The past according to Gerard

Gerard Henderson in SMH fulminates against the SBS program ‘Liberal Rule’, which begins tonight. The program, according to Gerard, is full of ‘Howard-haters’ and ’a shocker and a disgrace’.

Henderson is keen to see the history books treat Howard nicely, which is a noble cause. But it is difficult to imagine what would pass muster with him this side of a propaganda unit. As he says, he wasn’t keen on ‘The Howard Years‘ either, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more obsequious portrait of the former PM than that one.

I’ve seen the first episode of ‘Liberal Rule’ (will be reviewing it and others for Inside Story [update: here]) and it ain’t perfect, but so far it is superior to the ABC1 product. This one is more politically literate, taking a longer term view, noting the part luck plays in the ebbs and flows of political success, reprising the Fraser and Hawke/Keating years. It has more dimensions.

It draws many long bows, like any political show. There are probably too many talking heads, and too much carping about the economy from non-economics types (particularly Mark Davis).

But its characters are more than cardboard cut-out heroic ‘men of steel’. Which is presumably Gerard’s problem with it.

[22 July update: having now seen the last two episodes, I must confess to moving just a smidgen towards Gerard's position (without the personal abuse). There are a few too many adjudications from lefty academics, which is not the academics' fault but the producers. Full review at Inside Story tomorrow. Update: here.]

16 Responses to “The past according to Gerard”

  1. bilko says:

    I read his article and his comments made it a must see program but as it is my birthday today and I will be out so I shall record it and watch later. Still the libs seem more paper mache than cardboard Gerald is still in half denial mode.

  2. [...] but for one that suits his preferences and that “wins” against the Howard-haters. As Peter Brent of Mumble notes: Henderson is keen to see the history books treat Howard nicely, which is a noble cause. But it is [...]

  3. Rationalist says:

    This is one to watch :) .

    I have always wanted to see Labor in Power but I have never been able to put my finger on a copy, except for some tiny clips on Youtube. One of which gave me a laugh since it featured a [very] Barry Cassidy :) .

  4. Matthew says:

    I haven’t seen Liberal Rule, I did see The Howard Years. I think Gerard Henderson and Peter Brent identified the same problem with the Howard Years which was that the participants were on guard against the presumed Labor supporting ABC producers. Labor in Power elicited much more frankenss because the politicians involved were talking with friends. It relates to a wider issue of the relative lack of centre-right journalists in Australia.

  5. Peter [not Brent] says:

    Labor in Power drew frank responses because most of the participants assumed that Labor would lose the 1993 election. This was perceived as each player’s chance to get his* own version of history as the first draft – so often the one that becomes received wisdom.
    If they thought they were talking to their friends, they should have been wary as Phil Chubb had factional connections which would have been congenial to some but certainly not all.
    * At this distance, I’m unsure if there were any females featured in the program.

  6. Matthew says:


    The same might have happened with The Howard Years – made after the Liberals had actually lost. A Liberal oriented film maker (even a factionally aligned one!) would I suspect have got more out of them.

  7. Antony Green says:

    Labor in Power was researched, planned and partly filmed before the 1993 election. Many of the participants were looking forward to how posterity would view them after defeat, but they didn’t lose in 1993. The series was then shown while Labor was still in government The Howard Years was filmed after defeat so the participants have a different mind set and the whole program ended up with a different feel.

  8. Peter Brent says:

    Having now seen the last two episodes, I must confess to moving just a smidgen towards Gerard’s position (without the personal abuse). There are a few too many adjudications from lefty academics, which is not the academics’ fault but the producers. Full review at Inside Story tomorrow.

  9. Stephen Darragh says:


    How much more Liberal-aligned can you get than Fran Kelly? She’d been selling the Howard government for the past several years on her breakfast radio show before taking a sabbatical to make The Howard Years.

    Perhaps a raving lunatic like Piers Akerman could’ve done it more to your liking?

  10. Matthew says:


    Like Peter, I think “Fran Kelly comes across as a bit left-wing.” That does not mean she tries to be biased against the liberals, but a natural affinity is not there as it was with the openly Labor supporting producer of Labor in Power.

    The fact that in your repost you fail to come up with a name between Fran Kelly and Piers Akermnan (ie a sympathetic Liberal aligned centre right moderate journalist) is perhaps symptomatic of the problem.

  11. Sorry for the off-topic post, but the electoral map you have on this website is missing the Victorian seat of Gorton.

  12. John Humphreys, Gorton is missing from the electoral maps because they are from the 2001 election and Gorton was created in the 2002-03 redistribution.

    Also, how did you find those maps in the first place? I couldn’t find any direct link to electoral maps on the site and I was only able to find out what you were talking about by using Google.

  13. Peter Brent says:

    John and Ghost: I think the only maps I have on this website are those in the pendulum page. A link in left hand side bar of old Mumble goes here; there’s a ‘maps’ link at top.
    They are, however, pre that most recent redistribution. Ie as at 2001 election.

  14. [...] (Further to Gerard Henderson post below.) Posted 23 July 2009 by Peter. Comments and trackbacks are open. Follow the comments feed. [...]

  15. Steve1 says:

    I think people make too much of the supposed bias of the story tellers for the failures of shows like Liberal Rule to glean greater understanding of the events. I think the failure of these shows, and much of the daily reporting of politics is that media don’t actually understand the 2007 result. People understand 2006 and accpet it. Too long in power, arrogant unpopular leader out of touch with the electorate expalins the 1996 result. 2007, a supposedly popular leader, in touch with ordinairy australians, at the peak of the economic cycle got almost as big a thrashing as Labor did in 1996, and top of that Howard lost his seat. I think you can’t understand the narrative unless you understand the start and the end. We understand 1983 and we understand 1996, so we can understand the story in between. With the Libs, we understand the start but we don’t understand the end, so we can’t understand the story of how we got from the start to the end. And that i think is the problem with both the Howard Years and Liberal Rule, not the supposed bias of the film makers.

  16. Pete from Perth says:

    Steve1, the only surprise from the 2007 election was that Howard wasn’t thrashed by much more. The polls were showing 60:40 to Labor at various stages, only clawed back to a quite flattering margin of defeat right at the end of the campaign. (The margins have since blown out again.)

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