John Howard and the politics of department: Kerry O’Brien appears to be like again

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John Howard and the politics of division: Kerry O'Brien looks back


O’Brien discovered the response unusual, for in his view he’d toned down in Thatcher’s favour any such free-flowing, tricky interviewing taste he would pursue with Australian politicians, from Bob Hawke to Kevin Rudd and past.

And maximum particularly, John Howard.

John Howard with Kerry O'Brien ahead of an appearance on ABC's <i>The 7.30 Report</i> in 2007.

John Howard with Kerry O’Brien forward of an look on ABC’s The 7.30 Record in 2007. Credit score:Robert Pearce

O’Brien has been long past from Australia’s tv monitors since stepping down as host of ABC TV’s 4 Corners in overdue 2015.

However now he’s again in print, between exhausting covers.

To learn his extremely detailed account of his lifestyles and occasions, Kerry O’Brien: A Memoir, is to be granted a studio-desk seat to most of the maximum consequential moments in Australia’s postwar historical past.

It’s inconceivable right here to hide the immense sweep of the 834-page e-book.

O'Brien (with green pen) and Howard prepare for an interview for <i>The 7.30 Report</i> on the 1996 budget.

O’Brien (with inexperienced pen) and Howard get ready for an interview for The 7.30 Record at the 1996 price range.Credit score:Fairfax Media

O’Brien’s a lot of interviews with John Howard for The 7.30 Record are worthy of a e-book in themselves, even though they represent most effective 5 of this one’s 30 chapters.

The ones interviews, learn and re-interpreted years later, divulge with startling readability how influential Howard’s politics of department had been in shaping Australian public lifestyles – and a blur of passing leaders – ever since.

“John Howard had change into Australia’s 25th top minister 3 months after 7.30 went nationwide, and within the 11 years and 9 months he held place of job he and I danced across the interview table on with regards to 100 events …” remembers O’Brien.

“Up to the rest the ones interviews mark the milestones of his top ministership, as a result of I interviewed him on each main factor he handled.”

The survivor: Kerry O'Brien.

The survivor: Kerry O’Brien.Credit score:Jacky Ghossein

That didn’t imply Howard and his executive have been kindly disposed to O’Brien.

“Overdue one price range night time all over the Howard executive’s 3rd time period, outdoor the Canberra watering hollow the Holy Grail, its carpet sodden with spilt booze and the ordinary little bit of damaged glass crunching underfoot, Bronwyn Bishop pulled me excluding the small staff of newshounds I used to be with for a discreet chat,” writes O’Brien.

“I’d identified Bronwyn for greater than a decade and we had a cheap dating. ‘I simply sought after to shake your hand,’ she stated. ‘I’ve all the time admired survivors, and also you for sure qualify. Once we got here into executive you have been the #1 goal in our attractions. No one was once extra hated than you.’

“She didn’t title names and wouldn’t be drawn to any extent further. The large statement didn’t come as a super revelation, however to be known as an unofficial public enemy primary did marvel me. If true, what a waste of power; what a silly obsession.”

September 2001: Asylum seekers prepare to be transferred by special forces between the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa and HMAS Manoora off Christmas Island.

September 2001: Asylum seekers get ready to be transferred via particular forces between the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa and HMAS Manoora off Christmas Island.Credit score:Andrew Meares

Given the battle between nowadays’s executive and the ABC’s higher-profile newshounds, not anything a lot turns out to have modified.

O’Brien, in go back, has recorded in withering center of attention the unvarnished phrases of the top minister who brushed aside the proof of the brutal frontier wars wherein Indigenous Australia was once all however destroyed as “a black armband view of historical past”; who refused to apologise to the Stolen Generations; and who lit a fuse beneath Australian xenophobia via sending Particular Air Carrier forces out to confront asylum seekers rescued via the Norwegian freighter the MV Tampa.

Listed here are the amassed, on-the-spot arguments of the top minister who pleaded lack of know-how of the entire proof that confirmed refugee oldsters hadn’t thrown their very own youngsters overboard; who engineered the island detention regime he referred to as the Pacific Answer; who administered a central authority that got down to assist spoil waterfront unions the usage of balaclava-clad safety males with savage canines and all.

And listed here are the interviews with the PM who despatched Australia right into a warfare in Iraq according to non-existent intelligence about guns of mass destruction … and who received election after election via what O’Brien calls “astute, ruthless center of attention”.

September 1999: A girl walks by a burning house in Dili, East Timor, two days before the arrival of Australian peacekeeping troops.

September 1999: A lady walks via a burning area in Dili, East Timor, two days earlier than the arriving of Australian peacekeeping troops.Credit score:AP

O’Brien has taken the difficulty to check the outdated top minister’s spoken phrases about those problems with Howard’s personal next memoir, Lazarus Emerging, wherein he in large part absolved himself of fault, or presented selection narratives that solid his selections in a benign gentle.

O’Brien’s paintings, against this, unearths common disconnections between fact and fantasy.

Howard, for example, has lengthy expressed the view that amongst his maximum noble achievements was once bringing to an finish the vicious cycle of killings and violence in East Timor after the East Timorese voted for independence in 1999.

O’Brien’s e-book lays out, interview via interview, what he unearths to be a much less noble way via Howard and his international minister, Alexander Downer, that left the East Timorese uncovered to predictable violence from Indonesian-backed militias for months whilst Howard’s executive sat again and blamed “rogue parts” in an strive to not offend the Indonesians.

There are feasts right here for political historians, however John Howard, a voracious reader, turns out not going to seek out himself additional enamoured of his outdated sparring spouse.

Kerry O’Brien: A Memoir is printed this week via Allen & Unwin.

Tony Wright is the affiliate editor and particular author for The Age and the Sydney Morning Bring in



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