Reviewed by Ian Lipke
It was with a great deal of anticipation that I sat down to read Christopher Pyne’s book. Here was the consummate politician, the Leader of Government Business in the House of Representatives, a man with twenty-five years of experiencing the political realm, the hothouse that is the Lower Chamber. The book proudly boasts that we will read the scoops, the scandals and the serious business of government.
By and large, the book is a huge disappointment. The first hint comes with the Foreword that is written by Amanda Vanstone. It is common knowledge that Pyne was employed by her immediately he graduated from university. He was elected to the Federal Parliament out of Vanstone’s office. Thus, he has never held a job outside of parliament. All well and good! He has become a Minister in charge of many portfolios and is one of the most high-profile members on the parliamentary scene. He was Vanstone’s protege, yet her Foreword, while warm enough in Pyne’s favour, is restrained. She reminds the reader that we’re seeing Pyne’s life in Parliament from one perspective only. She sees this book as a tour of proceedings, a point of view that I completely accept. When reviewing Pyne’s life in the parliament, I saw him as the equivalent of a school deputy principal, there to ensure that some higher-up’s policies are carried out, a sort of highly paid mechanic who oiled the wheels of power.
This is only part of the story. Pyne is a very astute politician who has an intricate knowledge of the workings of government. He is the man colleagues approach to find out what to do. However, his knowledge seems bounded by details. He gives very little indication that he is aware of the philosophical foundations of the liberalism he clings to so tightly. His education includes studies in mythology and he is a voracious reader of history. It is appropriate that he should hold a professorship, since his book displays a researcher’s understanding of abstruse issues but no ability to express this knowledge in the words that the common man understands. Pyne declares that, without power, politicians can become commentators rather than advocates (7). Despite the power reflected in Pyne, is this not what the man’s career exemplifies?
A number of things in the first part of this memoir annoyed me. I will attempt to report them with dispassion – but the disclaimer should be noted. Pyne’s style of humour, as revealed in this book, can only be described as school boy-like. His overblown descriptions with similes that do not fall naturally from his lips but had to have been pre-prepared, make one squirm. His invocation of The Court Jester (39) would have made no positive impact on the television technician towards whom it was directed. Pyne’s disparaging remarks about people in Dickson wearing Ugg Boots (165) required correction by Peter Dutton, his description of numbers of his colleagues as lotus-eaters, and his determination to pay-back Julia Gillard evidence childish behaviour.
Pyne is not the first consummate politician whose sense of humour was outlandish. More serious is the mantra by which he directed his life’s work. He admits openly that his reason for being was the destruction of the Labor Opposition.
Our Plan: to remove the government. Our Strategy: war on all fronts at all times. Our Tactics: to engage and attack the enemy at every opportunity (84).
This is fine for the school yard (though even some of the children might find it devoid of details), but in Christopher Pyne’s case it is appalling. Where, too, do the electorates that Abbott and Pyne serve, appear in his grand plan?
In another place, Pyne argues that it is in order to make promises to the people in a campaign speech and then break those promises later on. Psychologists will be rejoicing that they finally have a subject as complex as any man or woman, a man whose book tells us he is comfortable lying, who possesses a sense of humour that is individualistic, yet is capable of administration of the highest order. At or around page 210, Pyne becomes a different man.
The character of the book changes. The writing becomes succinct, the ideas are clear and expressed with believability, and the writer appears to have shed the hegemonic worship of Tony Abbott. Pyne explains why Julie Bishop was the first to be eliminated during the Dutton challenge. He provides a convincing portrait of Malcolm Turnbull, and uses a succinct, encapsulating comment on Turnbull’s fall: ‘Revenge and hostility’ drove Malcolm Turnbull from office. Simple as that (237).
This book has much for readers to think about. Half a book or thereabouts is written competently but plagued by school boy humour, inanity, snobbishness, and lack of understanding of, or even interest in, the people he has in his electorate. Worse, here is a man, doing his job superbly but with little concern for humankind outside his immediate environment. Then, with an abrupt change, appears a man with superior judgment and communication insights, acting as a politician should.
What are we to make of him? Now, The Insider is food for your thoughts.
By Christopher Pyne