The Killing Season – Uncut by Sarah Ferguson and Patricia Drum

Gillard versus Rudd versus Gillard.  I wonder what the major parties have learned from this.  That it’s okay to replace first term prime ministers?  That a change of leader is all that is needed when opinion polls head south?  Worth reading before our next federal election, the double dissolution election promised (but not yet officially called) for 2 July 2016.

The Killing Season Uncut by Sarah Ferguson and Patricia Drum

‘The last week of Parliament: in politics they call it the killing season.’

I didn’t watch much of the ABC’s ‘The Killing Season’ on television.  While I have great respect for Sarah Ferguson’s skill as a journalist, I have far less little faith in what either Mr Rudd or Ms Gillard would present as their respective version of the truth of the events that destroyed their governments.  But when I became aware that a book was being published, a book with the uncut version of the series, then I knew I needed to read it.  Especially as Australia is about to face another federal election, and there’s a possibility that Labor might be re-elected to power.

But back to Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd.  As Sarah Ferguson writes:

‘I learnt listening to them you couldn’t determine who was telling the truth.  You could only put them side by side and let the audience decide.’

My own impression (from both events at the time and from reading this book) is that both Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd have developed an individual ‘truth’ that supports the narrative they choose to share.  And neither, in my view, can occupy the moral high ground.

There can be little doubt that Mr Rudd’s leadership style was frequently inefficient and often ineffective.  So many things had to go through the Prime Minister’s Office, and few decisions seemed to be made in a timely manner.  And the administration of some decisions (I’m thinking particularly of the Home Insulation Scheme, and aspects of the Building the Education Revolution (BER)) were appalling.  A government, elected with such high expectations, seemed to lose its way and lose its effectiveness very early.   But replacing Mr Rudd with Ms Gillard made a bad situation worse.  The way in which Ms Gillard replaced Mr Rudd (regardless of any ex post facto justification) was never going to give her government legitimacy.  And, worse than that, it seems obvious that Ms Gillard and her supporters had no plan beyond replacing Mr Rudd.  As if, by magic, replacing one leader with another would somehow fix everything.

‘Gillard and Rudd together were a very powerful combination.  She was everything to the Labor Party that he wasn’t, and he was everything to the public that she wasn’t.  Together they worked perfectly.’

More than a hundred people were interviewed for ‘The Killing Season’.  Their accounts of events provide a damning account of the Rudd-Gillard era.  But not everyone who was involved agreed to be interviewed.  I’d be particularly interested in reading Bill Shorten’s account of events, given that he appeared to play such a pivotal role, and is likely to be Prime Minister if Labor is elected to govern later this year.

I wonder what the Labor Party has learned from these events.  They managed to destroy their own government, to present personal rivalries as more important than the effective governance of Australia, and to hand government to Tony Abbott.   Quite an accomplishment.   If you are interested in Australian politics, the Rudd-Gillard era and its legacy, it’s worth reading this book.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith