By Annie Hackette
Morning - 6:30am
Arrived at Parliament for my first day in the Prime Minister’s Office. Decided to maintain this journal to keep a record of this historic time.
I was met at the security desk in Parliament by another staffer, Jean. She greeted me with the phrase “good afternoon”. I laughed, thinking it was a joke.
Jean showed me my desk and told me the PM’s Press Secretary (everyone calls him Rudd’s Press Secretary - RPS) would be in to welcome me to the office.
Met a very rude man! He walked up to me and said: “Claire! Where the f**k are those hospitals lists?” I told him my name isn’t Claire. He said “I Don’t have time for this” and walked out.
Later I learnt that the rude man was the RPS! He was looking for a list of hospitals in marginal seats. They’ve all been carefully selected to ensure that the patients the PM will meet have “appropriate injuries” and that rural voters, the elderly and kids are over-represented (recreational drug users, burns victims and anyone contagious are out).
RPS approached my desk and said “You’re fired, Jean”. I told him my name was Annie. He disagreed. I showed him my ID and security card. He told me I’d better watch my attitude and ordered me to fire Jean.
I suggested it would be better coming from him.
An Hour Later
So on my first day I told the person that trained me she was fired. Jean took it quite well, said she could use a break.
In the evening the RPS came in and said “Good Morning” and told us COAG was totally stalled and may well collapse. There was still no agreement on the National Hospital and Health Network (NHHN). The PM was refusing to include a vowel in the acronym. Brumby wanted at least two vowels, New South Wales wanted one, and Barnett was completely against an acronym.
My main job is to read the papers and watch Today Tonight and A Current Affair, to make sure bad news doesn’t derail our good news, or that we have good news to cover up our bad news. Again not what I expected.
Ran into Jean at COAG! She’s working with Kristina Keneally! I asked her what happened to her break? She said she was really enjoying it.
The RPS announced a health deal had been reached. Everyone cheered. Someone asked whether all states have signed on. RPS said yes, but that WA hadn’t. RPS said if people of WA wanted to be treated like real state they should have elected a real government.
RPS said: fight to get deal is over, battle to convince the Premiers to call ‘deal’ an ‘agreement’ has just begun. NSW doesn’t think we can call it an agreement unless WA signs on. SA pushing to call it a pact. Brumby willing to call it an agreement in exchange for 20 million in mental health funding. RPS suspects he’ll need most of that funding once COAG is finished for himself. Everyone laughed, nervously.
RPS returned to declare that after much haggling the PM had won: states had agreed to call health care deal a unanimous, historic agreement even though WA had not agreed to agreement or to calling agreement an agreement.
Began day with a meeting with RPS and economic advisor (EA) re: Today Tonight story about Chinese investors driving up house prices. I made notes of their debate:
RPS: worried, says PM must act or battlers will turn feral.
EA: no evidence of problem.
RPS: Asians taking houses off battlers.
EA: hasn’t heard this is problem from any economists, bank, or lobby group.
RPS: “if a tree falls in the forest and Today Tonight hears the tree falling and Today Tonight says Asians cut down tree and it falls on a battler, then it’s a f**ing problem.”
EA: Nobody with economics degree thinks it’s a problem.
RPS: How many people with economics degrees live in marginal seats? And that if answer wasn’t sh**loads, EA could make love to himself with economics degree.
Bad day got worse. Combet went into meeting with RPS and PM looking very grim. RPS came out furious. Review of insulation has been completed with the worst possible outcome: Garrett exonerated.
RPS says if Garrett wasn’t to blame then people might blame PM.
RPS instructs us to find ways to spin exoneration to reflect poorly on Garrett.
Garrett came in looking very happy. Asked RPS if he could talk to PM about getting his job back.
RPS asked how Garrett could think of himself at a time when the Government was having to deal with the public relations disaster caused by his exoneration.
Garrett claimed that wasn’t his fault and asked to see the PM.
RPS so angry he threw a mug at the ceiling and a roof panel fell down, along with batt of insulation. RPS told Garrett to fix hole in roof.
Kate Ellis came in to tell PM Government can’t keep promise to build child care centres because there are already enough of them.
RPS was furious at surplus of child care centres and lamented Garrett’s inability to burn a few down. Everyone laughed (very nervously).
RPS said between Garrett’s exoneration, extra child-care places and the lack of evidence showing Asians were pushing up house prices – this had been a terrible day.
Came in to find Garrett in overalls working on ceiling.
Called hospitals to make sure none of the patients Kevin was scheduled to meet had died or become too healthy.
RPS called everyone into room for a meeting.
He said, and it’s worth quoting him:
The eagle has landed, the golden goose has laid the best egg you’ve ever seen – it’s an egg the size of a Rugby League football and it has five words on it: Melbourne storm salary cap breach. This is an officially amnesty for c**k-ups of all shapes, sizes and descriptions. Today is “Open and Accountable Government” day. I want every Minister to have called me within the hour and for them to tell me something they’ve f***d up or someone they’ve f****d. Today’s the day we tell the people everything, because if it isn’t purple, beefy and over-paid they don’t give a sh*t. We need the PM as far away from this office as possible, I need a hospital, I need happy old people for him to hug and I need it now.
I had a hospital in Hobart. He hugged me. It was a real Josh and Donna moment.
There’s a queue of Ministers outside the RPS’ office. Backbenchers have been calling to confess decade old affairs and fetishes. We’re under strict orders from RPS to ensure that we only accept bad news from people we consider part of the Government – Ministers, marginal seat holders and Maxine McKew. There are a whole lot of people round Parliament House I will never step into an elevator with again.
Jean’s back! Said she enjoyed her vacation but the RPS felt he needed more staff on to flush all the bad news out.
Second meeting with RPS and EA to resolve Asian house buying issue. I said we need to find some evidence and could set up hotline. RPS likes idea, says it worked with terrorism. EA points out that it’s racist and ineffective. RPS agrees and tells me to set it up.
PM came in and gave a speech. He thanked us for all our hard work and pointed to everything we’d done, saving health-care, improving accessibility to housing and increasing child care places. Speech was unfortunately cut short when roof panel landed on PM.
Not sure Garrett should ever come to this office again.