Inspired leadership stared down eye of the storm

Opinion Article

2011 February, 5

There was less than a degree in it. If Yasi had kept its course from 12 hours before and made a direct hit then God knows what wreckage there would have been in Cairns. 

As it turned out, the people of Cardwell, Tully and Mission Beach bore the brunt. Not until the last 24 hours did my blase attitude towards the impending storm change. People everywhere around me prepared for the worst, but I think the fact that cyclone threats are among the earliest memories of my childhood in Cape York Peninsula has inured me against the reality of the danger. 

When we were kids, leaving our frail fibro mission homes to camp out with the rest of the community under the only concrete structure in the village, the primary school, was a great adventure. 

We had to beg our father to let us join our mates up at the school, because he would not move unless it was absolutely necessary. I now find myself acting like my father. 

But this week we decided to leave the old Queenslander and join my brother and his children in a more sturdy modern house across town. My late mother once condemned the state of our home as resembling a chookhouse, so my children dubbed it the Juki house. We did not show much faith in the old Juki house when faced with a category 5 cyclone. 

I was sure that if any house in the street would be a casualty it would be the Juki house. So we cut and run.

Waiting for the storm to come and anxiously checking the Bureau of Meteorology's tracking of Yasi, I started to take the situation more seriously and while basically philosophical about losing the house, I started to realise how devastating that would be for my children. 

The juki house is their world and driving over in the early morning to see how our house had fared, I began to get some idea about the meaning and gravity of the loss suffered by so many people this season. Thank God the Juki house was unscathed. 

It is plain that the leaders, workers and volunteers responsible for public safety and emergency services have saved lives and done everything to minimise the impact of this extraordinary storm. 

Much has been said of Anna Bligh's leadership. I am more cynical than the average person, so I have been slower to make the concession, but the Premier has done a job and a half. 

She is plainly very competent and the way in which she has organised her government in a time of crisis restores your faith in government. She has marshalled the large and unwieldy machinery of government to perform at a level that no Queenslander could fail to appreciate. 

And who could not be impressed by the lord mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman? Newman is obviously an action man. He knows what he is doing and is a politician who knows about public administration and getting the job done. In many ways Newman is like former Brisbane lord mayor Jim Soorley. Most politicians know next to nothing about actually governing, whereas Soorley was a master.

Why he is not a member of the federal Labor cabinet just amazes me, but that is another story. In Newman Brisbane has its next Soorley and his qualities have emerged in the lead-up to and aftermath of the Brisbane floods. 

The third politician who rose in my stocks over this period of emergency was our local mayor in Cairns, Val Schier. 

I have long assumed she is a standard issue Labor hack, but the people of Cairns could not have been served by a more steady and competent leadership than she has provided. 

I thought, yes of course the politicians are positioning themselves in these times of public crisis and political calculations are always present, but it is also their job to do what they are doing. That is what leadership and public service entails. 

So yes, Bligh has an eye to the television cameras and an ear for the radio microphones, but I think what she has achieved is that she has shown that a straightforward demonstration of competent leadership was the best way to position herself to the people of Queensland. 

It was interesting to have experienced the hours of impending doom in Cairns with two women, Bligh and Schier, providing the most credible and assured leadership in the face of it. 

We in Cairns were lucky to have dodged a bullet with Yasi. Others have not been so lucky. The season is not over, but the people of Queensland, their volunteers, their political leaders and public authorities have done an outstanding job so far.

Inspired leadership stared down eye of the storm