Some final Reflections

At the risk of resorting to cliques the following summarises where I wanted to land in my engagement of the community. Some people are spectators and contribute little, others are defined by their reforms and achievements. My measure of anothers’ contribution in the political arena has always been defining what they actually did. With apologies to John W. Newbern and Nicholas Murray Butler, as to whoever said it first:

“People can be divided into three groups: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.”

Reflecting on my time in office and in contributing to the CDU publication edited by former Chief Minister lately Professor Clare Martin ‘In Their Own Words’1 I conceded my ambition:

“I didn’t go into Parliament to be second fiddle. Every MP regardless should aspire to lead. Why would it be any different from any other calling…..one should aspire to be the best in your chosen field and to lead. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted to achieve as Chief Minister. I had a road map well in advance. I used to dream ‘what if?’ My whole approach led to criticism that I was man in a hurry, a one man show; arrogant and possessed by my own agenda. I don’t and never resiled from my approach, my haste or determination. You can be a manager of the status quo and do nothing – common place in politics today – or roll up your sleeves and have a ‘swing”.

‘In Their Own Words’, I elaborated on my time in office touching on a range of topics largely in response to a series of questions the Editors put to me. On my own admission:

“It was a wild ride, made my share of mistakes but we changed the Territory”.

If you want to succeed as a leader you must know what you stand for and prosecute your policies fearlessly. Leadership is about taking your colleagues with you - it’s about inspiring confidence in you to lead and win. If you want to win speak plainly, develop policies, act with conviction and inspire confidence. With me what you saw was what you got. I meant what I said and I did what I promised. I was policy driven and understood from a very early point in time:

Politics is not a popularity contest - it’s a competency contest.

The ‘punters’ don’t have to like you to vote for you. Both Steve Hatton and Denis Burke enjoyed a measure of popularity. They also returned the worst electoral results in the CLP’s history. I didn’t expect Territorians to be in love with me, they weren’t. Quite frankly I wasn’t after their affection but rather their support and commitment to build a better Territory.

My advice to politicians who want to be loved and crave affection - as the old saying goes with apologies to Harry Truman or whoever said it first - ‘‘buy a dog’’.

Governments on the wane become addicted to the political fix, the spin. Next weeks published poll determines next week’s policy. They end up with a patchwork of decisions and policy changes that undermine the very core of their beliefs, and the people who put them there. Oppositions can fall into the same trap. If the people no longer know what you stand for quite frankly you probably don’t either.

Get the policy right and the politics follow.

People would say of me that I had a vision for the Territory - wrong, I had a plan. I didn’t get out of bed one morning and decide to introduce zero tolerance policing and mandatory sentencing for property offences. I had been working on that policy for some time.

As an elected representative know what you stand for – every Member of Parliament should ask themselves every day:

‘What do I stand for - what do I believe in - how am I going?’

If you don’t know what you stand for sure as hell the public won’t know either, so why vote for you. On occasion, I didn’t take people with me and got too far in front of the pack. Sometimes people just don’t keep up. It’s a balancing act, importantly you have an obligation to lead and sometimes that means swimming against the tide of public opinion. By way of example, it wasn’t easy running the NO case against euthanasia given the overwhelming public opinion in support.

I remain most grateful for the opportunities that came my way. On a number of occasions I have expressed my appreciation to Territorians for the opportunity to serve in the Parliament and as the 5th Chief Minister including on the ABC National Radio series ‘Premiers Past’.2 A very worthwhile ABC program that fell by the wayside. I also acknowledged the defining influence of key work colleagues such as Peter Murphy3 who shaped the tactics and strategies of successive Chief Ministers. I had a good run and the reality is that, regardless of who you are, when time is up it’s time to go. Pick your moment or someone else will do it for you.

Family sacrificed on the altar of politics

As I commenced ‘My Story’ in Chapter One, I made the following heartfelt observation:

‘’I wanted my children to know and understand what motivated and inspired their father to enter public life. I don’t expect either Jack or Madeleine to follow me into politics but at least they will know why I chose that path’’.

The real casualties of politics are the families of those who enter public life - the wives, husbands and children of elected members who become secondary to a new family, the electorate. Speaking in the Address in Reply following the 1994 General Election I observed:4

'’I thank my wife, Josephine, for her support of, patience with and forbearance in having a husband who is rarely home, at times difficult to live with and generally insensitive to her own interests and aspirations. The spouses of politicians suffer a great deal. Indeed, many marriages do not withstand the test. I am grateful and appreciative of Josie’s support and commitment. As for my son, Jack, he is still at the tender age of 5, and is not aware generally of what I do for a living. At one point, he thought I was Batman and, on another occasion, a sailor, as he sees me in uniform from time to time. Obviously, someone said something to him recently about his father’s occupation because he announced to his mother that he was not going to be a politician - he was going to be Spiderman’’.

I took other opportunities from time to time in Parliament to thank my family for their understanding. For example, speaking in the Adjournment Debate November 1992 I placed on the public record the following:5

'’In particular, I thank my wife and my little son, Jack, for their perseverance through the year. One is often not home in our particular role. That is a fact that is often glossed over by members of the public. We make many sacrifices in the name of public service. I am indebted to my wife for her patience and perseverance’’.

The politician’s second family, the electorate, is selfish, hungry, rapacious and demanding. Expectations that the local MP will be on tap, on call and available is constantly demanded and when not forthcoming threats and withdrawal of support follow. You always have your hand in your pocket and the expectation was that you would buy the first book of raffle tickets, donate the trophies and if you won the raffle hand the winnings back. School events, birthdays and anniversaries are sacrificed on the altar of the insatiable appetite of electorate demands. I wouldn’t mind a dollar for everyone who reminded me they paid my salary – apparently, also my groceries and the rent on my home (notwithstanding I had a mortgage). During the 1997 General Election, my son Jack asked if it was true that if I lost to Maggie Hickey we would have to move out so she could move in. Some kid at his school quoting his father told Jack that we would be out on the street. Needless to say Jack was more than a little anxious about the result – he had nothing to worry about.

Your kids never understand why you missed the school concert, didn’t get to the birthday party or come to watch the footy with the other dads. You can never make it up and recapture those special moments. I was luckier than most as the Parliament was within one kilometre of home. Those from regional areas and Alice Springs were on a hiding to nothing. Spare a thought for the Federal members who travel from Perth and Darwin to Canberra.

John Reeves, as the Federal Labor member for the NT, resided in Alice. He spent all his time running between the main population centre Darwin and Canberra – home never got a look in. His tenure was short lived and in retrospect it was the best thing that could have happened for his own sake and that of his family. Paul Everingham was overwhelmed by the demands of the federal job at the expense of his family causing him not to re-contest in 1987. It is one of the great CLP myths that Paul quit because Central Council kept him waiting while they debated his federal pre-selection. That is not true. I was sitting with Paul as he mulled over his public life. I will never forget when he turned to me with the look of utter despair on his face - it was never about being kept waiting. I will always remember Kim Beazley saying to me after we had finished a meeting and I ‘chipped’ him about his unironed shirt:

'’Politics destroys families and marriages’’.

He would know, those endless flights from the west coast were I am sure debilitating and in the end destructive. I am personally pleased for Kim that his tenure as our Ambassador in the USA has been so successful.

What you can never guard against as an elected member is what other kids say to your own. Worse, what some ‘boof headed’ parents say to your children when you’re not around and they don’t have the backbone to front you as happened with Jack. Kids are traumatized by such confrontation – adult cowardice at its worse. Then there’s the media. Kids read, they watch TV and listen to the radio – of course they notice the sledging, ridicule and criticism. It all comes with the territory and when you embark on a public life make sure your eyes are wide open. I understand why so many wives put their foot down at the suggestion of a public career. But for the sake of our democracy someone has to do it.

Speaking at my final Defence Reserve Support Function in Brisbane on 4 October 2008 in the presence of Parliamentary Secretary for Defence the Honourable Dr. Mike Kelly AM MP, members of the National Council, Josie, Jack and Madeleine I concluded on this note:

‘’Finally my family is here tonight; my wife Josephine, son Jack and daughter Madeleine. Like many of you family opportunities are compromised and missed when one takes up these roles. In my case it’s been over twenty years of being away from home, travelling and at times missing important events that can never be recaptured. That said if you sit on your hands and shun involvement mediocrity becomes the norm. I hope that by being here tonight that my family understands that I haven’t been wasting my time or theirs and that I have been quietly working towards a better Australia’’.

One can only seek the forgiveness and understanding of your spouse and children. Your achievements are theirs. They have a stake in your legacy paid for in kind.

On a final note the same pressures are at play in business. The second family are shareholders and they are just as demanding. For many a senior executive the missed birthdays, anniversaries and school concerts are part of the course. Shareholders can be as unforgiving as constituents and equally unreasonable.

I wouldn’t want the reader to think that I am looking for sympathy. As my friend Michael Ashcroft reminds me occasionally:

'’You want sympathy - you’ll find it between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis’ in the dictionary’’.

A harsh reminder and a timely warning that when you enter the political arena make sure your eyes are wide open.

Every so often some commentator puts pen to paper suggesting politicians are paid too much and their entitlements are too generous. The usual comparison is to between our Prime Minister’s earning and the the President of the United States. What is conveniently overlooked is that every ex President will make millions in retirement - our former Prime Ministers don’t. A fairer comparison would be with the Prime Minister of the City State of Singapore - twice the earnings of their Australian counterpart. Journalists, poorly paid as they are, delight in tearing down the politicians earnings. However, how many of these commentators can be sacked overnight as occurs in an election - no long service leave, sick leave, accumulated holiday pay or long service leave. No retraining allowance or soft landing - Fair Work don’t get a look in on the people’s verdict. So before people like Troy Bramston6 and others decide to sledge the earnings and entitlements of MPs, they might turn their minds to why we have trouble attracting quality people to public life. To be blunt the pay and conditions fall well short of what they should be, way short. Just keep it up and we will enshrine mediocrity as the norm. The old parliamentary superannuation scheme should be reinstated. The ‘Gold Card’ and what remains of those entitlements should be shown the door save for the benefits attaching to former Prime Ministers and former Governors General.

Before anyone jumps in and starts prattling on about ‘the age of entitlement’, I make the point that, if you want the best in public life expect to pay. Worse, we now have two classes of member of parliament. What happened was a disgrace - those in the system pulled up the ladder behind them condemning new entrants to terms and conditions of employment that don’t attract the best.

A final plea to the young

I have repeatedly said and written that politics is a noble profession despite the best efforts of Hollywood to characterise politicians as duplicitous, lying, greedy, self centered ego maniacs. People should not believe that all politicians are like Frank Underwoods in the sitcom ‘House of Cards’. Like the ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Walking Dead’, the show is meant to entertain - it’s not a documentary. Sadly, the ‘House of Cards’ reinforces all the negatives about public life and the conduct of those who inhabit that space. Unfortunately in the multi media world that dominates our daily lives some people have trouble separating out the fiction from the facts. That’s bad for democracy particularly when politics, governance and history rate a cursory place in our school curriculums. If people are not schooled in the facts the vacuum will be filled by Hollywood.

My clarion call is to young Australians to get involved. Pick your political party and defend our democracy. It’s a rough and tumble world crafted in the kiln of adversarial engagement. Some lament the new politics and pine for the politics of old - the polite and witty engagement of political opponents. Politics today is a different. It’s a fast moving world where the information revolution has turned public awareness on it’s head and we need to adapt accordingly. In the battle of ideas know what you stand for and fight for what you believe in. Tough as it is and as difficult as it presents Australia needs a wide choice of Australians across the trades, professions and occupations to step up - that would be now.

Coming home to the CLP

My realignment with the CLP was complete when I was asked to review the Party after the 2004 General Election rout7 and address the Central Council as keynote speaker in 2007. I am grateful to Jodeen Carney and the CLP hierarchy of that time for reaching out to ‘bring me home’. I deliberately chose not to be critical of Denis Burke in my report. Nothing would have been served by raking over his performance and that of his colleagues. The CLP was in the wilderness and we needed people to pull together; to put aside old animosities and work collaboratively towards regaining Government. Burke had done his best according to his abilities - he had been punished by the electorate, he had lost his seat, it was time to move on.

To his credit, whenever I requested Denis Burke to step up for the Coalition he has without hesitation. That is true of all former CLP Chief Ministers including Ian Tuxworth. An example was the full page advertisement appealing to Territorians to support the Coalition in the 2004 General Election.

I have mentored a number of existing CLP elected members and now serving Ministers over the years. I have done likewise interstate and in the Federal Parliament. Further, I have extended that reach to the UK House of Commons. Good people need encouragement to step up to what I consider a noble profession. I still speak in support of CLP fund raisers. Josephine and I are CLP, LNP and Liberal Party donors. I remain a Director of CLP Gifts and Legacies and worked to elect the Mills CLP Government in 2012. I remain committed to the CLP - the Territory Party.

What’s next?

It’s business as usual for the present. I have, at times, mused about returning to public life but not as an elected representative save for the momentary flirtation with the Senate. It was on more than one occasion suggested to me that I might contemplate a diplomatic posting. Shorty after I retired as Chief Minister, there was some speculation about serving as Ambassador to Indonesia. The timing was wrong and quite frankly I was exhausted - Jakarta has to be one of the toughest ‘gigs’ on the circuit. Perhaps other opportunities might still come my way. Meanwhile there is much to do on the business front and my pro-bono ‘not for profit’ projects. I remain committed to my engagement of indigenous Australians as I have amply demonstrated. Marcia Langton told the Garma Festival a couple of years ago when I shared the podium with Noel Pearson that Shane Stone ‘‘had an epiphany’’. Not quite Marcia, I haven’t changed. We have simply come to understand that there is more that we agree on than divides us. I am deeply concerned about homelessness and inter - generational unemployment. At times, they go hand in glove and are a threat to the cohesiveness of society as we know it. I am not done yet. And yes, I still call Darwin home despite the constant travel away.

Shane Stone in his London office - an inspired outlook
  1. Martin. C (Editor) ‘Speak for Yourself’ Chapter 5 Shane Stone published Charles Darwin University 2012

  2. ABC Premiers Past series; also available in the Archives section of my website ABC website link

  3. Obituary Sunday Territorian ‘Mates mourn larger than life media man’ 15 January 2012

  4. Seventh Assembly First Session 23 August 1994 Parliamentary Record No: 2 Topic: Address-in-Reply Subject: Address-In-Reply Date: 25 August 1994

  5. Sixth Assembly First Session 17/11/1992 Parliamentary Record No:14 Subject: Adjournment debate 26 November 1992

  6. The Australian Newspaper Bramston, T ‘End of entitlement culture must start with MPs’ 24 February 2014

  7. ABC News ‘Former NT CM to review CLP election result’ 26 June 2005; ABC News ‘CLP to act on election review recommendations’ 21 Aug 2005; NT News ‘Stone Plans to Restructure the CLP’ 21 August 2005. The irony of being invited to review the CLP and Burke’s worst defeat wasn’t lost on many. I recommended former trusted colleague the Honourable Fred Finch AM to implement the Review