Politics with Michelle Grattan: Niki Savva on her book Bulldozed, Scott Morrison and the Liberals’ woes

Six months after Scott Morrison was ousted, he remains a centre of attention, with parliament set to censure him on Wednesday over his multi-ministry power grab.

In exquisite timing, journalist Niki Savva’s book Bulldozed is released this week. It documents Morrison’s style, which eventually shocked even those closest to him in government.

“He’s a very secretive character. He’s distrustful. He’s a control freak. He’s a bully. He’s stubborn. He doesn’t listen to anyone,” Savva says. “And he was, as Alex Hawke [former minister and a Morrison numbers man] has said on the record, addicted to executive authority. He liked to be in absolute control, taking every decision but not taking responsibility for every decision.”

Savva says Hawke believed Morrison was frightened of a leadership challenge. “Alex Hawke […] believed Morrison was panic stricken by the thought that both left and right were out to get him. And although he was worried about Frydenberg, he was more worried about Dutton. He thought that there would be a move initiated by Frydenberg and then Dutton would come through the middle.”

Getting people to talk for this sort of book “is a very curious kind of process,” Savva says. “Some people are very keen to tell their story, to give their version of events, and also to set history straight. Other people are a bit more circumspect.”

Savva worked for Peter Costello during the Howard years. Asked how the Liberal Party differs now, she says: “I think a lot of it has to do with leadership. A lot of it has to do with the quality of the people who are actually in parliament now and also with the quality of the staff.”

“Howard had a respect for the Liberal Party and he always called it the ‘broad church’. So he always made sure that the right and the left wings of the Liberal Party always felt as if they had a place at the table and that they would be heard.”

“They don’t have so much a progressive voice inside the Liberal Party now and that’s why they’ve done so badly.”

So what should Peter Dutton’s game plan be, and can he ever win an election?

“Anything is possible in the way that anything is possible. But I don’t think it’s going to happen if he continues as he’s begun. I think he does need to confront, you know, those difficult issues […] He’s been too worried about what the conservative wing might think or what the Nationals might think, when I think he should have been intent on saying what the Liberals think and reshaping the Liberals in those areas.”

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