Why Should Tasmanian Labor Be Led by David O’Byrne?

Dr Bastian Seidel

In David O’Byrne’s own words - as displayed on his personal Facebook page - he’s family, he’s union, he’s Labor and he’s Collingwood (although I won’t hold the latter against him).

It’s not just a statement about his priorities as a person, a professional and a politician. It’s his life story. Why should the Tasmanian Labor Party be led by David? Because his life has prepared him for this moment.

It can often sound cheesy when politicians say this, especially about other politicians. But I say this, because I sincerely believe it.

No matter what David has done, he has maintained the consistent and virtuous belief that the collective is stronger than the individual. As Tasmanian Labor seeks to reflect on the May 1 election defeat, this belief needs to be our party’s guiding principle.

Leadership aspirants, are often asked a simple question - “Why them?” Generic responses include such phrases like ‘Because only I have the vision and energy to lead’. This falls flat the moment the sentence is completed and repeating the same over and over again does not make their argument any more valid. It reinforces the mediocrity of their cause.

While there is an i in leadership, there is no i in team and leadership isn’t just about the person leading, it’s about the people being led.

Progressive leaders understand that. Progressive leaders emphasize passionately and realistically with people. They care intensely about individuals.They inspire without being overbearing.

Progressive leaders don’t pretend to be invincible.They genuinely remain self-aware but allow some vulnerability. This is how they reveal their approachability and humanity. It is natural to them. There is no second-guessing.

In his essay ‘The Australian Labor Movement’ from 1944, C.Hartley Grattan states that a good biography of any Australian labor leader is necessarily in large part the story of the movement in his or her time: ‘if the great leaders have acted on the mass following, as all leaders of human enterprises do, the mass following has in no instance failed to act on the leader. The leaders are therefore what they are in considerable measure because they are never, even at the peaks of their careers, really bigger than the movement.’

Progressive leaders are aware of that. They know just when and how to act. They sense what’s going on without having anything spelled out for them. Robert Goffee from the London Business School has written extensively on leadership qualities as outlined above. His research has spanned over decades, and he has interviewed literally thousands of people all over the world in order to identify what really characterizes great leaders.

He could have just come to Tasmania to interview David O’Byrne.

David’s background is humble. His biography is impressive. But what is truly unique about David though is that throughout his distinguished career as a union organiser, charity executive, member of parliament and minister he maintained the virtuous characteristics of progessive leaders. This is just how David has always been and will continue to be as the next leader of Tasmanian Labor.

Yes, our party lost the recent election in my beautiful state. But the unconvincing win of the stale Liberal party here echoes not much more than a last hurrah. Tasmanians have made it very clear that they are looking for virtuous, progressive policies and authentic political leaders.

Under David’s leadership we will advance and refine our progressive policies in opposition, and will implement them once we’ve been given the privilege to form government. It’s that simple.

But the work needs to start now.

And this is exactly why Tasmanian Labor should be led by David O’Byrne.

Dr Bastian Seidel is the Member for Huon in the Tasmanian Parliament