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Uncovering the ruthless heart of the Liberal Party

By Ad Astra

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 2016 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 you 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 the 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!

This article was originally published on The Political Sword

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15 comments

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  1. Terence Mills

    The question I have, is how has Niki Savva retained her job with Newscorp when she is so obviously out of step with the corporate Groupthink ?

  2. Baby Jewels

    Yes, I’ve wondered the same thing. Now, I’m off to listen to that Richard Fidler interview.

  3. New England Cocky

    When have the Liarbral Party being anything except thus?

  4. Henry Rodrigues

    That comment about Scummo being machiavellian, the whole party is evil, prepared to stick the dagger into each other, at the nearest given opportunity, which they engineer themselves and which they are certain will be supported and defended by the Murdoch and the rest of the craven corrupt media. Niki Savva is a perfect example of just such an operative, on one hand seemingly casting Abbott and Credlin and Cormann and others, as being conspirators, but still working for the most evil organizer of all, Murdoch himself.

    They’re all bastards, no exceptions.

  5. Sheila B. Wright

    No surprises here. What it does show is how two lowbrows like Howard and Morrison can out manoeuvre the smarties by profound deviousness. Not only have they assumed power through a litany of lies and rat cunning, they’ve brought with them a coterie of evil sub lieutenants led by the truly awful Dutton. Labor have been shunted off the scene like yesterday’s dinner scraps. They have only themselves to blame. Hubris took over well before the election which was inarguably lost when Bill Shorten was filmed jogging.

  6. Aortic

    As Winston Churchill said, your opposition sits on the benches opposite, but your real opposition sits beside and behind you.

  7. Ron Chandler

    I couldn’t stomach much of Savva’s chat. She, Karvelas, Faine are all slime, and typify the problem the media has, of mindless keeping track of the parasitical thuggery that passes for politics here. Even as savage as were Hawke, Keating and Gillard, they understood something now lost: it was called political capital, and it required an actual agenda to do things to benefit the people. The current dross in Canberra have zero vision, no plan or intent to do anything but get power over 23 million people — and use that power to glorify and enrich their gang. No wonder there’s constant feeding frenzy, as each klatch is knifed by the next as their policy vacuum is exposed.

  8. totaram

    “The pity is that if it put as much time and skill into governance, our nation could be so much better.”

    Wrong! Completely wrong! Our nation would be so much worse off! Only the “donors” would be better off.
    Thank god they are inept at running government, so that their attempts to shovel money at their donors do get seen by some voters at least – not enough to count as we saw recently, but enough to keep their majority in parliament to a small one.

  9. Kerri

    Great article. I would also strongly recommend listening to the Fidler/Savva interview.
    It is jaw dropping in confirming many rumours.

  10. Andreas Bimba

    I haven’t read or listened to the suggested links yet but I can’t see any mention of Rupert Murdoch. He wanted Turnbull gone just as he wanted Whitlam gone.

    There were a lot of powerful groups that wanted Turnbull, Bishop and any other more moderate Liberals, or Nationals, out of power. The coal miners and the gas frackers, the mining industry in general and much of Australia’s big business sector, the religious fundamentalists, the authoritarians who hate greenies, lefties and trade unionists and even the US right in the form of Pompeo, Bolton and Trump. Quite frankly I think they were all involved and I suspect the US right, the CIA and Rupert Murdoch were the decisive players.

    My Facebook post ‘AND THEN THEY WERE GONE’ from 9 June 2019 provides more details. A good investigative journalist may be able to find some compelling evidence?

  11. David Harris

    Liberals are money smart.they are not about to lose billions .Instead building business and approvals for business.we liberals build roads taking away pot holes and delivering us to the future.I would like to see more cancer research and organ research

  12. Potoroo

    I am bemused by Ad astra’s naiveté. Savva’s books are interesting and the events noteworthy simply because they happened, but politicians playing politics to seize power and advance their agendas do not warrant such hand-wringing simply because they are Liberals. It was ever thus (does Rudd-Gillard-Rudd ring any bells?), or does Ad astra think that no party leader has ever been undermined and toppled by rival forces in the past?

  13. Michael Taylor

    Potoroo, perhaps you are unfamiliar with Ad astra’s writing over the past decade.

  14. David Bruce

    Does anyone else have a copy of the cartoon showing Murdoch fishing in a toilet bowl?

    Remember the caption? Says it all…

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