My recent membership of the New Zealand delegation to the Australia-New Zealand Leadership Forum in Wellington conferred a couple of special privileges upon me the likes of which, as a journalist, I would usually not enjoy.
The first was to gain an insight into the workings of a high-level policy conference from inside the tent, rather than outside it, which is usually where I languish on such occasions.
The second, was, from my strategic vantage point near the front of the room, to spend a day and a half watching the deployment into action of two distinctive but equally remarkable leadership styles.
Since it began four years ago, the forum has been led by two co-chairmen, one from each side of the Tasman. The New Zealand incumbent is John Allen, chief executive of New Zealand Post, while the co-chairman from Australia, standing in for regular chairman James Strong, was SkyCity Entertainment Group chairman Rod McGeoch.
The forum, and my reportage of it, are constrained (not severely, but constrained nevertheless) by the Chatham House Rule, which says: "When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed." The world-famous rule is invoked at meetings to encourage openness and the sharing of information.
I'm going to risk censure by declaring that watching Rod McGeoch and John Allen in action was a treat.
McGeoch, the man who led Sydney's successful bid for the 2000 Olympic Games, was also instrumental, as a consultant, in Athens winning the rights to host the 2004 games. He oozes gravitas and authority, dresses impeccably, and is a tall, strongly built man.
John Allen, widely regarded as one of the best after-dinner speakers in this country's corporate world, is charming, uproariously witty and funny, and seriously passionate about the trans-Tasman relationship, at all levels.
Neither man was particularly awed by the collection of political, business, cultural, and media heavyweights arrayed before them. This included seven Australian ministers and MPs led by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and a similarly large number of New Zealand ministers led by Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen.
Allen and McGeoch ran a tight, but fair ship. On their watch, sessions began and ended on time, there was plenty of scope for free and frank discussion, and at no stage did things get out of hand (as you'd expect with attendees of that calibre). …