value of building and SUSTAINING a solid reputation.  They invest in understanding what drives their unique positioning and seek to actively manage it. Many take the extra step to research and measure their reputation with their most important stakeholders because they know the perceptions these stakeholders hold ultimately translate into behaviour which can impact the bottom line. 

An organisation’s reputation may be built on things like their: Employees & Culture; Financial Performance; Industry Leadership or Citizenship; as well as more specific themes like Environmental Leadership or Client Delivery. 

The same principles hold true for individuals, and also for countries. 

Growing up in Australia, I can make a reasonable stab at what underpins Australia’s unique reputation: World’s Most Liveable Cities; The Great Outdoors; Stable & Strong Economy; Laid Back People & Culture; Animals That Can Kill You (!) and so on.  

Should we now be adding Political Instability to that list?  

For companies, a strong and enduring reputation contributes to attracting and retaining employees, improved returns and financial performance, trust in a crisis and so on.

For countries, the equivalent is stability, inward investment, growing tourism, and citizens who have opportunity and are happy. Politicians are the equivalent of CEOs and for better or worse, they are the individuals who are charged with shepherding the country’s reputation at home and on the international stage. 

Australia’s latest Prime Minister no doubt has a long and growing To-Do list but safeguarding the country’s international reputation is one item that merits being at the top.

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