All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Road To Ruin by Niki Savva

on August 10, 2017

The Road To Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government
Niki Savva
Scribe Publishing
2016, 326p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Kevin Rudd was given no warning, but even he lasted longer than Abbott. Julia Gillard had plenty of warnings, but even she lasted longer than Abbott.

Abbott ignored all the warnings, from beginning to end — the public ones, the private ones, from his friends, his colleagues, the media.

His colleagues were not being disloyal. They did not feel they had betrayed him; they believed he had betrayed them. Their motives were honourable. They didn’t want him to fail; they wanted the government to succeed, and they wanted the Coalition re-elected.

Abbott and Credlin had played it harder and rougher than anybody else to get where they wanted to be. But they proved incapable of managing their own office, much less the government. Then, when it was over, when it was crystal-clear to everyone that they had failed, when everyone else could see why they had failed, she played the gender card while he played the victim.

In The Road to Ruin, prominent political commentator, author, and columnist for The Australian Niki Savva reveals the ruinous behaviour of former prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Based on her unrivalled access to their colleagues, and devastating first-person accounts of what went on behind the scenes, Savva paints an unforgettable picture of a unique duo who wielded power ruthlessly but not well.

This is not usually my sort of book. For a start, I don’t read a huge amount of non-fiction of any description and I generally don’t pick subjects I don’t like. I’m not a Tony Abbott fan by any description, nor am I an (Australian) liberal voter (for the Americans, it’s basically our equivalent of Republicans). But I had to admit, after all the turmoil in Australian politics from 2007 onward, I was curious. Abbott was a ruthless Opposition leader during a tumultuous Labor period and he finally wrested victory in a 2013 election after Labor had become a joke of in fighting and trading the leadership (and therefore, the Prime Ministership) back and forth like a couple of kids arguing over a toy. It was widely believed that a change would bring stability and consistency back.

All of the LOLs because after Abbott sat back and watched as Labor imploded as he waged a vicious campaign, it turned out that the top job wasn’t as easy as the whole pointing out what the top person was doing wrong. Abbott was, quite frankly, probably even more of a disaster than Rudd and Gillard put together. Disclaimer: I like Julia Gillard. She was actually my local member and although there was a savage backlash against her after the leadership spill, I do wonder what might’ve happened if she’d just been left alone to get on with it. Instead she was constantly undermined by Rudd, savaged by Abbott and the Press about personal things as well as professional and little attention was paid to the things she was doing/wanted to do. Instead all the focus was on when she would lose the leadership, if there was going to be a challenge, how come she wasn’t married, why was her partner a hairdresser (that’s weird, isn’t it? No, not really homophobic press), why didn’t she have any children (that’s also weird, hey? Also, not really) and she’s got a big ass and wears horrible clothes.

A brutally efficient Opposition Leader, Abbott proved woefully inadequate as a Prime Minister, dithering around doing little and delegating to his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin. This book examines just how dysfunctional the two of them were as a pair and how it brought down their government and led to the situation where a spill for the top 2 jobs (PM and Deputy PM) was enacted and Abbott was shown the door. For all his talk, Abbott lasted less time in the top job than either Rudd or Gillard and arguably had a much kinder time due to the influence of a press sympathetic to the right wing (thanks Rupert Murdoch, Alan Jones et al). Despite numerous warnings from well, just about everyone, Abbott steadfastly refused to sack his Chief of Staff, an apparently domineering woman prone to temper tantrums, screaming abuse, sulks and methods that isolated Abbott from almost everyone, including key members of his party and backbenchers who had concerns. She ran an office where everything had to be routed through her and often concerned herself with things like picking flowers or meals for banquets, meaning that important paperwork piled up on her desk and nothing got done. If someone offended Credlin or she didn’t like them, then that person wouldn’t get an audience with the PM. Quite often Abbott made people apologise to Credlin after she had screamed at them or after she had gotten angry about something.

I’m not really interested in whether or not they were having an affair (ugh) because their personal life isn’t my business. But never before had a Prime Minister and his CoS had a relationship like those two did. She fed him from her plate, fixed his hair and make up, accompanied him on holidays and basically guarded his office like an over zealous guard dog. She tried to do everything but the jobs she was doing are not meant for one person, they’re meant for many, which meant that a lot of things began to slide. It created a toxic working environment and atmosphere and Abbott was told many times, if you do not sack her, you will end up losing. He either could not or would not believe it…..right up until Malcolm Turnbull trounced him in a vote for leadership of the Liberal party and therefore, the Prime Ministership. He seemed to operate under some sort of delusional bubble that everything would be fine – he was the meme of that person you see going “This is fine, this is fine, totally fine” as the entire world goes up in flames around them. He is basically Ross from Friends in the episode “The One Where Ross Is Fine”.

Niki Savva was once an advisor to Peter Costello (former Treasurer in John Howard’s lengthy Liberal government reign) and she seems firmly entrenched in the Liberal Party and its ideals so at times this book seems somewhat sympathetic, even as its critiquing Abbott’s mistakes. There’s also no opportunities lost to take a few snide shots at the previous Labor government and its leaders as well. However the book is still quite savage on Abbott and Credlin with plenty of named sources who were prepared to talk and offer up some examples and stories about what life was like under this regime in the office and I’ve read that zero of the claims made in the book have been publicly disputed since its publication. There’s no comment from either Abbott or Credlin themselves, although Savva does include instances when one or the other or both called for her dismissal from writing a column in a national newspaper and his requests to her to stop criticising his Chief of Staff whilst Abbott was still in power. It seemed throughout this novel that Abbott’s primary concern was always Credlin – who was criticising her, who was upsetting her, who was not respecting her. He deferred to her time and time again like a nervous child checking with his mother for approval before doing anything. Ultimately it seemed that he rated her above his desire to be Prime Minister because he failed to heed the warnings and his devotion to her cost him the thing he had worked so hard to obtain.

I enjoyed this. Even if it was just for the perverse pleasure of reading about the downfall of a politician I didn’t like and whose values I do not share.


Book #134 of 2017


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