Angry ghost of Gillard past

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The Stalking of Julia Gillard, Kerry-Anne Walsh. Allen & Unwin, 2013. Website

Julia Gillard looks stern and resolved on the cover of Kerry-Anne Walsh's book 'The Stalking of Julia Gillard'Barry:

If the plural noun for owls is parliament, and crows go about in a murder, then the ideal collective description for rats may well be 'press gallery'. Or 'cabinet'. Kerry-Anne Walsh may be happy with either or both uses.

As a former press secretary for Bob Hawke, veteran journalist and member of Canberra's 'commentariat', Walsh has waded through rivers of shite. But as she makes perfectly clear in The Stalking of Julia Gillard, she feels we've have been compelled of late to tread water between the sycophantic shallows of vested-interested reporters and the murky depths of political manipulation.

A sharp operator who knows her way around paragraphs and parliament, Walsh writes with gruff disbelief. Her subtitle, 'How the media and Team Rudd contrived to bring down the Prime Minister', suggests a certain fellow feeling for former PM Gillard; yet from her earliest pages, Walsh makes it clear she isn't engaging in a 'defence of Gillard' nor 'a definitive account of her government' — 'I didn't talk to her for the book, and I don't gloss over her mistakes.' (Methinks, Jen, that Walsh doth protest too much.)

Walsh does, however, in 300-odd pages, deliver a nuanced, authoritative acknowledgement of Gillard's policies and achievements despite a chickenbone-flimsy majority and the catch-22 'Chinese whispers' of both Gillard's colleagues and her inquisitors. Having worked both sides of the street, Walsh acknowledges 'what a bastard of a business politics and journalism can be'. Therein lies the tome's value for me. Frank, incisive analyses, ruthless observations and skills delivering a spanking for pollies and pundits alike.

Perhaps Walsh's most admirable achievement, Jen, is her depiction of gutter politics, sexism, cowardice and plausible deniability. But she's doing more than flogging books.

An 'expanded personal diary', The Stalking makes no pretence towards objectivity. Walsh's dismissive contempt for both Rudd and Tony Abbott (among many others) is to be relished or relinquished, depending on the reader's bent.

Walsh is a True Believer. Her final, over-written lament resonates with her emotional truths; Rudd's return as PM means the government has 'collectively surrendered its principles and its fate to one of the great wreckers in modern Labor', and 'all Labor supporters across the country have been able to do for three years is sit and watch in horror as a once-great party has been devoured alive from the inside'.

Jen, a sticking point for me, amidst the righteous anger and peekaboo insider insights, is Walsh's lack of a historical perspective. Representatives have been behaving like, well, 'members', since day one. As she concedes, politics is a blood sport. Gillard (to whatever extent of involvement) helped slay Rudd yet rendered no coup de grâce. Misrepresentation of individuals and a lack of loyalty is hardly new, nor is it really news. Ditto hypocrisy, and pollies' self-serving pursuit of power.

Walsh's book is both well-placed and well-paced; informative and often entertaining. For me, however, beyond its basic instinct for transparency and (hah!) impartiality, it is indistinguishable from other angry memoirs.

Jen:

An angry memoir? You bet your sweet bippy it is, Barry. Kerry-Anne Walsh — otherwise known as 'KA' or perhaps 'Kapow' after this book — sure doesn't pull any punches. The Stalking of Julia Gillard could have easily been re-titled The Character Assassination of One K. Rudd. Or, considering recent events, The Ghost of Gillard Past ...

What we have here is a memoir of a woman wronged. And by that I don't mean our former PM. Well, not exclusively, anyway. KA may deny either a relationship with Gillard or an outright allegiance, but they're connected where it counts: at the heart of injustice. Both have been let down by a party that has seen much, much better days. But for Gillard, the loss was profound and terribly public.

As KA forensically chronicles, this story begins on 24 June 2010 when Gillard was sworn in as prime minister. The same day that, according to the author, a bruised Rudd began plotting his revenge.

Of course, the uncouth manner in which Gillard became PM has been seared onto our collective memory. Who can forget the tearful speech by our ousted PM? Our hearts went out to him and his family. The woman — and make no mistake, Gillard's gender was used mercilessly against her — who knifed him had blood on her hands.

The truth was far more benign. As KA writes, 'impeccable sources' confirmed 'that Gillard was deeply reluctant to take the job. Even former Hawke government minister Graham Richardson — no friend of Gillard's ... has debunked conspiracy theories that Gillard was either the architect or complicit in a planned attack'.

No matter: the media subsequently declared it open season on the rarest of breeds — female PMs. Gillard was attacked for her 'hair, clothes, accent, her arse, even the way she walks and talks'.

Even by past standards, Barry, you must agree that Gillard was mercilessly lambasted; yes by right-wing 'commentators' but also by the inner sanctum of her own party. And yet, despite having the lowest public approval rating ever, she fronted the cameras with each strand of flaming hair miraculously in place (thanks, in no small part, to the support of her equally beleaguered partner Tim Matheson).

No, you certainly can't accuse KA of objectivity. Actually, I get the distinct impression that she approached this project with gay abandon. After more than three decades in the trade, she'd had enough. If it was her role to air our most shameful period in politics, then so be it. KA knew it would cause a stink and, yet, stood her ground; not unlike her subject. And that's why, Barry, this book gets my vote. 

 


Jen Vuk and Barry GittinsJen Vuk is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Herald Sun, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and The Good Weekend. Barry Gittins is a communication and research consultant for the Salvation Army who has written for Inside History, Crosslight, The Transit Lounge, Changing Attitude Australia and The Rubicon.

Topic tags: Barry Gittins, Jen Vuk, Book Chat, Julia Gillard, Kerry-Anne Walsh, Kevin Rudd

 

 

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Existing comments

Trouble is that the diplomatic cables show clearly that Gillard was the one undermining Rudd from early 2009 along with Danby, Arbib and Shorten as they acted as spies against the government for the US and Israel.
Marilyn | 25 July 2013


On the road again. What a pity the book give-away is not an interpretive Q rather than just remembering a date - a low order task. Most people know that it was just on three years before the Rudd reappearance and victory. Isn't the question that should be asked for the book - whether the dejas vous Prime Minister has really changed his spots as a Prime Minister and communicator within his party and as a consultative manager of change? If we are to become a clever country we should always ask the telling Qs on the bigger issues. Myself I think it will be line ball and the fact that some of the real background Qs are now being asked about the realpolitik of PNG suggests that even if you like the campaigning style of the folksy quick on his feet campaigner, the spots are beginning to show on the emporers clothes. Oh yes please, a copy of the book would be an acceptable response.
tony london | 26 July 2013


I've read the book and can see where both of your reviewers are coming from, but speaking of 'not being objective', who came up with that incredibly misleading title? It's Walsh who's (rightly) angry, not Gillard. Gillard was grace and generosity personified from the moment she stepped up to deliver her concession speech to the moment she made her astonishing speech at the Lodge party later that night to try to rally the troops behind Rudd. And we haven't heard directly from her, that I know of, since, though I'm sure she is hounded by journalists still. But your headline suggests that she is both resentful and still around (just like Rudd three years ago, really) when in fact she is neither. For people who read only headlines, and there are many, it's extremely misleading.
Kerryn Goldsworthy | 26 July 2013


Having scanned through Wash's book recently I believe that she is rather one sided in her pro Gillard anti Rudd sentiments. Rudd himself is a person of extraordinary intellect as is well born out in his discussions with notabilities such as Brennan and Adams, and surely his unaligned faction, which is quite large had equal right to return to power within the party. Even though neither oustings were sanctioned by Australian voters and is a scandal, the return of the Rudd faction signifies some poetic justice to the situation I think.
John Whitehead | 26 July 2013


I don't know what the fuss is all about. The atheist J Gillard should never have been PM This woman knifed the legitimate PM Hon Kevin Rudd in the back.
emile | 26 July 2013


To Emile, I do hope you're joking... and to Kerryn, I agree. JG has been nothing if not gracious in the wake of this very public defeat. And more than that, as you so accurately point out, conspicuously silent on the issue. That was what, at least partly, I hoped to get across in my review...
Jen V | 26 July 2013


Simple fact 1, she couldn't lead 2. Arrogant not OZ 3. Tough Women are always rejected as try hards I'm Labor but would NOT have voted for her anyway
Francis | 27 July 2013


At least Julia didn't burst into tears of self pity
Cath Wallace | 27 July 2013


Why don't you ask the three women who miscarried after being terrorised and trafficked to Manus Island by Gillard. And the tens of thousands of single parents. Gillard is not dignified.
Marilyn | 27 July 2013


"Angry ghost of Gillard past" ? I agree with KG above that this headline title is off the mark. The seeming allusion to The Ghost of Christmas Past, elludes me. Certainly, Dickens' "..no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein [it] melted away.", does not match with my reading of the Gittins and Vuk commentary. I would say it was pretty well crystal clear that Julia Gillard was 'white-anted' from day one by Rudd-redux with his cardinals, as well as a boy's-own hostile Media, and the Opposition's relentless negativity. Hey, that's it - "Dragged down by relentless negativity", that could have been yours, Subbie. (Apologies for mine own.)
Shoot the Subbie | 06 October 2013


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