Uncovering the ruthless heart of the Liberal Party

Dedicated observers of the political scene in Australia owe much to Niki Savva. Although she has been a political correspondent for News Corp Australia since 2010, she really made her mark as a significant author when she penned two critical exposés in which she fearlessly uncovered the labyrinthine machinery of the Liberal Party for all to see.

Her 2106 book The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government published by Scribe exposed the machinations of PM Abbott and his entourage. Now her Plots and Prayers: Malcolm Turnbull’s demise and Scott Morrison’s ascension, also published by Scribe, exposes the intrigue that brought PM Turnbull undone and installed Morrison as PM.

How has she been able to do this? How has her access to Liberal Party members been so exceptional? During her time as a senior adviser to Prime Minister John Howard and media advisor to Treasurer Peter Costello she engaged with a coterie of key players who are still ready to trust her with the Party’s tightly held secrets and convoluted inner workings. Now, through her books, she shares them with us.

Ahead of obtaining her latest book, I listened to Richard Fidler interviewing her about it on ABC Conversations. The episode was titled: How brutal politics and righteous prayers toppled a Prime Minister. You can listen here to Savva’s account of the treachery that permeated the Liberal Party in the lead up to Turnbull’s removal and Morrison’s ascension. It’s not a pretty story.

What follows is my attempt to capture some of the intrigue, but more importantly to describe the behaviour of the key Liberal Party figures that run this party, our current government, so that you can become more aware of their nature and their style. Prepare to be disappointed.

You would have to listen to Fidler’s interview to grasp the extent of the extraordinary deviousness of senior Liberals in the lead up to Turnbull’s removal. It’s too complicated to describe here. It’s almost unbelievable that the planning and plotting of the key players and a cluster of nebulous groups could have been so complex, so detailed, so strategic, and so ruthless. It would be worth your time listening to the Fidler interview if you really want to know how the Liberal Party operates. The pity is that if it put as much time and skill into governance, our nation could be so much better.

Here, I’ll let you in on Savva’s opinion of some of the key players.

Let’s start at the top, with PM Turnbull. We know him as a supremely confident man, but one who makes serious errors of judgement. We know from his past history that he is prone to take risks, always believing he is right. As the storm clouds gathered, he took a monumental risk when he decided to declare his position vacant. It was downhill for him thereafter. We know the outcome. He was warned of Peter Dutton’s ambitions, but retorted that it was ridiculous to think Dutton could become PM, and indeed believed he was ineligible to be in parliament at all under section 44 of the Constitution. He was even prepared to advise the Governor General that Dutton should therefore be excluded.

Next, his successor, Scott Morrison. Savva reveals that he was up to his neck in the coup that led to his ascension. He was an integral part of the planning and execution of what was a surprisingly complex plot. You will remember how, at a joint press conference with PM Turnbull, when a reporter asked Morrison about his ambition for Turnbull’s job, you saw his disarming denial (arm around Turnbull): ”This is my leader and I’m ambitious for him!” Even that seemingly random event was carefully scripted.

Morrison is a deeply religious man. When he said ’I believe in miracles’, he meant it. On his way to that fateful vote, he asked his secretary to message his family to pray for him. He has about a dozen close friends, all religious: Stuart Robert, Steve Irons, Alex Hawke, and members of the weekly prayer group he attends. He has few friends outside this group. He welcomed being photographed in his Pentecostal Horizon Church with his arms outstretched – an indication of his religious fervour.

Savva says of Morrison: “While on the surface Morrison may seem to have clean hands; below the surface his mates are doing the dirty work. She describes him as “extremely clever, cunning, ruthless, Machiavellian, brilliant at the ‘black arts’, but ‘not a policy guy’.

That’s our Prime Minister! Trust him if you dare.

Savva’s opinion of Mathias Cormann is even more disparaging, and rightly so.

Before the ballot, he vowed that he was sticking with Turnbull, even to the bitter end, and would serve him loyally: ”I will go down with him.” But before the sun had set that day he had turned turtle. With Michaelia Cash and Mitch Fifield he held a press conference to announce that he had advised Turnbull that he no longer enjoyed the confidence of the Party Room, and should resign. As Savva put it so tellingly, Cormann brutally knifed Turnbull in the back. In the process he irreversibly trashed his reputation and shredded his credibility. She added that Cormann was fully complicit in the plan to install Dutton. She added that Julie Bishop so loathed Cormann, and Dutton too, that she could not bear to be in the same room as them.

This piece could go on and on, but I could not leave you without mentioning Tony Abbott, the most destructive politician in living memory, the destroyer of Julia Gillard’s ‘carbon pricing’ and Labor’s ‘fibre to the premises’ NBN (remember his instruction to Communications Minister Turnbull to ‘demolish the NBN’).

Although he did feature in this internecine drama, it was somewhat in the background. He was fiercely determined to remove Turnbull in retaliation for Turnbull’s displacement of him. He never gave up on this aim. But it was not to placate Abbott that the anti-Turnbull forces assembled. His behaviour had become so objectionable that he had become an object of loathing, even among those who were only too willing to hang on his coat tails when he was in power. Although he still enjoyed the support of his old allies, Eric Abetz among them, many were delighted when he lost his seat of Warringah, and was cast out of parliament and politics. Morrison is greatly relieved that he doesn’t have to cope with Abbott on the backbench. Savva reveals that Dutton had planned to reinstate Abbott in cabinet, a move that cost him the votes of many colleagues.

If this piece, fragmentary though it is, has attracted your interest, I strongly recommend that you listen to the ABC podcast of Richard Fidler interviewing Niki Savva. You will enjoy every one of the 52 minutes it runs. You can access it here.

Now David Crowe, chief political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and a regular commentator on national affairs on several networks, has released his book on the same period titled: Venom: Vendettas, Betrayals and the Price of Power by HarperCollins. He too has been able to gain access to the players in this unseemly saga. His account corresponds with that of Savva. He was interviewed by Jon Faine and Patricia Karvelas on The Conversation Hour on ABC Melbourne Radio on 19 August. You can listen to this interview as an ABC podcast here. The Crowe interview starts about 10 minutes from the beginning of the podcast.

This piece would expand into several if were I to attempt to detail all the ruthless manoeuvres that characterized this disgraceful period in our political history. As Savva and Crowe have done that so comprehensively, I recommend your read their books, or commentaries on them.

Be prepared though to be startled, shocked, and dismayed at the nature and behaviour of the people now running our country. It really is appalling, disgraceful, and most of all, deeply disappointing. I suppose we should not be surprised, but even those of you who are deeply cynical about politics and politicians will be repulsed, even revolted. If these events had occurred in a totalitarian state where ruthlessness prevailed, we would not be surprised. But it occurred here in our so-called Westminster-style ‘democracy’!

During discussion of Crowe’s book on ABC Breakfast on 774 Melbourne Radio, listeners were asked which book our politicians should read. One suggested George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. Another listener disagreed, fearing that our government might use Orwell’s book as an instruction manual rather than read it as a telling novel. That points disturbingly to the level of disrespect we have for our politicians, and the abysmal depth to which our politics has sunk.

Sadly, we cannot expect any improvement. Oh dear!

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The Road To Ruin and Plots And Prayers were good reads. They'd make good novels. As non-fiction they are both disturbing; but, as an anti-Tory, i still revelled in shadenfeude while reading them.



Pity these politicians don’t take a leaf out of Tim Fischer’s book. 

T-w-o take away o-n-e equals?