26 June 2015

Eunuchs and their Pharaoh

Michael Cooney was the speech-writer for Julia Gillard and he was launching his personal memoir about his time in her office, but the discussion was strangely light on Gillard herself. It seems a common aspect of our recent PM, perhaps as a reserved woman, perhaps as the subject of immense attacks from both sides. MC was interviewed by Katherine Murphy, the Guardian's Parliament House reporter and, although the numbers weren't large, there were ex- or perhaps current-political staffers in the room. Maybe that's why the talk veered onto life in a PM's office. But early, MC agreed that he was, at least in some way, seeking to elevate the memory of JG and the "pantheon of Labor heroes" was mentioned. He suggested JG bore comparisons to Chifley. Why's this needed? Because she suffered so much attack from Rudd and Abbott, because she had won the 2010 election (which seems to have been forgotten) and because she was actually PM for longer than Whitlam. I was surprised at that last revelation. But it's clear she was more successful than her enemies allowed her to be. Time will tell [when the destruction of carbon pricing will be seen as the dumb and dangerous action that it clearly was and hopefully current proto-police-state legislation - metadata, citizenship and the rest - is removed]. As a role, the PM is different, is treated differently and changes people. MC recounted the story of Mr Rabbit: in the endlessly disrepectful way that JG was treated, she was questioned on her pronunciation of Mr Abbott as if she'd said Mr Rabbit. What??? This to a PM? This in the context of her miserable and even pornographic treatment as a woman? It's demeaning and should turn every woman voter, but it didn't seem to. The life of a political staffer is a "strange existence" too, being both influential, demanding and responsible but self-effacing and without influence or authority. Why did MC do it? He joked because of an "unsuccessful preselection". He recounted a Bondi party of ministerial office staff. He inevitably spoke of the very recent ABC doco, "The Killing Season", saying it was well structured, revealing of personalities, complex but well balanced, although totally on personalities and ignoring the policy. He spoke of the tensions in political offices as between short- and long-term rather than ideologies and the rest. And of JG's shyness but ambition and her great bravery in the context of misogyny and leaks and slogans. Also that her friends were outside politics and that she lacked a "Press Gallery champion". He warned of the heavy demands from the media for the PM's time and compared offices and PR functions in UK and US. There was a short discussion on that early election announcement in 2013. [I always thought that was brave and generous, but noone was giving JG any leeway: she was never going to gain anything from announcing the election date so early and in the end she lost markedly]. There was talk of other revealing political TV, especially Veep (about a fictional US female vice president) and The thick of it (BBC UK). There were some interesting quotes, although here they are out of context: "They bury the eunuchs with the Pharaoh" (political staffers as eunuchs) and "Flight recorder before the crash" (Don Watson, although I missed the context). Also some chat about social media and how it's changing things, making every individual into a minor broadcast celebrity. Finally some thoughts on Rudd's office and Killing Fields as an irresistible opportunity for pollies to work on their legacy. So, Gillard was strangely absent here and perhaps the individual broadcast celebrities of her political office took some limelight. But I haven't worked there, despite being fairly close living here in Canberra and hearing the occasional goss, so it was interesting nonetheless.

Michael Cooney (author) was interviewed by Katherine Murphy (Press Gallery journalist) at the Canberra launch of his new book, The Gillard Project : My thousand days of despair and hope, at Paperchain Bookshop in Manuka.

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