Julia Gillard’s memoir My Story was released with much fanfare last week, and according to its publishers it is the fastest-selling political book of the year. At 461 pages and covering a wide range of Gillard’s time as prime minister and as Kevin Rudd’s deputy, the hardcover is no light read. While she spends much of the book talking about her motivations and policy achievements, it’s her observations of people and personalities that are the real gold here. Unfortunately she doesn’t talk about Bruce Wilson, the boyfriend she told Ray Martin was a “life error,” but there are quite a few other vignettes that reveal her opinions on her colleagues, and not just about Rudd. So we present some of the highlights of Julia’s burn book:

On Kevin Rudd and Laurie Oakes:

“Feeding this material to a journalist constituted a significant and malicious act. It was not only a deliberate tactic to seek to overshadow my speech on the eve of an election campaign, it was designed to raise doubts about my character, precisely when most Australians were making their minds about me.” (p 39)

On Rudd and China:

“I had work to do with China to rebuild that relationship after their adverse reactions to Kevin’s presumption of a special bond with them and his expletive-laden insults following the Copenhagen climate change summit. No one takes well to being accused of ratfucking.” (p 43)

On Garry Linnell, editor of The Daily Telegraph:

“Garry did not have the guts to tell me that in Friday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, the day before the election, he would run a banner headline ‘Yes He Can’, with huge and rapturous praise for Tony Abbott.” (p 57)

On Bob Katter:

“While I was always polite in these conversations, sometimes I had to be a little short with him in order to get him out of my office so I could start my afternoon’s work. Bob’s convoluted pattern of speaking devours time, but I was not lulled into underestimating him by his eccentricities. He is much smarter than he sometimes liked to let on.” (p 60)

On the Nationals:

“From my own experience with the West Australian Nationals in their state parliament, I knew them to be a different and more independent breed than the wimpy federal National Party…” (p 66)

On Andrew Wilkie:

“I found him an odd character but an intriguing one.” (p 73)

“While after the passage of some time I resumed dealing with Andrew because I had to, I remain to this day disgusted by his performance.”( p 74)

On Peter Slipper:

“My impression of Peter Slipper was that he was an unusual person, not especially nice. Once I saw him berate a woman, a Qantas employee, in a flight lounge because he had missed his plane. I have always thought you can best judge people by how they treat those in positions of less status and power than them.” (p 75)

On the Canberra press gallery:

“Despite repeatedly running these leadership deadlines, peddled by unnamed Rudd backers, rarely did a news story include the detail that a revised deadline was being set out of necessity as others had uneventfully slipped by. No journalist ever seemed to say to these unnamed sources, I won’t print what you’re telling me because this is the third, fourth, fifth time you have peddled a deadline to me and you have always been wrong.” (p 79)

“A few, like Peter Hartcher, became combatants in Kevin’s leadership war.” (p 79)

“The Canberra press gallery is an insular world and, given the foment of the media industry, a curiously unchanged one at the leadership level. Many of the key personalities who reported politics 20, 30, 40 years ago are still there, albeit more jaded, more cyncial — and more annoyed if their assumed mastery of political reporting is in any way challenged.” (p 81)

On Simon Crean:

“Very unfortunately, Simon had a tendency to raise the hackles of many of his most senior colleagues. After I became leader, although I was still absolutely in the mode of defending Simon, I heard — and understood — the complaints.” (p 84)

On that empty fruit bowl:

“In early 2005 there had been the ridiculous carry on about my bare kitchen and the supposed lack of fruit in the fruit bowl. The fact that a Labor leadership crisis had forced me to urgently return from overseas and there had not been enough time to shop somehow never worked its way into the story. For the record, the bowl is not a fruit bowl, it is a decorative piece that looks best if you can see the bottom of it.” (p 102)

On Bob Carr:

“… then I made a wrong [decision]. I decided to bring former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr to Canberra and into my cabinet.” (p 169)

“The other negative was Bob’s struggle with the focused discipline required for Foreign Ministry work. It is one thing to chat knowledgeably and engagingly about world affairs at a dinner party. It is quite another to methodically pursue Australia’s interests in carefully calibrated diplomatic exchanges all around the world.” (p 171)

On Silvio Berlusconi:

” … at the G20 in Seoul, I had been seated next to Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s Prime Minister. I did wonder whether the placement was a trick being played on the newbie. During our few short conversations, I had noticed that he was wearing thick orange make-up.” (p 200)

On that Women’s Weekly piece:

“After a day of such apparent goodwill I was disgusted when the piece was brought forward by a month and was all about the discussions between my office and the magazine about the article. Such negotiations happen all the time between people appearing in magazines and the editorial and production teams.” (p 222)

On Trish Crossin:

“I asked her not to speak to anyone other than family overnight and she agreed to do so. It was obvious from the calls I received that night that immediately on leaving the lodge, Trish had started ringing around people in the Labor Party. She had certainly spoken to Kim Carr … Trish had been used and misled. Although I knew I had dealt Trish a tough blow, I had done it for a purpose and offered her a way through with dignity. Those, like Kim Carr, who assured her she had the numbers, used her for no real purpose other than having a short-term go at me.” (p 238)

On Denis Shanahan (something nice!):

“I phoned Denis Shanahan, one of The Australian‘s senior journalists. He also laughed and said it was a good story, that he could see the headline now: ‘Old woman forced to work an extra year by cruel Rudd Labor Government’. Dennis did ensure a brief positive piece ran in the newspaper the next day. Fortunately it did not have that headline.” (p 255)

On Campbell Newman:

“At his local kebab shop, he told everyone, he was appalled to hear how many regulations there were for the handling of the meat, including — to his horror — one about the temperature the meat needed to be at on the spit! He was going to abolish all this red tape. The studiously polite Katie Gallagher, the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, commented that that would all be fine until the first salmonella outbreak. Although she did not mean the remark unkindly, it produced guffaws all round, including from Liberal premiers.” (p 266)

On Steve Fielding:

“Our Forward with Fairness Bill was through. I was backslapped and kissed by Labor senators and staff. Even Steve Fielding kissed me, though I didn’t quite turn at quite the right time so he ended up kissing my ear.” (p 308)

On Stephen Conroy:

“Like me a migrant from the United Kingdom to Australia, Stephen is a man of strong opinions and sometimes dark moods. He can be incredibly funny and great company. A rarity in politics and in Australian life generally, he does not drink alcohol at all. That does not stop his dancing at parties.” (p 317)

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Peter Fray
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