It’s a long time since the Art-Student and I have been to a Gleebooks event. Tonight we went to a discussion of a book (pic on the left leaves off the first two letters of its name) about Kevin Rudd’s handling of the Australian branch of the Global Financial Crisis. As we arrived the A-S observed that it was a different crowd – men were wearing ties, and women were coiffed. That plus the fact that Malcolm Turnbull was chairing the discussion should have warned us to sit next to the aisle instead of right against the wall where early exit was virtually impossible.
As Upstairs at Gleebooks was filling to capacity, Malcolm Turnbull took the microphone to do a bit of a warm-up. He asked how many of us knew the original owner of Gleebooks and when only a couple of us raised a hand he said he’d give us a bit of history. After a couple of disparaging hyperboles about Tony Gallagher’s body, he told is that he had been a teacher at Malcolm’s high school, where he had produced King Lear with young Malcolm in the role of Edgar. End of history lesson, beginning of anecdote about young Malcolm getting into a scrape.
The authors of the book, an economist and a political journalist, joined Turnbull on stage. I can’t say that the conversation that followed was very enlightening. We were told, for instance, that the global financial crisis was brought about by government being too much at the centre of the US economy (it was Turnbull the corporate warrior who said that), that Rudd exaggerated the severity of the crisis (that was Turnbull the politician) and that Rudd deliberately downplayed the severity of the crisis (that was the journalist). I suppose the A-S and I had gone there naively hoping for some kind of insight into what had happened to Kevin Rudd’s government. Instead, it was the kind of crowd where every time one of the panel referred to him as the former prime minister they successfully invited widespread sniggering. The book may be interesting and insightful, and there were indications that at least one of the authors had a more nuanced view than Turnbull’s (in short: ‘Rudd did it all wrong, except overseas. and he should have listened to me’). But the evening left a bad taste in the mouth – and to judge by the questions, there were a number of people in the audience who shared out response.
I’m pleased to report that when a woman asked the panel’s response to her sense that Rudd and Co had deliberated talked up the financial crisis and swine flu to scare her, both the authors disagreed, and even Malcolm could tell that truth ought to take precedence over an opportunity to denigrate a political opponent.