Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed their own Government, by Niki Savva

Staff review by Chris Saliba

Niki Savva’s The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed their own Government describes a train crash in slow motion. Exhaustively researched, full of fascinating detail, it reveals a kind of office politics gone berserk. The only problem was that this particular office was the PM’s.

Niki Savva knows the ins and outs of media and politics. She first worked as a journalist, then did a long stint working inside the Howard Government, first in Peter Costello's office, then John Howard's. She wrote about her experiences in her first book, So Greek: Confessions of a Conservative Leftie, an eye-opening guide to how government is really run. That book resuscitated her career in journalism and she began as a regular columnist for The Australian. Savva says she thought she would never write a second book, but when Tony Abbott put pressure on her to stop writing negatively of him and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, that got her back up.

The Road to Ruin is a relentlessly detailed, minute by minute account of all that went wrong in the Abbott Government. Savva has excellent connections within government circles and this unparalleled access comes through in the text. Nothing is left out, right down to what people ate for dinner, who drove who where, who uttered what expletives and so on. This is one of those political books that gives the reader a lot of texture and mood, a feel for what it must have been like sitting in tense meetings, taking awkward phone calls and confronting Abbott (as Julie Bishop did) with unwelcome news.

At the centre of The Road to Ruin is of course the Abbott-Credlin partnership. Abbott couldn't function without Credlin, that is, couldn't perform as prime minister without her. Credlin, for her part, was a gatekeeper who never let any government backbenchers into the PM's office. They couldn't get access. She treated people rudely, which only exacerbated problems. It's extraordinary how deeply loathed she was within government. Yet Abbott refused to see there was a problem. He wouldn't at least intervene and tell her that she needed to treat people better, to put protocols in place so backbenchers could get access. It seems like government 101, but Credlin would never answer emails from backbenchers requesting meetings with the PM.

As for her micromanaging everything, colleagues attest that she became obsessed with ridiculously small details: flower arrangements at functions, menus, making sure Abbott stuck to  wearing his blue tie. The one time the public saw her publicly berating a Liberal MP, pointing her finger at him and dropping the F-bomb, was over the subject of Tony Abbott's tie! As for the bigger picture, her inbox is described as “famous” for being clogged with unread reports and  papers. Serious policy development didn’t seem to interest her.

Many who saw the Abbott-Credlin relationship at close quarters described it as “weird”. They were obviously deeply co-dependent in some way. All that would have been fine if they were running a good government. The problem was they were living in a complete bubble, unable or unwilling to see reality. Ultimately, though, Abbott was prime minister. It was his responsibility to see clearly – he had enough senior Liberal party figures, including John Howard, trying to light the way. There were even plans to get Abbott's wife, Margie, to have a word with him. She was anxious at the prospect and wouldn't participate. It's amazing to think that the country's destiny at one stage hung its hopes on a tired wife telling her husband it was time to give it a rest. 

The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed their own Government, by Niki Savva. Published by Scribe. ISBN: 9781925321401 RRP: $29.99

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