Dennis Altman reviews 'Disposable Leaders: Media and leadership coups from Menzies to Abbott' by Rodney Tiffen

When Australia’s living prime ministers attended the funeral of Gough Whitlam in 2014, there were considerable difficulties in taking the official photograph. Rather than grouping them in order of seniority, the photographer carefully separated Malcolm Fraser from John Howard; Bob Hawke from Paul Keating; Kevin Rudd from Julia Gillard. Animosities within ruling parties proved more long-lasting than those between them.

Few of our political leaders retire of their own volition. Mike Baird won praise when he did so recently, following the lead of Steve Bracks, who resigned as premier of Victoria in 2007 with his popularity largely intact. Most of our prime ministers, premiers, and opposition leaders either face electoral defeat or party coups, the fate of every prime minister since Harold Holt drowned in 1967.

Revolving party leadership has helped make Australian publishers punch-drunk on political books. As the line between politics and reality television blurs, and politics is increasingly reported as a farcical version of the Shakespearean history plays, the personalities and foibles of our elected leaders provide instant fodder for journalists and academics.

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Published in April 2017, no. 390

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