When a book has a chapter titled ‘Tits up in a ditch’, you know you want to read it — even more so when the line comes from Queensland’s first female Premier.
Anna Bligh’s new book, Through the Wall: Reflections on Leadership, Love and Survival, is a surprisingly refreshing look at life in politics. More than that, it’s a book that might inspire young Australians and leaders to take charge and make a difference. I caught up with her to find out how she’s coping after retiring from a long political career.
How is your health, Anna?
I am very, very blessed to be able to say I am well. In fact, I had my six-monthly blood check-up last week and it was all clear from cancer. I still have regular tests ahead of me but I feel like I am very much able to put my illness behind me and I’m very thankful for that.
Besides that, how’s life after politics?
One of the reasons I have written the book is to talk a bit about life after politics. It doesn’t matter who you are or what party you come from, in the Australian system, there is no very clear path out of politics or out of political leadership. I’m pleased to say I’m rebuilding a new life. The illness knocked me around a bit but I am feeling really positive about the future and the book is very much a part of that.
Let’s talk about the book. ‘Tits up in a ditch’ is a great line in your book; where did it come from?
It’s one of the chapter headings and it’s a short story about a cow that fell into a ditch upside down and literally died, tits up in a ditch. It became a bit of a catch cry in my office. During my election campaigns, if we had a bad day, it would be what my team would say. I wanted to include some of that humor and the funny sayings that happen in teams to show that humour is a part of political life.
I can’t believe you were actually worried about crying during your address to the state about the 2011 floods. Why were you worried about showing your human side?
The speech that I gave during the disaster of 2011… most Australians and Queenslanders know about it and are curious and ask why I got choked up. It was my job to lift spirits and rally people to help solve the problems we had and convince them that we had what it took to do that. I was afraid that I had failed them. I was worried that rather than inspiring their confidence I may have made them worry that myself and my senior team were not up to the job. When I left that press conference, feeling that sense that I had got it terribly wrong, I realised that sometimes just a bit of emotion at the right time, when we were all feeling the same grief at that moment, touched people, and that can be uplifting. So I talk about it in my book because sometimes we can focus on being so strong in leadership positions, but every now and then we can show that we are just as vulnerable, but that we can get on with it also.
Now that you are out of politics do you feel freer to speak, now that everything you say won’t become media or Twitter fodder to be twisted and turned the wrong way?
Absolutely. In political life you are not only representing yourself, you are representing your party, your government, and state, so you are always mindful and filtering yourself, your thoughts and words. And that’s appropriate, to make sure you are presenting both the content and the way that you say things appropriately, because you need to make people confident in you as their leader. Now that I have a more private life, I am living a more liberated life and it is a lot more unfiltered, there is no doubt about that.
Can you comment on what is happening with our leadership in Queensland at the moment, with the current Premier’s government on a knife’s edge?
I don’t really want to comment on the daily ups and downs of either past or present government, but I have looked at it all and I am watching it with fascination.
Well, how about I put it this way. Do you think we should make politicians apply for a Blue Card before they are allowed to run for parliament, to stop people with a checkered past running and winning a seat? A Blue Card application checks your police history before you are able to work with children, and let’s face it, politicians spend a lot of time with children in the community anyway. It could be a simple solution.
A number of politicians I know of certainly already have them, because as you know, most local members of parliament do work in the community volunteering around children, but it is not a formal requirement. But after the events of the last week, that’s exactly the type of question all political parties will be asking themselves. How do we do good vetting and assessment of potential candidates?
For anyone reading this who might be thinking about running for parliament, how would you entice them? Because, to me, it scares me that my life would be so judged.
Do you want to make a difference? Do you want to shape and influence the world around you? Are there things you think we can do better and do you have the ideas to help make those changes? If you think and feel all of that, the best and only way to do that is a life in politics. Despite all the bad things you read and see, it is an incredibly satisfying career.