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Australian of the Year: Julian Assange

By Jonathan J. Ariel - posted Tuesday, 4 January 2011

"The enormous gap between what U.S. leaders do in the world and what Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments of the dominant political mythology."

Michael Parenti, Ph.D, award winning American political scientist

Dr. Steve Harris, the Executive Director of the Centre for Leadership and Public Interest at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology, last Friday revealed his views on leadership. Harris it seems considers leadership - by a person or by an organisation - to be the vital element a candidate must exhibit when vying for selection of say Time’s Person of the Year or The Australian newspaper’s, Australian of the Year.


Harris’ long-winded report card is split into two: those worthy of nomination for a good-leadership accolade, and those who huddle under the "needs to try harder" umbrella. The copious list is a result of his survey across several spheres of society including media, academe, business, community and politics. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s focus solely on those who have shown “good leadership” and ignore those who Harris’ flagellates for not reaching their potential (for good).

Harris begins with an honest assessment of the names he has received: “All lists are full of good intent, but we can see in them the fingerprints of all the human frailties of subjectivity, politics, commercialism, populism, celebrity-worship, ignorance and bias”, yet Harris ignores that he too falls into that very same well of naked subjectivity. When considering where to place candidates, either in the “good leadership” column or on the “try harder” side of the ledger, Harris slots United States President Barack Obama and China’s President Hu Jintao in the former, even though he acknowledges these leaders have a foot in each camp: “In the Christmas spirit [I]… discriminated in favour of hope and [accentuated] the positive." In other words, he wilfully ignores some facts when they conflict with his story. That’s called poor journalism.

The upside of Harris’ contribution is that his net of candidates is so vast that it surely catches within it the most plausible contenders for The Australian’s Australian of the Year. But there is a downside.

The very large number of candidates he nominates reminds me of many high schools deciding at the start of a year to award say 20 prizes. Not to those who by dint of intellectual effort have displayed genuine academic excellence, but rather to the top 20 students, whose performance is relatively superior. In schools, just as in the professional spheres, sometimes recipients are not worthy of prizes as their performances are, when viewed objectively, very, very pedestrian at best, and often vainly promoting self interest at worst.

Let me illustrate the naïveté of Harris’ roll call is, by focusing on three of his nominations.

Geoff Huegill, the Olympic swimmer, is nominated “for showing nice guys can win and demonstrating the rewards that can come from discipline”. True, Huegill is nice, I have read that often. I’m sure he’s fair dinkum to boot. But just how exactly does one swimmer’s personal triumph against obesity and speed in the pool benefit, advance or fundamentally inspire the other 21 million of us? Please tell.


Another nominee is Waleed Aly, a Melbourne lawyer, who is saluted “for overcoming prejudice to become a leader of the Australian Muslim community, and a respected and influential commentator on a range of social and political issues”. That’s Harris’ spin on Aly. I prefer to see the Monash University lecturer for the exceptionally savvy and cunning apologist for Islam that he has shown himself to be.

An organisational nominee of Harris is SBS TV, the public broadcaster nobody watches, which he claims for “30 years [has offered an] underrated and undernourished contribution to the socioeconomic wellbeing of Australia.” He could have added “under-viewed” and “over-funded” to his description.

That said, Steve Harris does include at least one objectively worthy candidate, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, but sadly Harris’ remarks are too late to sway the best known of Australia Day honours, the National Australia Day Council’s Australian of the Year. Assuming the selection committee refuses to consider late entries, given nominations have officially closed, then Assange has no chance of earning that award, to be invested on Australia Day Eve 2011 in the national capital.

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About the Author

Jonathan J. Ariel is an economist and financial analyst. He holds a MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at

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