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Authors: Sarah Ferguson

The Killing Season Uncut

BOOK: The Killing Season Uncut
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Sarah Ferguson
is an ABC journalist. In the same year that she worked on
The Killing Season
, she also wrote and presented
Hitting Home
, the landmark series on domestic violence. She has presented the ABC's
and worked as a journalist on
Four Corners
, where she won four Walkleys—including the Gold Walkley in 2011 for ‘A Bloody Business'—the Melbourne Press Club Gold Quill Award, four Logies for most outstanding public affairs report, as well as the George Munster Award for Independent Journalism and the Queensland Premier's Literary Award.

Patricia Drum
has been a researcher for the ABC's
Four Corners
Media Watch
, and a producer at
. She is also a solicitor and has worked in federal politics as an adviser to Labor MP Maxine McKew. Patricia was a researcher on the ABC's documentary series
The Killing Season








An imprint of Melbourne University Publishing Limited

11–15 Argyle Place South, Carlton, Victoria 3053, Australia

[email protected]

First published 2016

Text © Sarah Ferguson with Patricia Drum, 2016

Design and typography © Melbourne University Publishing Limited, 2016

This book is copyright. Apart from any use permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968
and subsequent amendments, no part may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means or process whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publishers.

Every attempt has been made to locate the copyright holders for material quoted in this book. Any person or organisation that may have been overlooked or misattributed may contact the publisher.

An ABC News production

Writer/presenter: Sarah Ferguson

Series producer/director: Deborah Masters

Producer: Justin Stevens

Research: Patricia Drum, Anne Worthington

Executive producer: Sue Spencer

Front cover image design by Deborah McNamara © Australian

Broadcasting Corporation

Front cover photo of Kevin Rudd by Russell Shakespeare/Newspix

Book cover design by Philip Campbell Design

Typeset by Cannon Typesetting

Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Ferguson, Sarah, author.

The killing season uncut/Sarah Ferguson with Patricia Drum.

9780522869958 (paperback)

9780522869965 (ebook)

Gillard, Julia.

Rudd, Kevin, 1957–

Australian Labor Party.

Government and the press—Australia.

Prime ministers—Australia—Interviews.

Nonfiction television programs—Australia.

Australia—Politics and government—21st century.

Drum, Patricia, author.



Authors' Note


  The Pitch

  The Victory

  The Precipice

  A Hard Interview

  Gillard's Story

  Big Dreams

  Train Wreck

  Blood and Guts

  The Long Game

  The Challenge (Part I)

  The Challenge (Part II)

  The Long Shadow

  No Boundaries

  No-one Escapes Blame


Authors' Note

More than a hundred research interviews were conducted for the television series
The Killing Season
. For this book we have drawn on 144 hours of interviews and transcripts of fifty-five on-camera interviews, as well as three recorded research interviews. The majority of the material in this book is new and does not appear in the ABC series.

Transcripts prepared for television are literal, including every breath, noise and stumble. For the book we have followed the editing style used in television: repetitions, ums and ahs and breaths have been removed from the text. Ellipses indicate that we have joined answers from the same section of the interview, as well as where longer quotations have been edited.


studios at Gore Hill in Sydney are full of ghosts. For fifty years, actors, performers, politicians and crews have filled the vast studios, the green rooms and makeup chairs. Now the studios are being sold, the lot is almost silent.

A final drama is being played out in a corner of Studio 22. The cameras, lights and microphone stands are ready, but the two chairs facing the cameras are empty.

In a green room behind the studio, Kevin Rudd is stretched out on a sofa. He looks anguished. His jacket is off, draped over a chair. The jacket we'd insisted on bringing back ourselves, for continuity, after a first interview in Boston. It had hung in our office for two months, a hostage against Rudd's return for a second interview. As he speaks, Rudd's fingers grip the edges of an iPad.

I'm not coming back in. I'm not going back into your witness box.

It had been a long morning. We'd stopped for lunch in the middle of questions about Rudd's performance as Australia's Prime Minister in 2010. I'd suggested he take a break, have some food,
relax, but he'd scheduled a meeting instead. We'd watched as the tail-lights of his white Comcar disappeared beyond the security gate. It was hot and still on the concrete apron in front of the studio, heat rolling off the building's large metal doors. The producers and the crew were in summer clothes; I wore a tight purple jacket, the one I had worn in the Boston winter. We sat on the ground among discarded wooden pallets and ate lunch, wondering if he would return.

The questions I'd put to him through the morning session had been relentless, quoting the views of former colleagues on his performance. The most personal judgement was that of fellow former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. I read it out to him, keeping my voice neutral.

I thought for Kevin so much of his engagement in politics was about the applause, the celebrity, being fêted by people. Across his life, and perhaps some of this is explained by the hardship of his early years … clearly there's a hole that needs to be filled by applause and approval.

Rudd paused.

The first thing I'd say about that is, I haven't seen Julia's university qualifications as a psychoanalyst.

Gillard had chosen to make her attack on Rudd personal. Rudd offered a moral critique about Gillard. I learnt listening to them that you couldn't determine who was telling the truth. You could only put them side by side and let the audience decide.

That morning I had gone on too long in the same vein. The rhythm of the interview had slipped away.

When Rudd finally returned to the lot, he disappeared into the green room and wouldn't come out. Time was precious. His minder leant against a wall, non-committal. Rudd kept asking why he was being cross-examined when he was the wronged party.
His doubts about our intentions for the series returned. He was in pain, he said. He sipped his trademark tea, the blend he'd won a celebrity tea-making competition with.

All of a sudden, Rudd stood up, grabbed his jacket and said, ‘OK, let's go'. He walked into the studio, swinging the cushion he used to support his back, joking with the cameraman.

Camera set.

Sound set.

Speeds up.

I settled in my chair and looked over at Rudd.

When you look back over that period, what do you reproach yourself for the most?


If you're looking for love, don't go into politics.

Lachlan Harris

on the ABC in 2015, the three-part documentary series on the Rudd–Gillard governments had no title. Everyone working on the series called it ‘the Labor doco'. Series producer Deb Masters burst into the room where I was writing. ‘What about “The Killing Season”?' she said.

I smiled. She didn't need to explain. The title had been staring at us for months in the opening lines of the series:

The last week of Parliament: in politics they call it the killing season. Labor leader Kim Beazley is about to be overthrown.

The lines described the turmoil inside the Labor Party in December 2006 as Kevin Rudd prepared to challenge Kim Beazley for the leadership. Former Trade Minister Craig Emerson claimed credit for the phrase.

I was the person who coined the phrase ‘the killing season'. There's a time for every purpose under heaven, or under Kevin. If there was to be a challenge it would have to be in that sitting fortnight.

We went straight to Google. ‘The Killing Season' had been used once before for a movie about veterans of the Balkan War (appropriately enough) played by Robert De Niro and John Travolta. The film was terrible and disappeared from view; the title was ours.

None of our colleagues liked it. The executive producer, Sue Spencer, said it was provocative; the ABC wouldn't approve. ‘Go ahead and make the title sequence', she said. ‘Just don't tell anyone.'

When we finally made it public, we got a one-line email from Kevin Rudd's staff: ‘“The Killing Season”? Wow'.

It wasn't a compliment.


Long before it became
The Killing Season
, the series was the story of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. It couldn't exist without them. When they are next to each other onscreen, the tension crackles. But when the project began, neither former leader was a willing participant.

Work had begun on the series in mid 2013 when Labor was still in government, following the pattern of
Labor in Power
, the ABC's landmark 1993 series. The difference was Bob Hawke was an enthusiastic participant; he provided a letter for potential interviewees with his strong endorsement of the project. Paul Keating was Prime Minister when that series was made. Producer Sue Spencer remembered how much Keating liked the series' writer, Phil Chubb. Keating's interviews were done over a day and a half at The Lodge and at Parliament House (hard to imagine that happening now). Spencer and Deb Masters went on to make
The Howard Years
in 2008 with the encouragement of its subject. John Howard placed no conditions on his involvement except access to his
transcripts to help him write his memoir. He trusted the ABC to tell his story. Newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave the ABC generous access to the PM's offices to film Howard's story.

The Killing Season
, by contrast, had few supporters. Researchers Anne Worthington and Trish Drum were in Canberra in late June 2013, the week Kevin Rudd was returned as Prime Minister, and few significant players would commit to on-camera interviews. Rudd was a non-starter, Gillard was willing to take part, but both refused to be interviewed by the journalist who started the series. The project drifted. After the election loss to Tony Abbott's Coalition, the Labor Party withdrew further into itself, morose and incredulous at the collapse of everything their election victory in 2007 had promised.

BOOK: The Killing Season Uncut
12.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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