Failure, Chaos and Leadership: Ingredients of Democratic Reform

In this Occasional Paper, delivered as a Bert Kelly Lecture in June 1994, Kenneth P. Baxter says that substantial and far-reaching changes must be made if Australia is not to become a ‘post-colonial relic on the edge of Asia.’ The question he considers is whether our political system can cope with the necessary scale and pace of change.

He sees some grounds for pessimism. Sometimes it takes ‘systems failure’ to force remedial action. Unfortunately there is no guarantee that systems failure will lead to positive reforms. Despite traditions of evolution and compromise in democracies taking their inspiration from Britain, the chaos flowing from systems failure could lead to national decline, and perhaps even revolution.

In his view the key to a better outcome is good leadership. The vision, power and style of a good leader can turn the possibility of chaos into a window of opportunity for constructive change. Will Australia’s leaders be able to overcome the difficulties created by our political system and achieve the necessary reforms?