Entertainment Books Missing ministers, molestation and racial slurs on the campaign trail

Missing ministers, molestation and racial slurs on the campaign trail

Bill Shorten says a 'tweet meltdown' by Malcolm Turnbull shows he is feeling the pressure. Photo: Getty
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Three months ago, Australia’s second-longest election campaign in history – and arguably our dullest – came to an unexpectedly spectacular end.

As Malcolm Turnbull’s most exciting time to be alive slumped into an unbecoming tantrum after midnight in the half-empty ballroom of the Sofitel Wentworth, it would take a week for the final results to become clear.

From a stomping win over a Labor party in disarray in 2013, the LNP had done the unthinkable and knifed its own first-term PM Tony Abbott.

A a result, they clung to power with a tenuous one-seat majority in the House of Representatives and an even more erratic Senate.

Two brilliant behind-the-scenes books elicit gasps and guffaws in equal measure as they reveal the campaign muck slinging.

BuzzFeed political editor Mark Di Stefano’s What a Time to Be Alive, subtitled That and Other Lies of the 2016 Campaign, hits its stride early, pre-campaign on Budget Night when a drunken senior Liberal woman, in a case of mistaken identity, gropes him and drops the C-bomb regarding Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Di Stefano isn’t afraid to hold politicians and their staffers to account.

“They can forget sometimes that the journalist’s job is to report the story, not the spin,” he says. “It’s always better to be respected than adored.”

Di Stefano’s attempt to confront Fierravanti-Wells about a horde of staffers quitting her office becomes a running gag. A warts-and-all affair, it’s a cracking good read.

While Lucy Turnbull was ever-smiling and great with the public, Di Stefano’s biggest surprise was just how little Turnbull appeared to be enjoying himself.

“Bill Shorten was having the time of this life with a nothing-to-lose attitude, but Turnbull was knocking off at 2 o’clock every day,” Di Stefano reveals.

“Seeing him up close and personal in those manufactured environments, his face belies his heart really wasn’t in it.”

Bill Shorten
Bill Shorten (pictured with wife Chloe) had the time of his life on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty

Given the embarrassing electoral result, Di Stefano isn’t surprised the likes of George Christensen, Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz are circling like vultures.

“Malcolm lost a lot of the juice he was covered in in December last year.”

Lee Zachariah's book Double Dissolution.
Lee Zachariah’s book Double Dissolution.

Reporting for Vice in true gonzo fashion during the election, Lee Zachariah has reframed his experiences chasing the media circus in his equal parts hysterical and tear-jerking Double Dissolution: Heartbreak and Chaos on the Campaign Trail.

He and the love of his life got married around the same time Abbott swept into power and separated as things wobbled for Turnbull three years later.

Among its many outrageously funny moments is a hunt for the missing Immigration minister Peter Dutton after he had been obviously sidelined for claiming that refugees would both languish in unemployment queues and steal our jobs.

His either proficiently fibbing or completely incompetent campaign office swore they had no clue as to his whereabouts.

Mark Di Stefano's campaign
Mark Di Stefano’s inside look at the election campaign.

There’s also a gloriously awkward moment at one stage-managed event where Treasurer Scott Morrison shakes Zachariah’s hand, mistaking him for a Qantas employee.

The most shocking moment, however, wasn’t with one of the politicians or their zealously protective staffers, Zachariah reveals. Nope, it involved a Liberal volunteer in Parramatta.

“She was a very, very nice old lady who had no compunction in telling me her fairly controversial views on eugenics, which races have higher IQs than others and which have lost IQ points by inter-breeding,” he reveals.

“It was interesting because in the middle of one of these rants, one of the Greens volunteers needed help with a placard and she rushed over to help. There was no obvious malice in her demeanour, just in her views on race.”

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