The corridors of power in Canberra have always been fraught, but the last few years have been Game of Thrones-vicious, with fiercely fought battles, treachery and bloodletting on both sides of the political divide.
Now that the dust has settled somewhat and the Liberal party holds power in the lower house, if not the balance in the senate, a slew of political memoirs on both sides of the great divide and a fair few in between have been released.
October 1 sees the most anticipated political biography release in many years when Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard, tells her side of the story, and you can expect Kevin Rudd to feature heavily.
Gillard’s book is under strict embargo, but when she spills the beans on the most tumultuous period of modern Australian politics, she will join the rank and file. Whether it’s current Treasurer Joe Jockey, former Independent Tony Windsor or Labor heavyweight Greg Combet, everybody needs to talk about Kevin.
Here’s what they had to say.
Memoir: Hockey: Not Your Average Joe
Author: Madonna King
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Insight: Madonna King’s incendiary and deliberately ill-timed profile into Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Treasurer Joe Hockey starts with a bang as the North Sydney MP hauls himself bleeding into a press conference immediately following surgery to remove 80 per cent of his stomach while his boss’ chief of staff, Peta Credlin, looks on sternly.
Though King refers to Hockey’s artfully hidden soft side, she also lays bare his willingness to lie and cheat to get where he wants to be, from disappearing ballot boxes in student politics to faking bidders on the GIO privatisation in the NSW Parliament. The litter of broken promises contained in the current Federal Budget are exacerbated by the revelation here that it was significantly watered down by Abbott.
On Rudd: “Rudd had a propensity to hog the limelight, taking the attention away from industrial relations and heaping it on himself,” King wrote in the book.
Memoir: The Good Fight
Author: Wayne Swan
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Insight: Hot on the heels of King’s Hockey expose, last week saw the release of the former Treasurer Wayne Swan who served under former PM Rudd and then his successor Gillard until she was toppled in favour of Rudd’s farcical return. To say that Swan was not best pleased would be an understatement.
The Good Fight spills the beans on Rudd’s “vengeful,” “extraordinarily vindictive and juvenile,” and “unstable personality,” including one incident where the then PM furiously ripped apart a pen, which might not sound like much but inadvertently caused thousands of dollars worth of damage to the hotel room’s décor.
Swan repeatedly accuses Rudd of treachery during the 2010 election campaign, not only against Gillard, which might be viewed by some as a bit rich, but against the Labor party as a whole and, indeed the political movement, insisting that, at times, he was not sure if Rudd was, “one of us.”
Despite his despair at Rudd’s increasingly bizarre behaviour, Swan maintains there was “bugger all,” chance he would have challenged, and had strong reservations about the consequences of Gillard doing so.
On Rudd: “From 2010 to 2013, he resembled a grand chess master using people as his pieces, playing with the fate of the great Labor Party and the labour movement, sitting above it all orchestrating strategies that put the personal before the policies.”
Memoir: The Political Bubble: Why Australians Don’t Trust Politics
Author: Mark Latham
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Insight: The ghosts of old leaders haunt the halls of power too, with deposed Labor leader and prolific writer Mark Latham never shy of an opinion. He adds another tome to an already towering from his sharp though often-erratic mind in The Political Bubble, subtitled Why Australians Don’t Trust Politics.
Latham merrily swipes at Labor’s vicious infighting and the “organisational cancer of union-based factionalism,” as well as Abbot’s botched attempts at managing the media and his flagrant jobs for the boys approach. Always prone to foot-in-mouth disease, Latham has copped some flack for his tactless views on feminism and gender politics in these pages.
On Rudd: “On issues as diverse as petrol pricing, grocery costs, health reform and climate change, Kevin Rudd set benchmarks that were never likely to be achieved, ultimately destroying trust in his prime ministership…”
Memoir: The Fights of My Life
Author: Greg Combet, with Mark Davis
Publisher: Melbourne University Publishing
Insight: Labor stalwart Greg Combet’s The Fights of My Life also spills the beans on Rudd’s return to power. Combet declined Gillard’s offer to stand aside for him to thwart the irrational Queenslander. Unsurprisingly, as Combet bowed out after 30 years in politics from opposition, to power and soon to be back again, he reveals he was “dog tired,” of the game.
On Rudd: “I believe the electorally poisonous leaks will cast a shadow over Rudd’s contribution to Labor forever, diminishing his undeniable achievements.”
Memoir: Tony Windsor: The Biography
Author: Dr Ruth Rae
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Insight: The hung parliament paved the way for a ragtag bunch of independents to hold the balance of power. Tony Windsor: The Biography, written by Tamworth historian Dr Ruth Rae is a cracking account of his 20 years in politics, from the notoriously vicious “Bear Pit,” of the NSW Parliament right up to federal kingmaker in Gillard’s minority government.
He shines throughout as a man of integrity loyal to a tee to Australia’s first female Prime Minister, far more so than many within her own ranks. A similarly honourable Oakeshott’s The Independent Member for Lyne is also well worth reading.
On Rudd: “Kevin Rudd appealed to the voters but it was becoming apparent that he was a better campaigner than he was a manager,” Dr Rae says in the biography.
Author: Bob Brown
Publisher: Hardie Grant
Insight: While it would seem that most of those hungering for power in the backrooms of Canberra will do so at any cost, regardless of the collateral damage, there are at least a few honorable souls in there. One of the most admired in some corners, loathed and feared in others, was former Greens leader Bob Brown.
His memoir Optimism, subtitled Reflections on a life of action, takes a big picture look at his fascinating life from imprisoned environmental protestor to commanding the balance of power in the Senate. While they didn’t always see eye-to-eye, particularly on marriage equality, the vicious 2010 election saw Brown gain considerable respect for Gillard.
On Gillard: “A tough future was in the offing, but Gillard had the mettle… I was impressed by Gillard’s stately grit..”
On Rudd: “Gillard told me she had to withdraw from her commitment [to meet the Dalai Lama] to avoid a stoush with her foreign minister. I told her what I thought of this reversal, but, care of Rudd, kowtowing to Beijing was the order of the day yet again.”
Memoir: Diary of a Foreign Minister
Author: Bob Carr
Publisher: New South Books
Insight: Bob Carr may be a terribly vain aesthete, but his obsessive exercise and diet regime makes for a ridiculously entertaining read. As does his musings on the fact he replaced the vanquished Rudd as Gillard’s replacement foreign minister, gallivanting around the world and allowing readers a fascinating insight into how global politics works.
Fond of a snide aside, quite a few of his former colleagues face criticism, whether it’s the badgering Rudd or Gillard’s “selfish,” refusal to leave when her number was clearly up.
On Rudd: “I was determined to avoid any hint of the hectoring or lecturing Australian-style in which Kevin – along with his better qualities – may have been a specialist.”