Dr Brendon Nelson the Director of the Australian War Memorial was speaking at the Australian Press Club last week and in the question time he was asked, as a former Coalition (Liberal Party) Opposition Leader, any advice to former leaders.
Dr Nelson was deposed as Opposition Leader in the party room ballot by Malcolm Turnbull in 2007 when Labor under Kevin Rudd took power at the ballot box.
Kevin Rudd in turn was by deposed by Julia Gillard before fulfilling a full term, and she in turn was deposed and it was back to Kevin Rudd before the 2013 election. Meanwhile with the Liberals, Tony Abbott deposed Malcolm Turnbull and in 2013 Abbott won the election in a landslide.
Welcome to recent Australian politics. Before Tony Abbott could complete a full term, Malcolm Turnbull came back and deposed Abbott in a party room ballot. Turnbull just managed to scrape back into power by one ‘seat’ losing 17 ‘federal seats’.
Turnbull in turn found himself for the second time being deposed when his poll figures dropped and dropped and dropped and at his own hand, calling a spill, surprising all, found himself in an impossible position with 34 votes against him. The commentators called him ‘a dead man walking’ (politically). He was.
Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison came up trumps 45 to 40 and became Australia’s 45th Prime Minister, and on one of the papers that Malcolm Turnbull demanded with 43 signatures to call a second ballot, was scrawled – “This is for Brendon Nelson”.
In the light of former leaders offering oodles of ‘unhelpful and destructive’ advice and commentary in these past few years - at the Australian Press Club, Brendon Nelson’s advice to former leaders – “Don’t give any”.
Victors tell the story
It has been said since time immemorial that in politics whether it be the ancient or modern worlds, the victors tell the story. Tony Abbott having won the Federal Election in 2013 described the previous government as ‘wacko”.
Tony Abbott as reported in the article said he thought it was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history. the former government made a whole lot of commitments, which they scandalously failed to honour.
He continued in that they did a lot of things that were scandalously wasteful and the actual conduct of government was a circus. They were untrustworthy in terms of the carbon tax. They were incompetent in terms of the national broadband network, they were a scandal when it came to their own internal disunity. Moreover, he said they made a whole lot of grubby deals in order to try and perpetuate themselves in power. It was an embarrassing spectacle.
As to their incessant claim about climate change, Tony Abbott said we've had much bigger floods and fires than the ones we've recently experienced. You can hardly say they were the result of anthropic global warming. Indeed, the victors write the history.
Now, new Prime Minister Scott Morrison has his own victor’s stories. He has shown a steadfastness in this – “I have been Prime Minister for 3 weeks, I can only speak on my decisions in this time”.
Victors tell the story in politics.
What of church / mission parallel’s
The question is put therefore, is there a parallel analogy in the local church / mission situation where the congregation has gone through a woeful experience where specific members of the congregation and the minister of the time did not see eye to eye. What about missions and Christian agencies where the CEO walks after a long and bitter dispute over policies and personalities and take-over scenarios.
In both situations, the local church and that of missions, a new minister enters the scene, or a fresh CEO comes into the life of the mission and the start of a new beginning is announced.
It’s claimed “Victors” tell the story in churches and missions too.
Sad to say, there are some local congregations that have a bit of a history in seeing off their minister, especially when the congregation’s King Masker (the person who is the real power) falls out with the minister. The pathway is fraught with turmoil and heartache and can go on for a year or more, but usually, the King Maker triumphs yet again.
Reverend Dr Rowland Croucher of John Mark Ministries has specialised in this area of pastoral disaster for over 40 years where he and his team pick up the pieces of the Minister. There are 14,000 pastors today in Australia who have faced such diabolical trauma and have simply moved on in their lives away from pastoral ministry.
Many of these live with their pain and anguish for years. No one came to their aid. Congregational members who had seen this all before were too weak to do anything about it or did not have the numbers on the floor (as it were) to right the wrongs.
The new minister coming into such congregations come with high hopes, there is very little forewarning as such situations only raise their head when a dispute of some fashion down the track occurs and unless handled with great care, it becomes a repeat process. But until then, the new minister and the church deacons / elders write the history. Welcome to church land.
Mission organisations have all the same hallmarks as a local church in terms of disputes with board members and / or associates, but there are two significant differences.
First, how the money is raised? If the money is raised through the founder and that person is the CEO, then the paper work and accounts will inevitably be spotless. If the CEO goes, more questions of propriety get directed to the trouble makers and their careers are placed in jeopardy or at least it is their reputations are up for grabs. Some trouble makers quickly resign afterwards so as to avoid this very scrutiny.
Second, once the CEO goes, every eye will be on the trouble makers as to whether they can make a go-of-it as compared to the person whom they saw off. The common outcomes is that those people themselves slowly but surely depart the scene and sometimes it takes two of three cycles of board members before they get back on track.
And of course, everyone on each side of the argument believe they are right! But in mission life, you at least can look at the evidence of what happens after the event: Has the founder or the CEO of that mission body who left, has that person forged ahead with astonishing blessings – if so, then it might be wise to check out those who were in leadership in the troubles and look at their outcomes. You’ll soon see a pattern emerge in which-ever-way. Therein the story is re-written.
Reverend Dr Rowland Croucher John Mark Ministries has a host of research on all these issues, and from all sides of the equation. It is rarely as pretty picture. People are cut to the quick on all sides. Wounds last for life times. Those in party of the deceit by their silence, often years later, reveal more of the truth of what occurred behind the scenes but it is too late and too little.
One thing is for certain. Those in leadership who have gone through their dark night of the soul rarely, if ever, trust again. The social sciences call this aggrievement syndrome. I’ve written of this particular thing previously where the intricate accountability to which they were held was somehow not required of those who came against them.
There will come a time when at the end, the true eternal victor will tell the story. It is this in hope that we commit our lives.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at