3 April 2015

Knowing more of Anna B


Most people only knew Anna Bligh from her response to the Queensland floods and perhaps privatising railways. The state premiers are not so well known outside their states. This was Anna Bligh chatting with Tanya Plibersek to leach Anna's new book, Anna Bligh : Through the wall. It was moved to Manning Clarke Theatre 1 for the bookings and this was virtually full. I expect both Anna and Tanya were of interest to this crowd, me included. The discussion covered various aspects of AB's life in politics and out. Through the wall refers to the difficulty of the first person in any field, here, a woman premier. The Queensland emergencies, a flood, then two weeks later another flood, then soon after, Cyclone Yasi (the worst Australian cyclone ever) were six weeks of rolling emergencies. Everyone remembers AB for one famous press interview. "Leadership is what happens when the rule book runs out". Here, leadership is a duty: there is no choice. Interestingly, she compared it to childbirth: an obvious and apt woman's view. TP asked about her background: oldest of four children; early divorce' mother died at 12yo (or 14?); influence of her convent education, 3 years with the gentle Franciscan nuns, then the rest with the Sisters of (joke: Show No) Mercy who expected students to strive and to excel despite community expectations that girls would leave school after Year 10. It all formed a person valuing and presenting a "voice for the voiceless:, strong and independent, valuing "powerful truth ... exposed to sunlight". [I'm liking this woman]. She talked of the Labor Party, slaughtering sacred cows, privatisation of rail (in the end, she just privatised the subsidised railways for coal delivery). This is the context of the huge drought then GFC then natural crises: a tough time for government. She sounds practical: "Sometimes in government, serious principles conflict" so decisions are required. Recognising education as the key to the future, she added one year to schooling to match the rest of Australia. She spoke of her time at university, of attending parties but preferring a friendly debate over social policy. Her advice to a young AB was on both sides: "keep going [at political action]" but also "go out and party". But recognise entrenched change takes time to bring people with you (the adult way). She talked of skills built with experience and her new commitment to YMCA. And finally of her brush with cancer as "humbling, levelling". Otherwise, politics has "no clear path in ... no clear path out". TP quoted Keating: "One way or another, they carry you out".

Questions related to using experiences and skills. How to serve people coming with anger: she noted that "mobs can be frightening". She didn't want any other system, but "our democracy has some nasty aspects", "bagging the premier/PM is a national past-time". She came from a very devout family (nuns, priests) but is no longer an active Catholic although the influences of Vatican II still influences her sense of social justice and provides a progressive base. How to deal with politics as an "extreme emotional rollercoaster, a profoundly emotional business". But politicians seek it: "there are no such things as accidental premiers". Although not specifically commenting on Billy Gordon and Premier Palaszczuk, she noted that "political parties are reliant on honesty [funny, that, they don't always seem so open themselves].

Penny Wensley, once Governor of Queensland now ACT citizen, gave a generous vote of thanks: "AB "is a brave, clear speaking woman" and interestingly "a book deserves a good story and a story needs something to say".

Anna Bligh was in conversation with Tanya Plibersek at the ANU to leach AB's new book. Colin Steele introduced and Penny Wensley gave the vote of thanks.

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