New Guinea Commerce

Governance, growth and next generation leadership in the Indo-Pacific

Tony Abbott: Australia’s last good prime minister?

Sean Jacobs

It’s often said that Australia needs to become a republic because of our lagging reputation in Asia. Many believe, for example, that our institutional attachment to the British Monarchy puzzles the masses and implies an old-world attachment that tugs on our standing in the region.

Much less discussed, however, is how silly we must look changing leaders as often as our dirty clothes. Until recently the turbulence of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years was behind us. We weren’t suffering from closed-door union deals and the disruptive leadership of the Australian Labor Party. Abbott had stopped illegal boat arrivals to Australia, was fiercely paying down Rudd’s debt, ending silly government programs and restoring a relative lack of prestige to the executive arm of government.

Yet Australia’s modern media cycle won’t permit such stable conduct: it is, after all, boring. The constant scan for sensationalism means that minor issues like giving out awards (Abbott’s honour to Prince Phillip) and, most recently, harmless jokes about rising sea levels in the South Pacific choke out issues of substance and having a steady pair of hands on the nation’s wheel.

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Churchill 2.0: a man for all times

Boris Johnson, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Riverhead Books, London, 2014

Sean Jacobs

At first I groaned when, browsing the bookstore shelves, my eyes first caught Boris Johnson’s biography of Winston Churchill.

Surely, I thought, the great man needs no more testaments. Millions of words written by Churchill himself, and prolific writers like Martin Gilbert and Roy Jenkins, have entombed his rightful and unmatched place in not just English speaking but global folklore.

I also fear that many now see Churchill not as ‘The Last Lion’ – the title of William Manchester’s thick trilogy of biographies – but ‘the exhausted lion’, struggling for relevance in the restless modern Western democracy.

Johnson’s mural of Churchill, however, is refreshing and current. He has commendably produced a queer-eye-for-the-straight guy makeover of Churchill for modern times. Snappy paragraphs, a good turn of phrase and solid depth combine delivering Churchill to the distracted, semi-interested or younger reader.

‘He is so obviously a character that should appeal to young people today,’ writes Johnson. ‘He was eccentric, over the top, camp, with his own special trademark clothes – and a thoroughgoing genius.’

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Will outlawing guns solve PNG’s crime problems?

Sean Jacobs, PNG Attitude, 10 August 2015

It’s often thought, in both developing and developed states, that stricter gun laws are a solution to reducing gun crimes and the broader problems of law and order. Tragic public shootings in the United States, for example, often provoke demands for tighter gun laws and stoke social outrage that everyday citizens are entitled to possess firearms.

In Papua New Guinea (PNG), a nation with an international reputation for lawlessness and violence, outlawing guns has recently emerged as a common sense way to reduce gun crime. “There’s no need to carry guns,” says the Governor of Enga Province Sir Peter Ipatas. “If we can have no guns it will go a long way towards maintaining law and order.”

But tougher laws, let alone a desirable objective of ‘no guns’, is a far from straightforward policy solution to law and order. Some countries, for example, have high rates of legal gun ownership but very low murder rates, as witnessed in Israel, New Zealand and Finland. By contrast, some countries — Russia, Brazil and Mexico for example — employ strict gun control laws but endure stubbornly high murder rates.

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A modern lesson in ‘old school’ leadership: UK Prime Minister David Cameron

The British Prime Minister deserves more credit than electoral success

Sean Jacobs

Until the recent UK election it had become common, even among staunch conservatives, to write off the Tory leader David Cameron. The sum of accusations Cameron faced, from disfiguring conservative principles to peddling an overly cosmetic appearance, primed the Tories to predictable electoral defeat. No British party, the experts said, should fantasize of an outright majority. And certainly not the Conservatives.

While many were surprised with Cameron’s win the applause has, understandably, shifted rapidly to pressing issues of Greek debt and offshore terror attacks against British nationals. But Cameron’s triumph, especially in the context of a modern Western democracy, is remarkable.

A growing lack of interest in politics, alongside a fading sense of national identity, isn’t exactly the arena where extolling the principles of conservatism receive great traction. The modern Western democracy, with an addiction to debt-financing and government-led solutions, also presents obstacles for center-right leaders seeking less government and greater individual responsibility.

Attributing electoral success, too, isn’t always easy. In office, for example, larger elements present beyond the leader’s direct control – the fluctuation of capital markets, gaffes from candidates and, especially in Europe, Greek profligacy and German benevolence. Many have also argued that procuring the help of Australian pollster Linton Crosby enabled Cameron to simply fall over the line – manipulating electoral success rather than earning it.

What we can touch on with some certainty, however, is Cameron’s career performance, his conservative principles and, perhaps most importantly, how he has communicated these principles over the past few years.

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Benjamin Franklin in the Pacific Islands?

What an American founding father can still teach us about life and wealth

Sean Jacobs, Pacific Institute of Public Policy, 6 July 2015

For some time now I’ve thought about what the great Benjamin Franklin would say if he took a walk (or paddle) through the Pacific Islands.

Franklin, who helped found the United States, is one of the most well-known figures in history for contributions to writing, publishing, diplomacy, innovation and politics.

The most accomplished American of his generation, and arguably of all time, he has provided generations with universal advice on ‘the way to wealth’ through simple values like thrift, industry and frugality. He delivered this advice at a time when America, just like today’s Pacific Islands, was undergoing great economic change.

‘We can easily imagine having a beer with him after work,’ writes his acclaimed biographer Walter Isaacson, ‘showing him how to use the latest digital device, sharing the business plan for a new venture, and discussing the most recent political scandals or policy ideas.’ So, if Franklin visited the region’s market places, villages, resource projects, campuses, businesses and supermarkets, what thoughts would he deliver to Pacific Islanders about wealth and life?

First, I feel his observations would not be loaded with GDP figures or economic charts and tables. Indeed, contrasting most experts, writing report after report about the region’s un-shiftable poverty, he would likely talk about the values – the attitudes, priorities and behaviours – that typically build wealth and fulfilment among people, regardless of where they are and what circumstances they find themselves in.

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Staying out of prison? Odd but good advice

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

Clayton Christensen, the Harvard innovation expert, wrote an insightful speech a few years ago titled ‘How will you measure your life?’

Christensen, with unique perspective and a strong business mind, prompts his Harvard Business School (HBS) students with three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail?

This last question, he says, is far from flippant. ‘Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class,’ he notes, ‘spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.’

It’s not hard to see people of iron will and heroic achievement – the Lance Armstrongs, David Petraeus’ or Tiger Woods’ of the world – possessing obvious flaws in their character. In their own lives, too, young Australians will notice people who, even though having fine attributes and sound achievements, run into similar bother.

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What’s so great about Australia?

Part of the New Guinea Commerce Winners Don’t Cheat Series.

By Sean Jacobs

‘There are far more tales of heroism and sacrifices in the penetration of the Australian outback,’ notes the eminent historian Paul Johnson, ‘than in the whole history of the American Far West.’

Such an accolade, from such a distinguished observer of history, is worth unwrapping for many younger Australians. Certainly, Australia is a unique nation. Few others in history have been as stable, prosperous or carry as special a heritage.

But we tend not to celebrate in a way that’s expected of people rising to such heights from such humble beginnings. Indeed, ANZAC Day and Australia Day aside, moments of national pride are rarely expressed loudly. Our patriotism, thankfully, is subtle and not boisterous.

By examining the past we see the reasons for this. And we see what makes Australia a unique nation with traditions worth replicating, sustaining and taking advantage of.

America, the most powerful nation in history, was founded in 1620. But Australia was founded a century and half later in 1788. A great deal happened in between that, arguably, set Australia up for a more successful start.

In 1687 Sir Isaac Newton – a candidate for the smartest person in history – produced Principia Mathematica, kick-starting the English Enlightenment and stoking an unmatched period of human innovation and enterprise. Under a spirit of progress and an expanding market economy the list of ‘game-changing’ inventions grew: telegraphy, photography, the rotary press, the telephone, the typewriter, the phonograph, the transatlantic cable, the electric light, movies, the locomotive, rockets, the steamboat, the x-ray, the revolver, and the stethoscope.

It was a unique and beneficial time to settle somewhere new. In 1788, the Sydney Harbour Bridge certainly didn’t exist. There were no buildings, no streets and no airports. Not even a jetty or pontoon welcomed the First Fleet. Australia, as put by one historian, was a place where ‘not a wheel had turned, no permanent structures existed and agriculture was unknown.’

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