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Captain Cook would never capitulate to vandals

Activists may well have cut Captain James Cook’s St Kilda statue off at the ankles, but his feet (or at least his boots) are still firmly fixed in place. Despite assurances about the statue’s short-term future, one has to question how long Cook will be able to maintain his stance at that location.

It is no secret that local councils know that the best way to deal with the problem of graffiti is to have it quickly cleaned up and removed. This method has been shown to be the most effective method of discouraging graffiti vandals. Similarly, if you sustain minor damage to your car, you would be well advised to get it repaired straight away. Experience has shown that failure to do so often results in the fault remaining unrectified for months, if not years. Rust sets in and the initial repair costs can blow out due to further decay and loss of structural integrity.

To say it was frustrating to hear of the decision of the City of Port Phillip council to go to a vote on whether to reinstate the statue of Captain James Cook situated in St Kilda’s Catani Gardens, is an understatement. Failure to take swift and decisive action has opened the door for the activists who undoubtedly see the resolve of the council waning. The opportunity for Port Phillip Council to send a clear message to the vandals as to its long-term intent for the monument has now been lost. The continuing public debate over the issue of Australia Day, Cook’s tenuous relationship to that day, and the questioning of the statue’s future has undoubtedly given succour to the activists.

The history of wilful and/or criminal damage to statues of Cook is not limited to Victoria, with similar acts of vandalism occurring in Sydney over the years. Melbourne, however, has found itself at the forefront of this type of senseless activity. Sydney has at least made a strong statement about the fate awaiting any person found guilty of damaging its monuments.

One has to ask how this vandalism was allowed to happen in the first place. There was no security around the statue at its most vulnerable time, and incredibly there was no CCTV coverage. The only vision available was that provided by the vandals themselves. That is a sad state of affairs given the statue has been a regular target around Australia Day over the past six years. It does not take a genius to predict that it is susceptible to vandalism, particularly as the Australia Day debate heats up exponentially.

We now know that the Port Phillip Council ultimately voted to reinstate the Cook statue at the same site. Regrettably, the minute that there was a decision by the council to even take this to a vote, the future of the statue was doomed. What do you think will happen next time it is cut down or substantially damaged? Will the passion to keep the statue survive one, two, or three more attacks? Sustained activism will regrettably see the fate of the Cook statue change.

The very fact that it wasn’t rectified quickly and quietly speaks volumes. The thin edge of the wedge has been placed, and it is likely that activists will target the statue on any day over the year in protest of its restoration – they now don’t need to wait until the period around Australia Day. Their dogma may very well change its focus from the few days leading up to and surrounding Australia Day, to the very existence of the statue as an enduring symbol of the colonial ‘invasion’. In fact, on the very day I put this piece together, another Cook statue was cut off at the ankles in the Fitzroy Gardens East Melbourne, near Captain Cook’s Cottage. Quite removed from Australia Day but flogging the anti-colonial mantra.

It is a pity the activists haven’t spent as much time understanding Australia’s history as it pertains to James Cook as they spend plotting the demise or defacing of his statues. People looking back at this era will undoubtedly be dumbfounded by our capitulation to the minority fringe activists.

You may question what the Captain Cook statue has to do with business. Simply put, organisations need to address pressing issues quickly and effectively in order to ensure their ongoing operational viability. The fabric of a business is no less susceptible to decay than the fabric of society if left unaddressed, unresolved, or unrectified. Repeatedly not addressing an issue, allowing history to repeat itself, delaying a decision, or tiptoeing around the sensibilities of others in order to try and please everyone, are not strategically sound business practices.

The Cook statue is now the subject of guerilla warfare. The activists are playing the long game. Guerilla tactics are also effective if a business matter is left on the table for too long, not finalised, or allowed to decay or fester.

Procrastination by businesses and business executives enables the minority to gain a foothold and enhance their position, particularly if there is some controversy, innovation, or transformational nature of the issue under consideration. Their position is often that of an indefatigable nay-sayer or eristic devil’s advocate. This is not to say that decisions should be made quickly and without thought. Quite the opposite in fact. Nonetheless, time spent on going over old ground, unnecessarily revisiting issues already decided, and pandering to the loud minority diminishes the time available to get on with the real issues. Whether it be an individual or Board guilty of procrastination, the result will invariably be the same.

Swift, considered, and effective action is and will always be the answer, just as it is with graffiti, just as it is with your car, and just as it is in business.

Gil King GAICD GradDipCrim BA PolStu DipBlgSurv is a former CEO and Victoria Police Detective, www.linkedin.com/in/gil-king-03698b21.

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