TALKING POINT: Kerry O'Brien takes the stage at Ballina RSL for the Rotary Annual Conference.
TALKING POINT: Kerry O'Brien takes the stage at Ballina RSL for the Rotary Annual Conference. Alina Rylko

Kerry O’Brien rates past and present political leaders

SIX time Walkley award winner Kerry O'Brien impressed a 2000-strong crowd of Rotarians at the Ballina RSL on Saturday, meeting for the District 9640 Rotary Conference.

The writer drew on 49 years' reporting experience, including taking interviews with Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, to speak on leadership.

Mr O'Brien praised Nelson Mandela, Paul Keating - who he has penned a biography about - and John Howard as showing inspired and courageous leadership qualities.

Mr Keating impressed with a bold pitch to George W Bush for what's now known as the APEC Summit and his diplomacy to legislate the outcome of the controversial Mabo case, "without any votes to gain".

Mr Howard was described as having a strong "moral persuasion" in spearheading gun reforms after the Port Arthur Massacre.

"Statistics show those reforms reduced deaths by 200 lives a year ... that is a powerful statistic," Mr O'Brien said.

"Against the backdrop of those three examples how does the quality of leadership look today?

"Could you imagine any of our current leaders ... in those times and challenges? I don't think the quality is great."

Mr O'Brien was critical of Julia Gillard for "allowing her own ambitions to over rule a sense of decency and loyalty", Tony Abbott for not "not knowing what to do what he got there" (into power) and Malcolm Turnbull for negotiating with far Right candidates to gain power.

"I have never seen so much goodwill taken away so quickly," Mr O'Brien said of Mr Turnbull's leadership.

Conference chairman Colin Lee said the speech would inspire Rotarians to continue to display their core values of service, fellowship, diversity, integrity and leadership.

"We give our time to the community voluntary and like to set a good example through truth, goodwill and friendships," Mr Lee said.

Rotary supports local projects and a world-wide Polio eradication campaign.