by Dave Bradley.
The Adelaide-bred Andrew P. Street, a Fairfax columnist and now first-time-author, took the time to talk with The Clothesline about his book with that wonderfully long title, and the following is an edited transcript of a considerably lengthier, tangent-filled chat.
Andrew, you’ve said before that your book is ‘dripping in comic irony’ and yet, as we’ve just emerged from two years’ worth of Tony Abbott, do you think that maybe it’s too soon, even if discussed in a wry tone, and that some out there would rather not be reminded?
“To be honest, yes, maybe that is a barrier. In all seriousness I do wonder if this is a bad time to put out a book about Abbott, as I think that there’s a kind of shell-shock around. I mean, the Turnbull government, who really have done pretty much nothing – and what they have actually done is really not great – are doing well simply as they’re not Abbott’s government… It seems that not being Abbott is a remarkably successful political strategy.”
Was writing the book an idea you put to Allen & Unwin or did they approach you? Did they think you were the just the guy to pen such a book as they were fans of your ‘View From The Street’ column?
“I was approached. They knew my column, and after the spill-that-wasn’t in February they accurately predicted that there would be another – and there’s never been a second leadership spill that hasn’t been successful – and they sort of said, ‘So who can knock this out pretty quickly?’ And I have this reputation for writing stuff quickly, and so they read my column and liked it and we went from there.”
So you began the book in February this year, had it ready in June or July and then had to rewrite the final chapter after the second spill, right?
“Sort of, yes. They first approached me in late March and I signed the contract in April… I also got married in mid-May, and so there was a fortnight there where I was fairly distracted, and then I travelled a bit and that derailed things too… And then it was literally ready to be printed and scheduled for the Tuesday after Turnbull’s spill, and the day of the spill at like 4.30 in the afternoon I was on the phone with the guys at Allen & Unwin saying, ‘Well, what the f*** do we do???’ I started rewriting the final chapter on the Friday, and then also worked on changing some tenses and that sort of thing in the rest of the text, and so yes, it was really a bit of a frantic and challenging final week.”
But it isn’t just the challenge of actually writing the words of the book before the spill: there’s all the other stuff necessary in your role as author, all of the references, sources, quotations, bibliographic listings and the rest. Was that all a bit of a pain in the arse?
“It was! This is my first book and I’ve never written anything this long and this focussed, and I didn’t really know how complex all of that when I was first approached, and so I had this idiotic idea and said, ‘Well, how hard can it be?’, and, ‘This will be fun!’… I mean, my column is all about what’s happened in the last 12 hours, whereas the book is about what happened in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and so there was a lot of jumping back and forth… So I was writing in the morning about what had just happened and then switching in the afternoon to what had happened two years ago, and so I wasn’t fun to be around, I think, as my topics of conversation were all about, for example, what Peter Dutton had just done that morning or what Peter Dutton had done two years ago… You know, that sort of thing. My wife is extraordinarily patient.”
So much of what you write about in the book is also bloody depressing, so was it also depressing to revisit so much awfulness?
“There wasn’t much that Abbott actually achieved. I mean, all he really did on one level was delay things, and things that are going to happen anyway, like an emissions trading scheme, which is a foregone conclusion… You can bitterly laugh at Christopher Pyne’s efforts to deregulate universities, an idea that was obviously idiotic, but then there were the chapters on offshore detention, which were un-f***-believably hard to write and research. Those are real lives destroyed and lives lost, and I don’t think any Australian can look at what’s happened and the ongoing situation and not think that it’s all going to be a permanent stain on our national psyche… I’m sorry, but the whole situation, and what’s going on in Nauru at the moment, it’s all just so terrible. How do any of us sleep at night?… And are we going to wait 10 years and wind up having to discuss this in The Hague?”
Hearing you talk now, Andrew, and reading your columns and your book, one could get the sneaking suspicion that you’re ‘Left-leaning’, so how do you feel about being known as that? Especially when Right-wing journos and commentators have so much power – and behave so badly?
“When you look at opinion pieces and columnists, the divide between Left and Right becomes more pronounced, yes. I mean, look at people like Andrew Bolt and Miranda Devine, who have a very explicitly conservative perspective, and then, on the other hand, there are people like me and Annabel Crabb, and Daily Life’s Clem Ford. One thing that I do that can stop readers dismissing me as ‘Oh, he’s a f***ing Leftie!’ is include lots of links, so that if I claim that someone said something in some context there’s a link to something that demonstrates that they really did say that, as opposed to someone like Alan Jones, who can cite stats without anyone calling him on it… Personally I do think that we could stand to be nicer to each other, and that would have all sorts of benefits.”
The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott is now available from the Allen & Unwin website. Click HERE to purchase your copy.