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President Farnsey, Barnsey or Wright? An Australian head of state beyond politics


Andrew Hunter dreams of an Australian President with more to their outlook and experience than politics, who could help lead the nation through the challenging times ahead.

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Michael J. Higgins is the President of Ireland. He has written three volumes of poetry, and when campaigning for the presidency listed his occupation as “lecturer” and “poet”. This is somewhat misleading: Higgins has been in politics for 30 years.

Would any modern nation choose as its head of state the person of talent, who had mastered skills necessary to lead, even if devoid of political inclination? Would Australia?

The prospect of a career politician elected as President of Australia does little to inspire. But what if our head of state was selected from a pool not limited to the political class? If the President were appointed by parliament, and the constitution was amended to disqualify anyone who had sat in the upper or lower house, at state or federal level, then a writer, sportsperson, journalist, thinker or actor with broad appeal could be appointed. The idea of an Australian President suddenly appears more enticing.

The challenges we face as a nation require more of our leaders than political acumen. Australia sits cornered on the precipices of economic decline, environmental catastrophe, social fissure and the prospect of another pointless war. To whom shall we turn?

Steve Waugh would reflect our culture of success while Adam Goodes would be appropriate for several reasons, not least because we kind of owe him one.

If the parliament were to appoint someone who shares our values, our hopes, our dreams for Australia – someone armed with the fortitude and vision necessary to pull the country back from the precipice – who would it appoint?

Alexis Wright would make a fine president. It is possible to garner more about Australia by reading the first 10 pages of Carpentaria, for which Wright won the Miles Franklin Literary Award, than one could in a year following our mainstream media. Her father a cattleman, her great grandfather from China, Wright carries in her bones an ancient land situated in Asia. She has written powerfully about social issues and has been a persuasive activist. A writer-president would serve our country with great distinction. And if not Wright, Richard Flanagan merits consideration.

Author Alexis Wright has much to teach Australians, says Andrew Hunter. Photo: AAP/Dean Lewins

A journalist, with experience and a bias for deep analysis, may provide the leadership necessary to address the significant challenges we face. George Megalogenis, for example, would provide sombre, considered leadership.

If Parliament believed the aversion of environmental catastrophe was the first among many priorities, would it consider Cate Blanchett? Brilliant, inspired, impassioned, Blanchett would be a compelling public figure. If politics is acting for ugly people, the appointment of Blanchett would sit nicely with the idea of a president without politics.

Alan Border would make a fine President. In the words of Roy (or HG Nelson…I can never tell which is which), he inherited a “busted-arse side” with “no plan” and took the team to the cusp of greatness. Could AB, with his incredible determination and patience, take a busted-arse economy and lead us to a sustained period of high employment, low inflationary economic growth?

Other sporting figures are attractive alternatives. Laurie Lawrence would inspire with his unique gift oratory. Sam Kerr would engage the next generation, and upon her appointment, could direct her detractors to “suck on that one”.

Steve Waugh would reflect our culture of success while Adam Goodes would be appropriate for several reasons, not least because we kind of owe him one.

This Australian moment needs an inspiring voice. President Farnham, making one last comeback, would tell a new generation of Australians to “make the noise and make it clear”. Farnham’s message would also resonate with a generation of Australians with an uncertain economic future: “We gotta make ends meet, before we get much older.”

Other musicians, such as Jimmy Barnes, would appeal to working-class Australia… but President Farnsey feels very Australian.

These suggestions may be both sublime and ridiculous, but the question of who would represent our national character and values in this critical moment is of a practical nature.

Modern heads of state have a spectrum of relevance that ranges from studied pointlessness (the Queen) to almost absolute power (Xi Jinping).

An Australian head of state, appointed by our parliament and not of the political class, is needed to independently define a beautiful future.

Andrew Hunter is an Adelaide writer and commentator on international relations.

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