Saturday, 30 May 2009

Just Lead, Don't Bullshit.

Seeing as my thesis will look at the consecutive ALP leadership tenures of Beazley, (twice) Latham and Rudd in the context of party politics, I understandably let an excitable squee when I read George Megalogenis’s column in The Australian today. As usual his insightful take on the political climate of this country is remarkably on target.

Labor fears the Coalition is scoring points in punterland on the question of debt. So Kevin Rudd and his ministers whip themselves into a forensic frenzy to assure the public that the debt will be paid off.

The Coalition, meanwhile, worries that Labor will leave it with a nation not worth governing. So it convinces itself that obstruction and delay is the quickest way back into power.

The problem is both sides are feeding the other’s phantoms.

Labor has accepted the Coalition’s frame for the debate that debt, and indeed cash splashes, are bad. It explains why the Prime Minister was tongue-tied last week, refusing to put the words billions and dollars in the same sentence, and why he returned to the political comfort food of slogans about nation building this week.

But the next step, which most leaders can’t take, is to generate ideas that move a nation.

Sometimes a leader can interpret what the people already know about themselves. On other occasions, the story being told is new, such as Labor’s reform agenda in the 1980s.

But Rudd won’t find his voice at a photo opportunity on a building site.

Rudd sees a media interview as a form of a public anger-management class. The wilder the question, the more he seems to enjoy deflecting it.

The pattern of this budget fortnight replicates Rudd’s malaise this time last year.

He had gone into budget 2008 with his approval rating in the high 60s, just as he had done with budget 2009.

On both occasions, the budget’s release was the trigger for a mere mortal’s approval rating with a five in front of it.

Last year, Rudd wasted his time, and the nation’s, arguing with Brendan Nelson on petrol prices - a debate made all the more ridiculous with the hindsight of the global financial crisis that saw prices tumble, and the world’s consumers stop buying new cars.

This year, Rudd finds himself in the same place, arguing on the Coalition’s terms.

So we wind up with the following routines.

Turnbull: Debt is bad.

Rudd: Look at my hard hat.

Turnbull: Debt is bad.

Rudd: Show us your policies. Gotcha, you have none - our debt is no different to yours.

It is too easy to satirise, which is the real point here. Voters can see through both sides, so they take the default position of backing the mob that seems the more positive, which would be the Government for the time being.

What a waste, though. Rudd’s approach reminds me of the call that all print journalists dread - when there is a hole for them to fill on page one, but no real news to offer.

Rudd has sold the budget as if the headline and the picture are all that count. He should have devoted more attention to the words.

Long quotes yes, but all are worth reading. Rudd won the 2007 election on the back of so called ‘New Leadership’ but is once again displaying ‘Old Leadership’ tendencies by falling into the Liberal Party’s trap of playing politics as the battle for ideology. Thus giving the Opposition much credence and air, both equally valuable to them at the halfway point of the election cycle.

This problem has emerged because Rudd has yet to prove he can actually govern. He can certainly give out money to bribe voters, he can certainly use rhetoric to his advantage, but the question still remains if he can actually turn it into reality. This is where the contrasts with Keating are apt. Keating was one hell of an arrogant son of a bitch, but he had the ability to frame complex political and economic arguments beyond the rhetoric. Keating would state the problem, state how the problem would affect the voter, and then state how his policy would alter the outcome.

Governments should completely ignore the opposition. They provide unnecessary distractions. They aim to obtain media coverage. They use ridiculous flow charts, pictures, and other parliamentary antics that should be beneath a government. Their job is to lead the country. Leave it to the opposition to look like idiots.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

In Treatment: Self Knowledge is Power


‘The only measure I have of whether I’m helping somebody or not, is how my patients feel about it, and how their lives go on from there, and they won’t know that until long after we’ve stopped therapy… I guess what I’m trying to say is that, these people come to me, and they want me to fix their problems, and the truth is I think all I can do is walk with them for a while, keep them company during a rough patch. I don’t think anybody’s life can be figured out, but it is in our nature to keep trying to make sense of it, and sometimes we can use help, that’s when if we’re lucky there’s somebody in the room who can listen. I doesn’t have to be somebody perfect, [it can be] somebody sufficiently screwed up to actually get what we might be going through.’

That’s a direct monologue taken from the last episode of In Treatment’s second season, which aired on the US network HBO this past Tuesday, from its main character Paul on the process of psychotherapy. It illustrates both the eternal conflict of the series over its two seasons, as well as verbalising the ongoing need for personal and intellectual growth that every human wishes to experience. This is part of what makes In Treatment so compelling, it is intellectually simulating. It requires not only passive viewing, but also active participation. Watching In Treatment allows viewers to understand themselves better. Very few fictional television dramas can achieve this.

In Treatment is about a psychotherapist, 53-year-old Dr. Paul Weston, and his weekly sessions with patients. The program, which stars Gabriel Byrne as Paul, is a five-night-a-week series. The program's format, script and opening theme are based on the successful Israeli series BeTipul, created by Hagai Levi. Each episode of In Treatment focuses on one patient, including Paul, who is seeing his own psychotherapist, Gina, played by Dianne Wiest. The first season included 43 episodes, each airing a different night of the week, Monday through Friday. The first season covered nine weeks for most of the characters, except in the final week, which did not have Monday and Tuesday night installments.

During the first season Paul sees Laura on Monday, an anesthesiologist who is in love with him. On Tuesday, he sees Alex, a fighter pilot traumatized by a recent mission. Wednesday, Paul works with Mia, a suicidal, damaged, and an anorexic teenaged gymnast. On Thursday, Paul tries his hand at couple’s therapy with Jake and Amy who are deciding whether or not to have an abortion. Finally on Friday, Paul visits his own therapist, Gina.

The first season establishes the main structure and flow for the sometimes separate, sometimes interrelated plot points, as each character has some sort of psychological breakthrough towards the end of the season’s run. However, what makes the writing of In Treatment a particular pleasure is that just like real life some of the conflicts are resolved, some are not, and some lead to even harsher consequences. The beauty of the screenplay and the acting is that there are no obvious ‘light bulb’ moments because character development is gradual. The challenge for the viewer is to really listen to the way both the patients and the therapists communicate. The skill in Byrne’s amazingly subtle acting is the way that he uses different facial expressions to convey different subtexts according to the situation. Similarly, the level of restraint Weist displays when Byrne turns aggressive in his own therapy sessions is a marvel.

As good as the first season is, the second series is far superior as Paul embarks on therapy sessions with a different set of patients whilst still seeing Gina on Fridays. The characters are more complex, the writing is more intelligent, the acting is more nuisanced and although there is less dramatic conflict, there is a larger emotional payoff for the viewer,

On Monday, Paul sees Mia, a successful malpractice attorney and former patient of Paul's from 20 years ago, who blames him for her present status: an unmarried, childless, workaholic, who makes poor choices in men. April is Paul’s patient on Tuesday, an architecture student diagnosed with lymphoma, which she has been keeping shamefully secret and appears in denial about the severity of her illness. Wednesday, Paul embarks on therapy with Oliver, the 12-year-old son of Bess and Luke, a divorcing couple, who blames himself for the family chaos. Thursday, Paul sees Walter, a self-confident CEO with a history of panic attacks, who finds his life is becoming overwhelming.

I found the season two sessions with Paul and April particularly astonishing. Allison Pill’s performance as the young woman diagnosed with cancer, whilst trying to balance a university education and family commitments is worthy of several awards. The way Pill is able to change her emotions in such a versatile fashion from anger to sorrow, from pessimism to optimism, and from strength to vulnerability is a sight to behold.

In Treatment is certainly not for the faint hearted. Its demanding viewing structure makes it perfect for rainy day DVD sessions (Season 1 is available now) or cable TV marathons. As Paul says to April in one of her therapy sessions ‘The thing about self knowledge, is that once you have it, you have it’ The great thing about In Treatment remains that it not only teaches you about self knowledge in an entertaining manner, but it empowers you to discover your own subconscious.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Pondering the Future of University Education.

I’ve spent the past fortnight marking first year university essays. Anybody in the business of academia knows this is fundamentally tedious work. More often than not it seems that student are unwilling (but not unable) to work, let alone be engaged in any meaningful dialogue, both in class and when performing assessment tasks. Just last week one of my students spent the greater portion of the class attached to their mobile phone. Instead of criticising, what are essentially a group of students who are technically part of my generation, I wonder how it is possible to make learning a pleasurable experience?

The problem essentially lies with my fellow academics. Two years ago I attended a professional development day run by the education faculty at my university. They spent the greater portion of the day placing generations into cohorts according to their year of birth and adapting learning styles to fit those various molds, using the theories of Marc Pransky. Those born between and during the World Wars are known as the ‘Depression Babies’. Those born between 1945 and 1960 are known as the ‘Baby Boomers’. (This generic name explains the astronomical growth of the population when soldiers returned home and sowed their wild oats.) Those born between 1961-1980 are known as Generation X. Best symbolized by JFK Jr, they are highly individualistic and materialistic. Those born between 1982 and 1991 are known as Digital Natives. (Strangely my brother born in 1981 seems unable to be categorised) Digital Natives are so called because they have grown up with modern technology at their fingertips with such innovations as the Internet, mobile phones and instant messaging at their everlasting disposal

According to Pransky:

Digital Immigrants (those born prior to 1982) typically have very little appreciation for these new skills that the Natives have acquired and perfected though years of interaction and practice. These skills are almost totally foreign to the Immigrants, who themselves learned - and so choose to teach - slowly, step-by-step, one thing at a time, individually, and above all, seriously.

Digital Immigrants don't believe their students can learn successfully while watching TV or listening to music, because they (the Immigrants) can't. Of course not - they didn’t practice this skill constantly for all of their formative years. Digital Immigrants think learning can't (or shouldn't) be fun. Why should they - they didn't spend their formative years learning with Sesame Street.

Digital Natives are used to the instantaneity of hypertext, downloaded music, phones in their pockets, a library on their laptops, beamed messages and instant messaging. They've been networked most or all of their lives. They have little patience for lectures, step-by-step logic, and "tell-test" instruction.

“So what should happen? Should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new? Unfortunately, no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards….”

As one of the so called Digital Natives, I had many a question as my generation was being trashed. As much as the Immigrants would love to relive their youth again, aren’t the Natives the next generation? I believe that many of the qualities described as part of the Digital Natives’ armory are over inflated, but even if they are not, what are educators doing to support these trends rather than suppress them? In an educational, as well as a social setting, growth is achieved through interaction with peers and mentors, with the addition of interaction through technology. Unlike the theory above Natives and Immigrants should be working together, not against each other.

Midway through the 21st century the Digital Natives will be leading the world across a variety of disciplines. As Pransky and the majority of attendees on that day would have you believe a future Prime Minister of Australia would be chatting to the Treasurer via MSN Messenger (“That surplus is lyke sooooooo big and awesome”) whilst listening to a broadcast of the UN General Assembly on their IPOD and trying to decipher the words of an aging Andrew G as he reports from the US Colony of Iraq all at the same time. I go to university with a lot of stupid people, but please don’t lump the future leaders of this world, my friends and I, with those of the Digital Generation who spout the latest catchphrase from the coolest Twitter feed! There’s an old saying that we should respect our elders, maybe we should respect and facilitate the future too.

It goes deeper than that though, as in how do we mix the old and the new? How can technology be used to enhance learning, rather than be consumed by it? The most troubling thing as I was marking those essays is that a rather large minority cannot put a paragraph together, let alone a sentence but use mobile phone language as their native tongue.

Part of the problem lies with the university sector itself. It’s a business first and foremost. Profits are placed ahead of a decent education. Enrolment numbers are the primary focus instead of teaching standards. It’s an understandable, but a worrying trend, and so is the oft repeated phrase of ‘Ps (passes) = degrees.’ Tertiary education should be better than that. It must be better than that. When research and profits are put ahead of teaching, it is not only the students who suffer, but perhaps more importantly the university sector as a whole.

The fault lies then with all stakeholders. Some students under appreciate the importance of a university education, and only attend because their parents are paying for them to waste three years of their lives. University staff are generally underpaid and grossly overworked. Owing to this they get despondent when students refuse to engage with them. However, what they fail to understand is that they must engage with students to their level, rather then proclaiming theories from their ivory tower above. Perhaps tellingly, the most important step is the one not taken. The Federal Government must ensure that the preservation and extension of higher education funding remain of the utmost importance, rather than the sound byte it has become. Therein lies our future, ‘Digital Native’ or not.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Manifesto (Updated)

I am 25 years and six months old tomorrow. I do a lot of writing, particularly recently, but for those who know me some questions remain unanswered. Some are obvious, some have not yet been articulated, some known to me but are not shared. The following manifesto attempts to answer the most basic question: Who am I and what do I stand for?

Lets start with the personal stuff first. Apart from the four members of my immediate family I can honestly say I love four other people. They know who they are. These are people who I would die for, and people I would like to think would die for me. Aside from these eight very diverse people, I have a couple of other close friends who I enjoy spending time with. In actuality, I came name five people off the top of my head (Although I may be forgetting one or two people), which I like to spend time with socially. The common thread between all these people is that they challenge me intellectually. At this point, I should state the obvious; I am an arrogant snob who is often a social recluse. Society in general views this quality as a negative characteristic. I treat it with a sense of ambivalence, I don’t embrace it, but at the same time I don’t ignore it. It is indeed who I am, for good or bad at least I am honest with myself.

I am sure however that this does hamper my relationship with the opposite sex. In my life so far I have never embarked upon a meaningful long term relationship with the opposite sex. The amount of people my age who haven’t had a relationship of this nature is probably equal the number of people who vote for the National Party, that is to say not many. I used to be upset over this, but not any more. I have come to realise that I am too selfish, too individualistic, and far too self absorbed to even be bothered at this point to give myself to anybody else. People say this is often the attitude of a person in their twenties, some people just don’t have the self awareness to realise it. (Fortunately, if I have anything in abundance it is self awareness.) I concede that these feelings might change as I grow older, but at the present time the only constant companion I enjoy is myself. That aside I do acknowledge my nymphomaniacal tendencies, and if there is one thing I do lack more than anything else it is the opportunity for reciprocal physical intimacy. I understand given my physical disability that a great deal of the population is somewhat unwilling to take the leap required to share this level of intimacy. Therefore, if I am to share these experiences at regular intervals I must be willing to open up and become emotionally vulnerable. Paradoxically, this is something that I am unwilling and unable to do. Thus in the greatest contradiction of my human experience: I am both content with myself, yet grossly unsatisfied.

I have two passions in my life politics and music. For me they have many common elements that bind them together. They both have the power to captivate people to a magnificent extreme. Politics to me achieves this on an external level. Policies can change how people live their lives, policies can change attitudes, policies can motivate, and policies can shape personal and collective cultures like nothing else. Music on the other hand is an internal device; each person has a different response to the many different pieces of music our world offers. The reaction is personal, purely based on our own experience and our environment. The right piece of music touches my soul; the right policy, party or politician touches our collective souls.

Politically I identify myself as a social democrat. Social democracy is defined as “A moderate political philosophy that aims to achieve socialistic goals within capitalist society such as by means of a strong welfare state and regulation of private industry.” At an early age I identified with the principles of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Labor's enduring policy objectives include:

  • a fairer distribution of political and economic power;
  • restoration of full employment;
  • greater equality in the distribution of income, wealth and opportunity;
  • equal access and rights to employment, education, health and other community services and activities;
  • more democratic control, ownership and participation in Australian industry;
  • maintenance of world peace; and
  • an independent Australian position in world affairs.
The quest to fulfill these ideals led me to join the ALP and follow in the footsteps of the three politicians I admire the most: Edward (Gough) Whitlam, Don Dunston and John Curtin.

The qualities I admire in these politicians are that they were able use their policies to promote the social issues of the day and place them in the forefront of the public consciousness. The great achievements of the Whitlam and Dunston governments were that they made education and healthcare a priority. Whitlam ushered in the great agenda of reform by establishing free university education, and a universal healthcare system. Dunston was able to further enhance these reforms and customise them to suit the circumstances of South Australia. Up until Dunston took office in 1970, South Australia was regarded as an inefficient, ineffective state that lacked the energy of its counterparts in Victoria and New South Wales. The important aspect of Dunston’s reforms is that he and his government brought a sense of identity to South Australia, by creating a culture of infrastructure, creativity and development. He was arguably the first politician who understood the value of the community and what it could contribute. Curtin, is in my opinion is Australia’s most underrated Prime Minister. He personified a great wartime leader who made decisions that were not always popular with the public, but proved to be beneficial for Australia. These decisions resulted in radical shifts in foreign policy away from the British towards the United States, and this changed Australia’s political culture forever. Such decisions ultimately cost Curtin his life and his rightful place amongst one of the greatest political leaders in Australia’s history.

I have attempted to adopt the principles of these political leaders in forging my own political career. The reason why I have become interested in politics is that I want the ability to ask questions. I have had enough life experience to realise that I am very fortunate to have the ability to articulate my needs, wants and desires to the community. Others are not so fortunate. Conservatism and individualism have dominated the community, whether it is politically, economically or socially. Other voices need to be heard. To often the standard line of the hierarchical system is based on the needs of the individual, rather then the collective. Economic responsibility is necessary to ensure the safety and security of the community at large. However, the provision of services, such as access to an adequate standard of healthcare and education must be made a priority. Currently, this is not the case. If this trend continues the concept of ‘community’ will evaporate as it becomes consumed by the individualistic society. Access to services will be contingent upon how much wealth the individual creates, rather than what they have to offer the community. This will only further enhance the gulf between those who will have access to services and those who will not.

Musically, I consider by self to be a poptimist. A poptimist is someone who has “...a penchant for contemporary pop music, as opposed to rock, pure hip-hop, etc. The opposite of the poptimist is a rockist. “Rockists treat rock as normative. From a rockist view, rock is the standard state of popular music.” These are not my definitions but dominate my ideologies towards music criticism. As in politics, people have a wide variety of opinions on music, and therefore it is interesting to understand each discipline from an ideological perspective. However, music is so multi facetted you cannot only look at it from an ideological perspective, but also from a personal perspective. In this regard, the smartest comment made about music was not made by a critic, but rather a very intelligent friend of mine:

I was at a dinner on the weekend and got asked what seemed to me to be a really weird question: "So, why do you love music?" Seriously, who asks a question like that (and out of the blue, no less) anyway??? Everyone at the table turned and waited for me to respond...which was quite difficult for me, especially sort of being put on the spot like that.

I mumbled something about all of us feeling at least somewhat alone in this world, and that music allows us to connect with each other, to overcome this sometimes overwhelming feeling of isolation. That it provides a medium to reach out to each other - which is, I think, what being human is all about - and it is made all the more powerful because it is universal and timeless. You can listen to a song written years and years ago that portrays what life was like for that person at that time, but holds some fundamental truths that are still applicable for our lives today.

How good is music as an escape? I mean, seriously. Some songs can just reach into my soul and make my problems vanish (even if this sensation is only transitory), or make me feel like I'm not all alone - that there are other people out there who understand how I am feeling, and that it's going to be okay. Not easy, but okay. And suddenly the world doesn't seem quite so big and scary anymore, because these people have felt what I am feeling and they've gotten through it. Or they sing about something good, and just like that, my faith in humanity (maybe not as a whole, but in general) can be restored. And then there are the bands that I simply can't get enough of, like T & S. I put on one of their CDs and just want to be consumed by the music. And I want to play the CD faster, just so I can hear all the songs straight away. It's hard to explain; I wish I could use words to describe this effectively, to do this feeling justice. It's like I'm addicted to music, and one song is just not enough - I need more and I almost can't wait until one song is over to start another one, there's just this...desperation. That being said, there are also the times when I'm half-way through a track and I really have to go somewhere, but I just can't bring myself to press the stop button. I can't end the song, or the album, even, early. I just can't, because it's so damn good. And I really can't answer exactly what it is that makes music so good.

I would like to add to this definition by saying that I know what makes it so good. It lifts the spirit and captures the moment. Nothing can have possibly topped the moment when you listen to an album for the very first time (Particularly with headphones). There is this indescribable moment when a good bridge and a chorus merge into one solid pathway that makes me do nothing but smile.

It is fitting that the best 3:38 of my life came just over eighteen months ago. I was sitting in a crowded Melbourne theatre with my best friend in the entire world. Just 26 hours earlier I had found out that I had reached what I hope will be the first of many professional peaks. Suddenly I catch a glimpse of Tegan Quin for the first time ever as she sings arguably my favourite Tegan and Sara song ‘Dark Come Soon’ The mix of euphoria at seeing her, the sense of joy at my achievement, and sharing the moment with the one person whom matters the most to me made me burst into tears of ecstasy. This is to me, is what life is all about. That one moment and I will cherish it forever. It symbolizes my current destination in the complex journey that is my life.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Peyton Sawyer and the ‘Self Confident Insular Strategy’

I made a decision about 18 months ago to take a different attitude to life. What I term the 'Self Confident Insular Strategy’. Instead of spending half my life chasing after attractive unattainable women who have absolutely no interest in me, so called friends who treat me like shit, or do things that do not interest me only to seek the approval of others, I’ve just said one giant fuck you to all that bullshit. If people don’t like it me, because I’d rather stay at home and study, or envelop myself in fictional worlds, that’s fine by me. They can spend the rest of their lives trying to please others and end up being miserable.

Critics say my strategy breeds loneliness. I’ll die a bitter and lonely old man they say. I disagree. I would argue that the cream rises to the top. People who are comfortable with my life choices understand that it is what makes me happy. Others who fail to see this and conform to society’s expectations fail to understand me and are not people I wish to spend time with.

I’ve been watching One Tree Hill. It’s one of my favourite shows on television and there’s only one reason I keep on watching it. Her name, Peyton Elizabeth Sawyer.

cw-onetreehill-prt-hburton-season5_009520-23  She is the fictional character by which all potential girlfriends will be judged. She’s everything I could possibly want in a woman. She’s smart, she’s independent, strong, dark, twisted, and by god is she hot. Most people would look at her shoulder length blonde hair, which is styled in a gentle weave. This would be enough to pull people in. However, to me all I see is those magnificent green eyes. You can see the pain in them, the roads that have been travelled. Alas like me there’s one moment where that all changes. Put on a really good song and she is enveloped with all her emotions. It carries her away off into the distant sun when nothing else does. That’s why I relate to her. Forget about the dead mothers, the stalkers, and the love triangles. Pity she’s a fictional character though, all the best women are either imagined, or so far removed from me they might as well be. 759a-281x374

She’s everything I could possibly want in a woman. She’s smart, she’s independent, strong, dark, twisted, and by god is she hot. Most people would look at her shoulder length blonde hair, which is styled in a gentle weave. This would be enough to pull people in. However, to me all I see is those magnificent green eyes. You can see the pain in them, the roads that have been travelled. Alas like me there’s one moment where that all changes. Put on a really good song and she is enveloped with all her emotions. It carries her away off into the distant sun when nothing else does. That’s why I relate to her. Forget about the dead mothers, the stalkers, and the love triangles. Pity she’s a fictional character though, all the best women are either imagined, or so far removed from me they might as well be. always helps no matter what you’re going through. so, if you flunk a big test, or have a really bad break up, or you just miss someone so much it hurts… music always helps

That’s a quote from the episode that just aired in the US. Take away the fact that she says it whilst recording a message to her unborn baby, (because the doctors told her she might die whilst giving birth) and it becomes a maxim for my life, almost like an epitaph, not just for my life, but those of countless others.

No doubt countless readers will laugh at me for taking the life and words of a teen soap character seriously, probably for good reason. Yes, I intellectualise things too much, perhaps I should enjoy the ride instead of trying to find meaning in a character who has had so many life tragedies its beyond the absurd. I’ve said on countless occasions that I prefer the company of the fictional world, as opposed to what confronts me in reality. It requires no effort, but more importantly its guarantees fulfillment. No pain, no broken hearts. It’s the butterflies in the stomach, without the gut wrenching pain. I’m sure I echo the words if countless others when I say there is nothing in this world that hurts more than the pain of rejection.

So I will indeed continue in the path of revelling in the company of fictional characters and my academic exploits. Yes some may view it as cowardice, but since adopting this new philosophy towards life I can confidently say that I’ve never been happier. The drama is gone, and so is the heartache, allowing me to be comfortable in my own skin, even if that means getting far too invested in teen soap operas.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

To the Bitter End: Book Review

To The Bitter End, the latest book from the Sydney Morning Herald's Political Editor, Peter Hartcher chronicles the last term of the Howard Government charting both its downfall, and the ascension of Kevin Rudd. Hartcher’s employer covered the book launch on Friday and gave a pretty short and accurate description of the main thrust of the book.

Hartcher's book, To The Bitter End, cites climate change as a key reason for the Coalition's defeat.

Hartcher cites Mr Howard's loyalty to the then US president George Bush as the reason Australia stood alone with the United States and refused to ratify the Kyoto accord.

However, Mr Costello said the Coalition negotiated a "very good outcome" in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and "I thought the logical thing was to ratify it".

He was surprised that Mr Howard refused to do so.

In the book, Mr Beazley contends that he, too, would have led Labor to victory in 2007, albeit by fewer seats. Mr Costello said this was a fair assessment and he implied the defeat was Mr Howard's fault for not stepping down.

In short there’s nothing terribly new to offer here. Much like Christine Jackman’s vastly overrated work Inside Kevin 07 published late last year, Hartcher unfortunately covers the same well worn territory, Rudd as the prodigal son in a triumph of strategy over experience, whilst pointing out that Howard had been in the game too long and was badly out of touch with the electorate. Any astute political observer would know this before reading the book.

The only fresh revelations remain unproven. Hartcher contends that Howard wanted to step down throughout the APEC conference in Sydney during the first week of September 2007, by engineering a situation where his Cabinet colleagues would force him to resign through a vote of no confidence, rather than stepping down through his own volition. Trouble is that this hypothesis remains unproven despite interviews with all the major players. They confirm that events already on the public record transpired, but beyond that the reader is largely left to surmise whether Hartcher’s theory is proven correct, rather than relying upon irrefutable evidence.

More attention needed to be paid to the behind the scenes machinations of both parliamentary parties. Although brief attention was paid to how the Rudd-Gillard alliance was formed, far more depth was required, beyond the standard boiler plate fare of political journalists. How in fact did two diametrically opposing political philosophies fashion a united political message? And what of Peter Costello? Whilst Hartcher was at pains to point out that he did not have the numbers to thwart Howard in the party room, there are no explanations as to why. Was Costello held in contempt by his colleagues? Did he really lack the courage to challenge? Why wasn’t he canvassed properly when some Cabinet colleagues asked Howard to resign during 2006?

These unanswered questions sum up the book itself. Much like Costello’s leadership ambitions, this book is full of missed opportunities. Despite its interesting subject matter To the Bitter End avoids the hard questions, and instead offers the standard narrative arc of political pugilism, which you can find in every newspaper in the country, often at times written by better political journalists.