Two episodes in the past fortnight demonstrate that as a society we are losing the ability to stick to our guns. First came the signs of panic in the ranks of the government when it failed to pick up seats in the Super Saturday by-elections and got mauled in the Queensland seat of Longman. Then the abject caving of Coles on the plastic bags issue – initially to the pushback from customers then the environmentalists who rightly cried blue murder.
Without going into the pros and cons of the Coalition’s corporate tax policy, what stuck in the craw was the sudden hand-wringing among some backbenchers and former leaders. In the face of a little adversity, they were willing to advocate running up the white flag while sowing seeds of disunity in their own ranks.
If the policy is indeed the right thing to do for the Australian economy, as the Coalition has endlessly told us, how is it that important voices in its own broad church are so willing to dump it after the first shot is fired?
Should it pay too much attention to the nervous Nellies and resentful has-beens in its own ranks, the government risks falling victim to the same terror of public opinion that saw Kevin Rudd then Julia Gillard then Tony Abbott swept from the top job. So far, it’s holding the line, even if tremulously so.
Over in the corporate world, Coles’ spectacular double backflip on plastic bags is another example of heading for the hills in the face of fire. After saying single use bags would be phased out, replaced by 15 cent reusable bags, it trembled in the face of customer resistance, saying it would give the new bags away indefinitely.
Then, after the outcry, it backflipped again, putting an end date on the free bags.
We keep telling our kids to be resilient but if corporations and governments can’t hold the line whenever they face adversity, what chance do the rest of us have?
Yes, the news cycle is relentless these days but the flipside is that today’s outcry and public opinion backlash is tomorrow’s forgotten story. And if something is worth fighting for – tax reform, reducing waste, addressing climate change – for all our sakes fight for it.
Convince us it’s necessary, counter the counter-narratives, explain your position in terms we can all understand.
Hoisting the white flag the moment you run into opposition, even just suggesting surrender, undermines everything you’re trying to achieve. It makes you appear weak.