Sarah Ferguson and The Killing Season

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By Helen Megalokonomos:

About 180 academics and business leaders heard Four Corners journalist Sarah Ferguson speak about the Rudd-Gillard Era at a Women in Business event in Parramatta this May. Ferguson spoke of the famed ‘faceless men’ who played a pivotal role in getting Gillard to push Rudd out and to become Australia’s first female Prime Minister.

“With such a divided narrative the challenge of political reporting is hard enough at the best of times, ” Ferguson said.

“But in this case, the narrative behind those two camps was so intense, so split, so divided that the chance of finding the truth was always going to be a challenge, and I knew that the one thing we had to do was to insist on no ‘off the record’ sources of any kind.”

Ferguson spoke about the series ‘The Killing Season’, which is also the title of her new book, at the special event hosted by Coleman Greig Lawyers on May 12.

For the series to get off the ground, both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard both had to be on board, she said.

Ferguson said she was determined to seek out what really happened behind closed doors during the leadership challenge of June 2010, guided by 18 hours of interview time with Rudd and 14 hours with Gillard.

Rudd’s interview style was to “draw you in, to be a supporter”, Ferguson said. Gillard had a reserve about her and the series; she didn’t like being interviewed. “You cannot make this series, unless you examine the role of the media”, Ferguson said Gillard had told her.

“Two people, highly ambitious stars of their generation on the Labor side, were cut off in their prime…their careers in politics destroyed. They destroyed each other, they snuffed each other out,” Ferguson told the audience of business leaders and university community.

“The media turned its back on the Australian public and became too closely involved with the events that were taking place in Canberra”, Ferguson said. Of particular interest to the media was the group of faceless men, wielding the power and influence. “Gillard was manoeuvred and flung into that position effectively by the party”, Ferguson said.

“She was Rudd’s natural successor, she would have been the Prime Minister when they won the election…but she was put into the position by a group of factional men,” Ferguson said. These men who effectively put Gillard into that position were relative newcomers with very little political experience, all first-termers.

The audience was very receptive to Ferguson’s insights on power, intrigue and the machinations within the Labor party.

Audience member Cynthia Payne asked Ferguson how much insight she gained after the series. Ferguson said the events of that time, the challenge in 2010, then the return to Rudd in 2013, were moves made by a such a tiny number of people that ”most people didn’t know”. ”None of the cabinet knew, most of caucus didn’t know”, she responded.

Ferguson’s last statement to the audience was that people should start a conversation regarding media stories. Readers should ask themselves ‘where did this story come from’ and distrust people who use background sources, she said. Those who leak stories and won’t put a name on the record should make us all question the information, and place accountability of media on the agenda, she suggested.

Helen Megalokonomos

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