Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Stalking of Julia Gillard, by Kerry-Anne Walsh

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

The Stalking of Julia Gillard takes the reader behind the scenes to view the bloodier and more savage side of politics. Kerry-Anne Walsh argues that Julia Gillard was never given a fair run as PM. Ironically, her major enemies came from within the Labor Party itself. For those wanting to know the secret history of the minority government, with all of its Machiavellian plotting, Walsh’s book is indispensable.

Kerry-Anne Walsh worked in the federal parliamentary press gallery for some twenty-five years, leaving in 2009 to open her own consultancy firm. Despite the fact that this book covers parliamentary events from June 2011 to June 2013, when Walsh was no longer in the press gallery, it reads very much like an insider’s account. Walsh uses her contacts, skills and understanding of the bloodier aspects of the political game to make this a very bracing read. Fasten your seat belts, it’s quite a bumpy ride.

As the introduction states, The Stalking of Julia Gillard is basically a diary Walsh kept of the minority parliament to record how well it functioned. It starts off in June 2011 with the anniversary of Gillard’s first year as prime minister, so it only really covers about two thirds of Gillard’s minority government in power. That’s probably a good thing: another 100 pages would make you want to slit your wrists. I say this due to the depressing subject matter.

Despite Walsh’s intention to merely chronicle the ups and downs of minority government, her diary right from the get-go has a pretty coherent theme: the deposed, disgruntled former leader running every clandestine trick in the book against the woman who replaced him.  It soon became evident, to anyone who could read events closely enough, that Kevin Rudd was backgrounding favourite journalists. He advised a select group of four that he had a plan to get himself returned to the prime ministership. Hence Gillard’s government was constantly dogged by Rudd’s small platoon of wreckers and the press gallery journalists who were colluding with them. Questions by journalists were rarely if ever about important policy questions but rather consisted of a constant barrage of leadership speculation. Walsh’s argument is that the Gillard government never got a fair go.

The Media on Trial

The central theme of The Stalking of Julia Gillard is press gallery responsibility to report and not try to become a player in political events. According to Walsh, this is what happened. Journalists worked with a disgruntled former PM to help him wreak his revenge on the woman who had challenged and won his job. The book also works as a deeply unflattering portrait of Rudd himself. The most charitable assessment of Rudd is that he was mentally unstable, but the general opinion of this book is that he was a narcissistic wrecker. The amount of eye witnesses and former staffers who attest to Rudd’s horrible character is astonishing.

This is one very angry book. It is written as a long, furious rant. Walsh dishes out lots of heavy duty criticism and is utterly fearless is taking down some of the biggest names in journalism. She really doesn’t care who she offends. The world she describes is that of the political sausage factory. You really see how political deals are stitched up and it’s not a pretty picture. If the book has a literary cousin, it’s probably Mark Latham’s The Latham Diaries. The Stalking of Julia Gillard is a bloody and savage book, written to keep the public informed about how their political and media systems work, often at the expense of the public interest.

Strangely enough, the only thing that seems missing from the book is Julia Gillard herself. Walsh doesn’t spend much time discussing Gillard. There are a few tempered criticisms of her, but Gillard basically walks the pages of this book a shadowy figure, ducking and weaving the daggers drawn at her. Gillard comes under no real scrutiny, which is perhaps a criticism that can be leveled at the book. The main show is Kevin Rudd and his behind the scenes machinations.

This is riveting yet unpleasant reading. It’s an eye opener but at the same time you wish it wasn’t so. It’s embarrassing and ugly. It also shows how much the 24 hour news cycle has created the need to provide stories that shock and outrage us every five minutes. Many may find much to disagree with in Walsh’s contentious book, but it can’t be doubted that The Stalking of Julia Gillard is essential reading.   

The Stalking of Julia Gillard, by Kerry-Anne Walsh. Published by Allen and Unwin. ISBN: 9781742379227  RRP: 29.99