DEFENDER: Maxine McKew during a discussion that became a little heated during a panel exploring “what the hell happened” to the Labor Party at the Writers’ Festival on Saturday.
DEFENDER: Maxine McKew during a discussion that became a little heated during a panel exploring “what the hell happened” to the Labor Party at the Writers’ Festival on Saturday. Digby Hildreth

Labor a hot topic at Writers' Fest

DISCUSSION became a little heated during a panel exploring "what the hell happened" to the Labor Party at the Writers' Festival on Saturday - one of several sessions focusing on the state of the party.

It occurred during a stand-off between Maxine McKew, the "giant-killer" who ousted John Howard from his seat of Bennelong, and former speechwriter for Kevin Rudd, James Button, on the question of Julia Gillard's loyalty to her prime minister, before taking part in what Ms McKew referred to repeatedly as the "regicide" that deposed him.

The pair agreed to disagree on the matter, which Ms McKew said had split the country down the middle.

It was Ms Gillard's disloyalty that had poisoned her three years as PM, far more than any white-anting of her position through the media by Mr Rudd, she said.

In an earlier session, Ms McKew told Kerry O'Brien that she had never seen "Rudd the monster", nor even heard about his defects "until after the regi- cide".

She defended his most recent coup as an act of political survival both personally and for the party, which had been taken "to the edge of irrelevance" by the Gillard administration, especially as a result of one of her "great tactical blunders", the gender factor, "which lost us support across the board".

However, she also lamented the fall-off in standards in Canberra between the early 90s, when she went there as a political journalist, and the present, when MPs are forced to "honour a script churned out by some 12-year-old in the PM's office".

"The lines would stick in my throat," she said, and it was not long before she was being side-lined by the party's "comms" (media) flacks for being "naughty".

She was also critical of the Rudd government "buckling" on the emissions trading scheme and even more so of the "psychotic episode" of the PNG solution to asylum seekers arriving in boats.

Mr Button and another panel member, veteran journalist Alex Mitchell, echoed Ms McKew's view that the numbers involved were insignificant in the scheme of things, and roundly mocked Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for calling it a national emergency requiring a military solution.

And all three of them blamed the media for much of the degradation in political discourse, especially the "imbeciles" in the Canberra Press Gallery being manipulated and spoon fed by party hacks.

The appetite for political insights is obviously keen among festival-goers as the marquees were crowded for all three sessions revolving around the ALP, mainly with Labor supporters, if a hands-raised poll by chair Mungo MacCallum was any guide.

It is to be hoped that next year a member of the Coalition will have a book out to promote and the audience will see some real fireworks.


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