Book Review: A Premier’s State

A secondary school assembly was the first time Steve Bracks became relevant to me. No, it wasn’t the obligatory handing-out of awards that drew my attention to him there. It was instead our principal announcing that Bracks had resigned as premier. While the one cardigan-wearing English teacher – whom I long suspected of holding Labor sympathies – was probably already thinking about the next branch meeting, my adolescent mind (some would say it’s still so) ticked over, trying to work out the significance of the event.

Thankfully, we get a much more interesting account of what happened in the lead-up to that day in Bracks’s memoir, A Premier’s State. More of a history than a commentary, the book – arguably on the shorter side – is very much his way of setting the record straight. Not that much needs to be straightened, mind you. Eight years as premier; a continuation of the privatisation that started under Jeff Kennett; historic reform of the upper house – he’s hardly a problematic leader in the vein of, say, Mark Latham, who to my mind always raises more questions than answers with his appearances and articles.

One reason you should at least try and bum a copy from the library is to see how Bracks views his political adversaries. Premier Denis Napthine, formerly State Leader of the Opposition between 1999 and 2002, is described by Bracks as finding the leadership “burdensome”. As for Latham: “I really had very little to do with Mark Latham over the years I was involved in politics, but the little I knew about him led me to believe that he would be a high-risk leader of the federal ALP.

He seemed to have a permanent chip on his shoulder, which resulted in him constantly belittling groups of people from all walks of life. He also regularly overestimated his own ability. I remember being shown a draft education policy that he had written when he was the shadow education minister – it was almost incomprehensible and as a result was never used.”

And Ted Baillieu fares little better: “It seemed to me that he lacked determination. People used to say to me: ‘Oh no, that’s just one of his characteristics. That’s just his style.’ But I still thought he looked a bit half-hearted and gave off this air that he was only doing the job because he had to, because he felt obliged to, not because he was hungry for it.”

This passage seemingly proves my hitherto-unrevealed hypothesis that Ted Baillieu was only doing it for the same reason Mitt ‘R-Money’ Romney ran for president last year and George ‘Dubya’ Bush ran for a second term (surely even he realised he changed America, and therefore the rest of the world, for the worse in his first term): daddy issues. OK, so it was Baillieu’s great-grandfather who was in state parliament back in the day, but the principle of familial obligation still applies.

There are the obligatory photos and stories of his coming-of-age, but Steve Bracks’s memoir is mostly one to read for the two people reading this who want to have a successful career in social-democratic politics. For everybody else, A Premier’s State is a good history of a certain period by a person who is well-placed to write about it, but should have perhaps had more reflections. Maybe he’s not done yet.

Cameron Magusic



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