Brown Study

Brown study

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

30 April 2016

9:00 AM

I suppose I must be the only person in Australia who has read, re-read and underlined Niki Savva’s The Road to Ruin in the hope that there is something in it other than porno politics. (There is, but more of that later). But my first conclusion from a close study of the text is that it is a complete fantasy to suggest that this is an account by a host of courageous staffers who were not afraid to be named and quoted, in the overwhelming public interest of getting rid of Tony Abbott. There are a few sources, it is true, who are named, but the overwhelming number of them are anonymous accusers whose testimony must for that reason be regarded as dubious, to say the least. And they have such interesting names: ‘a long term Coalition staffer’, ‘a former staffer’, ‘co-workers’, another ‘former staffer’, ‘a senior adviser’, even ‘an experienced adviser’ and so on. They march through the book like a cavalcade of disgruntled failures seeking revenge. Indeed, it is pretty clear that many of them are the same person, whoever it might be. That fact alone underlines the essential unfairness of the book, as not only did the author not give the victims of this scuttlebutt, Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin, a chance to respond to the allegations against them before publication, as the law and the journalists’ ethical rules both require, but she has now made it virtually impossible for them to reply to these unknown accusers. And every now and again there bursts through the pages like an exploding pustule, as a clue to at least one of the motivations for this book, the author’s claims about the pivotal role that she and her own newspaper articles played in the unfolding drama. Time after time we find that ‘my articles’ on this or that rocked the government and so powerful they were that mysterious forces tried to have her sacked. But reading the slabs she quotes from her articles, you wonder: why would they bother? At other times she gave ‘constructive advice’ that Abbott ignored, which seems the better option. And then, as a bonus, how unjustly treated was ‘my husband’, who is brought in as a cameo player and who suffered a ‘professional penalty’ because ‘angry white male conservative commentators’ claimed that the author had helped depose Abbott so the husband ‘could get a job with Turnbull’, which she did not, but the husband did! So the book suffers by being, in part, a score-settling hagi-biography, rather than the work of a dispassionate observer. Moreover, the black and white world that she paints where Abbott and his supporters were universally bad and incompetent, in contrast to the Turnbull forces who were universally good and skilful, cannot possibly be an accurate picture of a political world that we all know is mostly grey. But the really strange theme is the criticism of Abbott for being excessively supportive of Credlin. I say ‘strange’ because we live in times where women are supposed to be given more respect, encouraged to speak their minds and not be put back in their place for speaking out of turn. Abbot’s sin seems to be that he treated Credlin in exactly this supportive way and with probably excessive concern for her because she is a woman. Ms Savva’s case seems to be that the relationship should have been that of the old fashioned master and servant, that she should have been stopped from performing manly, executive roles and that Abbott should have sacked her for speaking her mind. Someone in this narrative definitely has a problem with women, but it is the author, not Abbott.

But, after you get through all of this unpersuasive case against Abbott and Credlin, there is, actually a lot in the book about the Turnbull coup that is new, at least to me, and as it has not been denied, it might even be true. I did not know, for instance, that there was a definable group of conspirators, modestly called the G8 plus one (the one being Turnbull), who had been plotting this whole thing since at least a month before the coup, at the same time, of course, as they had been speaking in public of their loyalty to Abbott. This is the conduct, by the way, that Ms Savva describes as ‘honourable’, a curious choice of words. Nor did I know that people of whom I thought better, particularly Peter Hendy, Mitch Fifield, and Scott Ryan were foundation members of the club. One could go through the details of the plotters’ preparations but you can read that at your leisure (coming soon to a remainder shop near you). But the themes that emerge very clearly are as follows. First, it is clear beyond doubt that Julie (‘I’m right behind you’) Bishop was well aware of the plot, being one of the actors, and could and should have told her leader of the threat to his position. Moreover, the excuse that she was elected by a ‘separate mandate’ from the party room and therefore in some way exempt from a special loyalty to Abbott is singularly unpersuasive. Then, in the whole series of secret meetings of the conspirators it seems that not once was a single issue of policy or principle ever raised. There was endless talk of numbers, how many votes Turnbull would have if he were caught with his ‘pants down’, who would text whom, ‘jokes and a bit of laughter’, plotting the next secret meeting, the last supper of savoury mince in Hendy’s ‘man cave’- and all designed to bring down their colleague with no notice. One cannot help but think that there were really two motives hard at work; how could the ring-leader come into his just inheritance of the prime ministership and how could the conspirators guarantee the reward for their disloyalty? It all succeeded, of course. But to what avail? You be the judge.

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