The Weekend Australian, June 21-22, was extraordinary: one long tirade against the Rudd Government and its senior staff.

  • Page 1: “Anger builds around Rudd as chaos reigns at the top” by John Lyons
  • Page 18 Main editorial: “Office of PM is more than a one-man band – Kevin Rudd must change his style and his staff”
  • Page 19 Front page of Inquirer: “Inner Circle – John Lyons reveals the workings of Kevin Rudd’s office and asks: is the PM becoming Captain Chaos?”
  • Page 26: “Politics of style over substance – We have entered the era of the perpetual political campaign, writes George Megalogenis”
  • Page 27: “Hostile approach to the media – Aggression and bullying tactics have become the hallmarks of Kevin Rudd’s office, and women have particular cause for complaint, reports John Lyons.”

Plus Bill Leak’s cartoon depicting Rudd’s senior office staff as babies in napkins.

To give some context to this monster spray, it is necessary to wind back the clock. On May 8, as Rudd appeared outside the new Fairfax Media headquarters in Ultimo to conduct the official opening, Oz reporter John Lyons appeared from nowhere to ask the PM some questions.

Rudd’s security detail moved forward and bundled Lyons out of the way. The security personnel were edgy for explicable reasons.

A short time before, a man had entered the nearby Star City Casino and shot a 30-year-old woman in the stomach before running into the surrounding area wearing a disguise and carrying weapons. The whole area was in police lockdown as they hunted the streets for him and any accomplices.

Lyons found himself on national television and he complained about being “manhandled” while performing his duties.

What was he doing there? Let us wind back the clock a bit further. In 1998, Lyons was editor of the Fairfax flagship, The Sydney Morning Herald. He was sacked after he was photographed drinking with the then chairman and CEO of News Ltd, Lachlan Murdoch, and Col Allan, editor of the Herald’s rival paper, The Daily Telegraph.

What genius at The Oz decided it would be a wheeze to send Lyons to Fairfax Media’s big day to blindside Rudd with some impromptu questions and act as party-pooper? Doesn’t sound like something that would have been approved by John Hartigan, the current chairman and CEO, who is noted for good judgment as well as commonsense.

In between leaving Fairfax and joining News, Lyons worked for the late Kerry Packer at The Bulletin and then the Sunday program. He last caused media waves with his Bulletin front-page hatchet job on Paul Keating in 2005, which drew this protest from PJK loyalist Mark Ryan, now with Westfields:

Casual readers of John Lyons’ article on Paul Keating might not recognise it, but those of us familiar with his malicious style of journalism can truly say it was Lyons at his worst. His article failed every test of relevance, public interest and fairness.

Now Lyons has turned his guns on Rudd saying, among other things, his team is too youthful. For the record, when Gough Whitlam became PM in 1972 his chief of staff was 33-year-old Peter Wilenski (now deceased), 34-year-old Eric Walsh (Canberra lobbyist) was his press secretary, 26-year-old Jim Spigelman (now NSW Chief Justice) was his senior adviser and 23-year-old Michael Delaney (now executive director of the Motor Trades Association of Australia) was also on the policy team.

The trouble with Rudd’s team is not its age nor its brutalism (how would the shrinking violets of the Canberra Press Gallery have survived in London when Sir Bernard Ingham handled Margaret Thatcher’s PR or when Alistair Campbell rode shotgun for Tony Blair, or covered the White House during the Bill Clinton and George Bush years?).

Keating told Lateline on June 7 last year what was wrong with Rudd’s team:

They’ll do him no good. Because in the end those kind of conservative tea-leaf-reading focus group driven polling types who I think led Kim (Beazley) into nothingness, he’s got his life to repent in leisure now at what they did to him. They’re back, they’re back.

The Labor Party is not going to profit from having these proven unsuccessful people around who are frightened of their own shadow and won’t get out of bed in the morning unless they’ve had a focus group report to tell them which side of bed to get out.

These are, in my opinion, no value people. Wouldn’t fight, don’t know how to fight, much less fighting the Liberal Party.

As so often is the case, Keating was on the money.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.