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Comedians Toby Halligan and Mathew Kenneally reveal the internal workings of Federal Parliament with their exclusive access to diary entries from within the halls of power.
SUNDAY 24/10/10

Morning

Costello dropped in to Melbourne office today. Has copy of Howard memoirs. Says he is checking it for errors, misrepresentation, and slander. Book is dog eared and crammed with post-it notes.

Costello asked if I kept any records during Costello/Howard era.

Tell Costello I kept a diary.

Costello asks if I could check it. He is doing a ring around to get source material. Is thinking of writing a scathing review of Howard’s book for The Monthly.

Evening

Recover my old diaries from lockbox buried under the shed. Spend the night reading through a few of my favourite memories.

11 March, 1996

Settling in to new government backbencher office – think it might be smaller.

Costello in – comments on tiny office. Says when he’s Prime Minister I’ll have a much larger office.

Tell Costello I had no idea John Winston Howard (JWH) was terminally ill?

Costello laughs. Explains that JWH promised to hand over by 2002 at the latest but Costello reckons it’ll be more like 2000 or 2001. Is already building succession plan - most important element of a successful transfer of leadership is a good succession plan.

10 September, 1996

Quiet day in Parliament. Weird red-head giving maiden speech. Didn’t catch much - good crossword in The Age today. Really struggling with six across. 10 letters, starts with X. Clue is “fear of outsiders”. Feel like answer is staring me in the face.

1 October, 1996

Costello in. Asks me to re-draft his anti-Hanson speech. Wants to deliver it as soon as he is PM.

Ask Costello when he thinks that will be?

Costello has feeling it’ll be any day now. Has new numbers man: Christopher Pyne. Pyne is master of detail – knows how every member of party takes coffee. Note to self – avoid Pyne.

12 May, 1997

Six across was “Xenophobia”! Finally, got it while watching documentary on History Channel.

8 March, 1998

JWH asks me to call Kennett to convince him to help break waterfront unions. Says he’s tried talking to him but doesn't speak fluent Victorian. Also Kennett called JWH a c*#@.

Kennett says he’s fighting the Maritime Union of Australia as hard as he can. Is fighting so hard his life is in danger. Has already survived four assassination attempts, this week! But for his military training he’d have died weeks ago. Is pretty sure his security detail is on it. Has noticed that wharfies and police officers have similar builds.

27 May, 2000

Go to Corroboree speech with JWH. Very awkward. By the end I was the only person in audience facing JWH, and neither of us were making eye contact with each other.

28 May, 2000

Costello in. Has apology speech written, wants to test it on me. Ask Costello if JWH had changed position on reconciliation? Thought after Corroboree that JWH would be more likely to demand apology from aborigines.

Costello decides to try speech out in party room this evening.

2 hours later

Speech goes poorly. Majority of party stand and turn backs on Costello. Only people facing forward are Christopher Pyne, me (wanted Costello to have someone other than Pyne to speak to), and Wilson Tuckey (asleep).

10 September, 2001

Pyne in. Has been nagging me to support Costello for months now. Says that the Costello train is leaving the station. Makes sound of train and chugs around office. Asks me if I want to be left alone on the platform? Ask Pyne if I could be left alone on platform with a good book to read?

Pyne chugs out.

12 September, 2001

Pyne pokes head in. Finds me under my desk. Says that train has been delayed for foreseeable future. Ask Pyne what caused delay? Pyne says plan to swap conductors has run into problems. Jokingly suggest that Pyne could surely chug through any obstacle. Pyne says that’s a pre-9/11 joke and I should feel ashamed of myself.

10 October, 2001

Peter Reith in. Needs to discuss children overboard with me in detail. Ask why he wants to discuss with backbencher? Says he can only discuss with someone he can trust, someone who will never be asked questions by media.

Reith explains that he may have gone overboard when he claimed children were being thrown overboard. Tells me whole story.

Tell Reith even though I remember him being voted at 1994 Christmas Party as “Most Likely To Go Down Like Nixon”, I’m freaking amazed at the extent of his Nixon-ness. Suggest Reith is more Nixon than Nixon. Would be even more amazed if he gets away with it.

Reith laughs maniacally. Says it doesn’t matter if he gets caught, he’s on his way out anyway. Says he’s a kamikaze pilot with a clear line of sight for HMAS Beazley.

Really glad that as Defence Minister Reith does not control nuclear weapons.

10 November 2001

Election night. Big win. Everyone very happy.

Tell wife about key role I played in counselling Reith on children overboard. Wife not impressed.

11 November 2001

Slept on couch for first time. Wife says “as mother, she cannot condone the things Party said about other mothers”.

18 November 2001

Have purchased sofa bed. Think I could be here for sometime.

25 December 2001

Wife has removed all pillows and cushions and put bed pan next to sofa bed. Note says she wants to give me experience of living in detention.

22 June 2002

Still on couch. Drinking too much. Wife refusing to accept my apology. Insists JWH has to apologise to mothers from SIEV IV before I can return to bed.

23 June 2002

Speak to JWH about sofa bed situation. JWH has a huge amount of sympathy for my situation and deeply regrets that as an indirect result of government policy I am in the doghouse. However, JWH cannot apologise for actions of previous government. Howard Government of today cannot be held responsible for actions of 1998 – 2001 Howard Government. Things were so different back then.

Call Pyne. Ask when the Costello train is stopping at my station.

15 July 2002

Attend first Costello coup meeting. Me, Pyne, Costello, Georgio, and Troeth.

Georgia asks me what drove me to support Costello. Tell Georgio about my aftermath of children overboard. Georgia puts hand on my shoulder, says he is pleased to meet a brother in arms and by the courage of our convictions we will win through.

Tell him I just want to go back to bed.

1 July 2004

Still on sofa bed. Drinking way too much.

Attend party room meeting JWH says we're in trouble – Latham has cut through. We need a new strategy. Get up, tell everyone I am confident we can win. Question for Australian people is simple: Do you trust Latham enough to be in same room as him for more than five minutes?

Get standing ovation.

2 December 2004

JWH offers me speakership. Will accept position on one condition - JWH must call wife and apologise for children overboard.

JWH is concerned about economic compensation for children overboard if he were to apologise.

Refuse speakership.

4 January 2005

Back in bed! Plight of Asian Tsunami victims has totally distracted wife from plight of refugees.

9 July 2006

Costello and Pyne call meeting. Ask Pyne how numbers are looking. Pyne not worried about numbers, time to focus on transition.

Ask why?

Costello says McLachlan is about to release details of deal JWH made with Costello in 1994 to hand over leadership. Costello knew gentleman’s agreement would work out in the end.

Tell Costello that John Howard is not the kind of man to take responsibility for something John Howard did in 1994.

Costello tells me to trust him. Asks Pyne to run numbers.

3 hours later

Costello and I at bar. Pyne has already gone home – one drink was too much. Suggest Costello think about running for Premier of Victoria. Costello asks if his numbers are that bad. Nod.

MONDAY 25/10/10

Costello calls. Has discovered during call around for ring around that he does not have the numbers to submit review of Howard's memoir to serious publication like The Monthly. However, numbers in Victoria are strong. Will send to The Age instead.

This entry also published at The Punch.
SATURDAY 09/10/10

Morning

Abbott Press Secretary (APS) calls. Wants me to come to meeting at 0900.

Do not like it when Abbott’s staff start using 24 hour time. Usually means Abbott plans to use all 24 hours in day.

0900

Meeting with Abbott.

Abbott hands me envelope – says it contains vital national security briefing. Will read on Monday. Today am meeting wife in Canberra to go to Floriade (Flower and Garden Festival). Wife has spent all week planning flower viewing.

1700

Phone call from APS – asks where I am?

Really worried I’ve gotten Saturday confused with Friday again.

Tell APS I just finished napping, about to grab dinner.

APS says I don’t have time for dinner, I can eat on the plane. Tells me to get to the airport - my flight is about to leave. Did not know I had flight!

Tell wife I have trip I forgot about. Wife has variety of pre-packed bags for these kinds of occasions. Gives me warm weather bag.

1900

Met by army guys in airport terminal. Get driven on little cart, quite exciting. Ask army guys if they know where I am going. Army guys say for operational reasons cannot discuss exact destination. Phew, knew it wasn’t my fault I forgot!

Ask if they can tell me what state I’m going to. Soldiers tell me that there are no “states” in Afghanistan.

Jump off cart. Roll ankle. Soldiers confused – help me board flight with crutches.

2000

Am on way to Afghanistan.

Ring wife to give bad news.

Wife excited. Already knew – had read briefing papers.

Angry with wife – ask wife why she did not tell me what was in briefing papers.

Wife assumed I had read them seeing as they dealt with national security.

Tell wife first rule with national security issues is to assume nothing!

Wife really proud of me, has been reading Time’s articles on the Taliban. Thinks they’re just dreadful and it’s about time someone did something about what they do to their women. Book club was discussing last night that women in Afghanistan don’t even have books, let alone bookclubs! Wife would really like me to tell story of my trip for book club.

Thank wife for her concern for my safety.

SUNDAY 10/10/10

0700

Arrive at Australian base in Afghanistan. Shadow Defence Minister David Johnson briefs Abbott and I. Has been receiving confidential communications from soldiers informing him that troops are not adequately equipped and that lack of tanks, humvees and condiments is unacceptable.

Abbott asks what he means by condiments. Johnson says lack of sauce has been causing morale problems in several units.

Abbott pleased with Johnson’s work. Asks “If you can’t put tomato sauce on the table, how can you expect to win a war against Islamic extremists?” Johnson doesn’t know either.

0800

Meet commander of Australian base.

Johnson says he’s heard that army needs more tanks.

Commander says operational requirements of mission don’t require tanks.

Abbott tells Commander he understands chain of command, and he respects the Commander too much to ask him to criticize superiors. BUT! If he needs tanks he should wink twice with his left eye. If he needs helicopters he should wink twice with right eye and if he needs both, he should blink once.

Commander does not shut eyes for rest of meeting. Incredible discipline. Glad I’m not Taliban.

Abbott and Johnson agree: Gillard must have threatened Commander when she visited.

1100

Have shower and change clothes. Wife appears to have only packed holiday clothes.

1130

Sit in on mission briefing with troops.

Am only one in hawaiian shirt. Feel self-conscious amongst SAS. Pretty sure if I were actually in army this would lead to hazing of some kind. Troops do great job of withholding laughter. APS tells me to make sure I keep out of photos.

Today's mission is to patrol nearby village to reassure locals. Abbott would like to ride along. Thinks appearance of Australian Prime Minister would be reassuring to Afghan civilians. Remind Abbott that while it was a spiritual victory, technically Gillard is PM.

Commander says it’s not possible. Abbott furious that Gillard’s machiavellian bastardy would extend to preventing him from defending Australia. Commander says that the ‘no civilian policy’ pre-dates Gillard – military’s experience of civilians on missions is that they tend to die. Lack of training is real problem. Abbott asks how long it would take to complete necessary training, points out that his fitness regime is pretty close to meeting SAS entry requirements.

Commander lets Abbott shoot a lot of things instead. Abbott really satisfied.

APS quite happy with photos. Pretty sure it will cement Queensland vote for next election.

1700

At dinner with troops. Johnson disappears to contact his army informer. Said before he left that it he could hear the Mission Impossible music in his head.

1900

Johnson back, has made Facebook contact with informer. Informer confirmed that only reason Abbott wasn’t allowed on mission was high command is trying to conceal need for tanks.

Soldier also pretty sure that nuclear weapons would “freak the crap” out of the Taliban.

Johnson has arranged meeting with source.

1930

Finally get to meeting place. Navigating in base made more difficult by use of compass. Really should have just read signposts or asked someone, but Johnson insisted we had to do it the ‘man’s way’.

Turns out source wants to meet in broom closet, for security. Broom closet not designed to accommodate four men. Decide to let Johnson and Abbott do meeting without me.

2000

Turns out Johnson’s source was kitchen hand who overheard soldiers bitching. Abbott just glad Liberal Party hasn’t made too much of claims. Johnson looks sheepish: “yeah about that…” and explains he may have tweeted a media release on the tanks an hour ago.

Says he was so totally sure about the tanks thing. Says all the veterans he spoke to at his local RSL last week totally agreed, we would have held Singapore if we’d had more tanks!

2100

Abbott farewells Commander. Promises he’ll be back in 3 months time when he’s both PM and ready to take SAS physical.

Johnson high fives soldiers on way out. As I’m leaving soldier calls out that next time I come I should bring my bikini. Abbott laughs.

2200

On plane Johnson and Abbott agree it would be a great inspirational gesture if next Liberal Party conference were held in Afghanistan. Could really show them how democracy is done! After all, they learned war from the Americans!

Pretty sure story for bookclub will need to be fictional.

This entry also published at The Punch.