Monday, 12 September 2016

Review: Kerry-Anne Walsh, The Stalking of Julia Gillard (Allen & Unwin: Sydney, 2013)

This book really needed to be retitled “the second chapter in your ongoing national nightmare”.

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Walsh’s book chronicles the difficulties created for Prime Minister Julia Gillard by the destabilising conduct of leadership rival Kevin Rudd and by the media’s reporting of that leadership rivalry.  Covering these two themes gives the book its great weakness: Walsh is simultaneously outraged by Rudd’s determination to white-ant PM Gillard and by the media’s persistent coverage of that undermining, both of which created an impression (reality?) of chaos and instability in the government of Australia’s first female Prime Minister.  The book is current to 18 June 2013, and therefore ends six days before Rudd toppled Gillard in a leadership challenge.

The book’s other great weakness is that it reads like a personal diary or low-readership blog which was hastily expanded into a book before the Gillard/Rudd Labor government(s) receded into memory.  White’s own voice is persistently present throughout: carping, sniping and whining.  Other journalists are “Rudd’s main man at Fairfax” (p.66) or “briefed by the usual propagandists” (p.211).  There are almost no revelations that wouldn’t have been known to anyone reading an occasional newspaper in the 2010-2013 period.  This is what sets the book apart from Triumph & Demise, Paul Kelly’s wonderfully gossipy account of the same period.

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What makes Walsh’s book depressing is that, as I said at the start, the Gillard government was only part of an ongoing national nightmare.  Between 2007 and 2010 the government under Kevin Rudd was led by a man who was unstable and chronically unable to make decisions.  Between 2010 and 2013 the Gillard government was led by a woman who could exert little or no control over her own party.  The chaotic Rudd returned to the leadership for six months in 2013 before losing an election to Tony Abbott, whose prime ministership (2013-2015) consisted heavily of increasingly bizarre “captain’s calls”.  In 2015 Mr Abbott was ousted as leader by Malcolm Turnbull, who in the 2016 Federal election managed to convert a more-or-less workable Parliament into one which may well be utterly unmanageable.  If Walsh’s book has any merit, it’s to set out part of the reason Australians have lost faith in their government.

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