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The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government

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Kevin Rudd was given no warning, but even he lasted longer than Abbott. Julia Gillard had plenty of warnings, but even she lasted longer than Abbott.

Abbott ignored all the warnings, from beginning to end — the public ones, the private ones, from his friends, his colleagues, the media.

His colleagues were not being disloyal. They did not feel they had betrayed him; they believed he had betrayed them. Their motives were honourable. They didn’t want him to fail; they wanted the government to succeed, and they wanted the Coalition re-elected.

Abbott and Credlin had played it harder and rougher than anybody else to get where they wanted to be. But they proved incapable of managing their own office, much less the government. Then, when it was over, when it was crystal-clear to everyone that they had failed, when everyone else could see why they had failed, she played the gender card while he played the victim.

In The Road to Ruin, prominent political commentator, author, and columnist for The Australian Niki Savva reveals the ruinous behaviour of former prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin. Based on her unrivalled access to their colleagues, and devastating first-person accounts of what went on behind the scenes, Savva paints an unforgettable picture of a unique duo who wielded power ruthlessly but not well.

440 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 7, 2016

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Niki Savva

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 165 reviews
Profile Image for Scott.
291 reviews303 followers
November 22, 2016
In a faraway land there was a kingdom ruled by a pair of co-dependent fools whose own alienated supporters eventually rose up and deposed them.

This kingdom was Australia from 2013-15. The two fools were Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff Peta Credlin. In Road to Ruin Niki Savva examines in forensic detail the lies, delusion and weird, weird co-dependence between Abbott and Credlin that eventually saw their own colleagues band against them to throw them out of office. The picture she paints is not pretty. Imagine two substandard clones of The Office's David Brent with their hands on the levers of government and you're pretty close to the dysfunctional reality of Australia's highest office during the Abbott years.

Savva journeys from the beginning of the Abbott Government through to its (very) bitter end, and finds mistakes at every stage, some small, some terminal. Abbott and Credlin were both factional, ideologically driven head-kickers, people who spoiled for a political fight and loved to destroy their opponents. They attempted to apply this philosophy to governing a nation and failed dismally.

From early on, Abbott and Credlin ran a command-and-control operation, vetoing ministerial staff selections, strictly controlling parliamentarians' travel arrangements, interfering in government portfolios seemingly at whim and punishing their rivals and enemies.

So far so unsurprising - I'd expect a pair of factional right-wing political warriors to tend towards the dictatorial in their methods - but what really made all this unbearable for their colleagues was the degree of incompetence they married to their authoritarianism. Announcements would be made with the relevant staff or ministers being told. Reporters would be briefed on matters the press teams had not prepared for, and staff would then be blamed for their inability to manage the resulting media messes. Leaks to the press from the Prime Minister's office seemed constant, and burnt numerous colleagues who were caught unawares by the media.

The pairs' personal traits also hastened their demise. Abbott seemed to lack both confidence in his ability and an ability to listen to advice, leaning more and more on his chief of staff despite her deepening unpopularity with his colleagues. His friends in government warned him many times that he was headed in the wrong direction, that he needed to sack Credlin and that he needed to change the government's direction but he ignored them all.

Credlin herself comes across in Savva's narrative like an insecure, hectoring bully, prone to unforgivable public excoriations of her staff and petulant tantrums that the prime minister would then have to hose down. She ignored essential government work to focus on trivial tasks such as rearranging offices, or picking wines for function menus, while staff and ministers waited on her to sign documents and authorise policy. Her harassment and general poor treatment of employees really struck a nerve with me. I saw my mother's confidence and health progressively destroyed by a workplace bully in the 90s, so I have first hand experience of what a toxic boss can do to a person.

Combined with some of the crazy policies the PM's office cooked up (How about stopping young people from getting welfare for six months after losing their jobs? that won't cause any social issues...) tensions in the government grew to an explosive level, finally being ignited by Abbott's incomprehensible decision to bestow an unrequested Knighthood on Prince Phillip, the English Duke of Edinburgh (presumably making him Sir-Prince-Duke Phillip). From this point his days were numbered, and the eventual coup that toppled him was both expected and welcomed by many Australians.

This is a page turner of an odd sort, drawing the reader on with the promise of ever greater examples of delusion, screw-ups and complete failure at the highest levels of power. Leaders of all political orientations should read it, and do their damnedest not to emulate it.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews813 followers
July 2, 2021
(Updated with links at the bottom.)
“Kevin Rudd was given no warning, but even he lasted longer than Abbott. Julia Gillard had plenty of warnings, but even she lasted longer than Abbott. Abbott ignored all the warnings, from beginning to end — the public ones, the private ones, from his friends, his colleagues, the media.”

Nobody knows the ins and outs of Australian federal politics like Niki Savva! And she writes about it so delightfully that it’s like reading a knowledgeable gossip column . . . except, this isn’t gossip.

Savva worked in high-profile conservative politics as Peter Costello’s press secretary for six years and on John Howard’s staff for three. She is now a respected journalist and columnist who knows who’s who and where the skeletons are buried.

“The anecdotes related here are based on primary sources — that is, they were related to me by people who saw or heard or participated in what transpired.”

I won’t comment on the politics and the promises and budgets, just some of the turmoil.

Savva mentions the persistent rumour that PM Tony Abbott and his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, were having an affair, but it was always denied and Savva doesn’t elaborate. But Abbott and Credlin were both convinced that he couldn’t run the country without her, and Savva says that may have been true. As it turned out, he couldn’t run it with her either.

Briefly, the best Opposition leader ever to bully and beat a troubled Labor government couldn’t make the transition to government after his party won. Tony Abbott wasted energy kicking the losing Labor Party when they were already down, meanwhile defending his Chief of Staff who kept egging him on and keeping everyone else away. You know, the same thing bullies do to the abused – isolate them.

Her style was hector, bully, restructure, and sack. She cleared most of the females out of all positions of power. She was noted for her screaming rages and foul language, even in public and even attacking the PM, who just said she was “upset”. Oh dear. I guess so. Here’s one episode.

“Suzanne Kasprzak . . . handled John Howard’s diary for five long years. She was a stalwart and absolute professional, renowned for her hard work and efficient manner. She was in Malcolm Turnbull’s office when Abbott won the leadership. Most of Turnbull’s staff, including Credlin, who was then deputy chief of staff, stayed on.

Pretty soon, Credlin decided she was unhappy with Suzanne’s work. She would go into Suzanne’s office, close the door, and start yelling at her. . . . After a few months, Credlin insisted that all diary requests had to go through her. She would put a red line through every request she disapproved, including those from backbenchers. . . .

Credlin ‘restructured’ the office. Abbott called Suzanne in, thanked her for her work, told her he had never been better served by anybody, but in the new restructure there was no job for her. He gave her a bunch of flowers, which she threw in the bin as she walked out of the office. She left feeling fragile, her confidence wounded.”

Credlin reduced many others to tears until they resigned. She herself often resorted to tears, poor dear, gaining sympathy and comfort from her boss.

Next is an example of how she gathered ammunition. Out to dinner with staff, Shane Evans remembers he and a female colleague decided to leave at the end of the meal while others stayed.

‘Peta, obviously wanting to continue holding court, openly challenged us about leaving, in front of everyone who was there’. To his colleague’s response that she was ‘tired’, Credlin replied: ‘I’ve seen your phone bill, and I know you stay out much later than this.’

Evans says now: ‘It was a minor incident, but telling about her willingness to cross lines and obsess over the details of her staff, right down to the minutiae of trawling through their phone bills to see who was communicating with who and when.’

Control freak, much? Gheesh! But because she spent all her time nit-picking and shouting (and managing the PM, even applying his on-camera make-up), she neglected her overflowing in-tray where every single request and policy landed before it was allowed to go to “her” Prime Minister. Things didn’t get done, policies weren’t read, messages didn’t get through, access to the PM was denied.

Ministers couldn’t get plane tickets without Credlin’s written authorisation, and she’d leave the Foreign Affairs Minister hanging until 24 hours before take-off! She delayed authorising tickets for a dozen conference-goers for so long that they lost their discount fares, costing the taxpayers more.

The rumblings of mutiny in the ranks were growing louder—they’d had enough. They made spreadsheets of supporters and resorted to pretend birthday celebrations to meet secretly without raising suspicion.

“They knew they had the numbers. A cardinal rule of politics is, when you have the numbers, use them.”

Use them they did. Malcolm Turnbull challenged for the leadership of the Liberal Party and won. The nation breathed an enormous sigh of relief as Abbott slunk off to the back bench.

If it were a film script, it would sound far-fetched. The pity is:

“Both of them had the potential to be wonderful role-models. He was the most community-minded prime minister we have ever had. His fire-fighting, his surf live-saving, his many acts of kindness should have made people warm to him.”

Great read for political junkies!

 photo niki_savva_zpsljel3mvk.jpg
Niki Savva

P.S. A couple of links to articles about Niki Savva herself.


This from 2010, after she wrote So Greek: Confessions of a Conservative Leftiewhich said:

"The possibility of Abbott leading a government, Savva feels is 'Very remote! You never know ...'

And on the recent airing of Abbott's view on women's chastity, she laughs, 'He's so old fashioned, he reminds me, as I wrote in my book, of one of my relatives who offered me money to keep my virginity till marriage.'

Profile Image for Adam.
221 reviews117 followers
June 7, 2016
Great read on the worst government and PM in modern history. And without doubt the worst political staffer and certainly egomaniacal Chief of Staff ever, anywhere.

Set the Liberal National Party Coalition, conservatives, and political women back years.

The Zaky Mallah rubbish should have been left out, the detail it went in to was distracting and irrelevant
Profile Image for Susan.
40 reviews9 followers
June 28, 2016

Niki Savva’s The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government is written in a gossipy, conversational style. Reading it, I felt as though Niki was dishing the dirt over a quiet chardonnay in Kingston. The casual style works because Savva, a political journalist and former media advisor to Treasurer Peter Costello, is giving readers a look into the inner workings of the Australian political machinery.

The first half of the book details the deeply dysfunctional relationship between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his “one woman Praetorian Guard”, his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin.

Savva details the bizarre level of micro-management that Credlin exerted over the Prime Minister’s office, letting briefs and minutes pile up in her in-tray as she consulted with the Prime Minister’s chef over menus, picked flower arrangements for the G20 meeting, and personally oversaw renovations at the Prime Minister’s Canberra residence.

She also spells out one outlandish incident after another, with Credlin routinely storming out of meetings, shouting at the Prime Minister to “fuck off”, and on one occasion even delaying a motorcade in Indonesia as she and Tony Abbott had it out behind closed doors. As Savva notes:

“The volatility, the questionable judgement, the unnecessary meddling at every level, not only made for a dysfunctional office; it filtered through every nook and cranny of the government.”

There’s sadness too, as Savva, herself a political conservative, saw how things could have turned out so much better:

“In my weekly column for The Australian on 6 June 2013, a few months before the election, I offered what I believed was constructive advice about what was needed for Abbott to succeed in government.”

The morning the piece was published, the then leader of the Opposition texted her: “Niki, enjoyed today’s piece and got a good chuckle from the cartoon. Cheers Tony.” Savva continues:

“That ‘cartoon’ was a magnificent illustration by Eric Lobbecke, showing Credlin as a sword-wielding Amazon with Abbott peeking out from behind her, fingers demurely entertwined. John Lyons saw the illustration hanging on Credlin’s wall when he interviewed her for The Australian, for a piece published on 21 February 2015. He was taken aback when he saw it displayed so prominently because of what it said about their relationship.

Whatever message Abbott took from that column, it wasn’t the right one. The same goes for Credlin. All the seeds were sown then. All he had to do was make a few adjustments. He never did.”

For The Road to Ruin, Savva interviewed other prominent Prime Ministerial staffers including Tony Eggleton, who was Harold Holt’s press secretary when the latter drowned in 1967 and, as Federal director of the Liberal Party, was suddenly thrust into the limelight during the dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975; and Tony O’Leary who, as Prime Minister John Howard’s press secretary in 2001, was preparing for a White House meeting with President George Bush when terrorist planes flew into the World Trade Center.

As Savva points out, these anecdotes illustrate:

“… the extreme importance of having professionals in those jobs, then trusting them to do them. They also show when it’s time for staff to butt out and leave it all to the politicians… or how the best always tell the boss what he or she doesn’t want to hear.”

She goes on to highlight:

“… another extreme failure in the Abbott office. There was no division of responsibilities; instead there was a takeover. The chief of staff not only took over the jobs of the political advisers, the policy advisers, the administrative staff, the decorators, and the menu planners, but she took over the jobs of the press secretaries too.”

The reader is left to speculate about whether Peta Credlin would have performed as admirably as Tony Eggleton or Tony O’Leary in similarly difficult circumstances.

While Savva’s gossipy style is employed to good effect in this political tell-all, the historical sidebars would have benefited from more context. No doubt all Australians of a certain age remember where they were when they heard that Prime Minister Holt was missing, presumed drowned, or that the Whitlam government had been dismissed, but The Road to Ruin would be of interest to a broader audience, and have more longevity, if the historical background were painted in.

The second half of the book focuses on the Liberal party’s increasingly desperate attempts to persuade Tony Abbott to stand aside, then when those tactics failed, the machinations of the “Group of Eight” who worked with Malcolm Turnbull to deliver the September 2015 coup which finally unseated the Prime Minister.

As Savva writes of the G8, “It was precise, it was discreet, it was swift, and it had every possible contingency covered”. The blow-by-blow account of the Group’s manoeuvrings becomes tedious, but may provide a useful playbook the next time an Australian political party wants to dump their leader.

The Road to Ruin finishes with some reflections on Tony Abbott’s psychological makeup, the challenges facing Prime Minister Turnbull, and the Australian political system. Savva concludes that our revolving door of leaders is proof that the system does, in fact, work:

“Between late 2007 and 2013, the ‘system’ threw up three deeply flawed and deficient individuals who became prime minister, then the system rose up to eject them. The fact that this could happen is proof that it works well, that it does the job it was designed to do.”

Perhaps the last word in this saga belongs to The Huffington Post, which posted on 15 September 2015:

“It’s Monday, so Australia has a new prime minister”.

Profile Image for Carly.
234 reviews2 followers
May 31, 2016
Some very interesting anecdotes and insights but quite choppily written in parts which is distracting. It feels like it was rushed to print which is a shame as it could heave been a much clearer and stronger read.
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,877 reviews197 followers
February 23, 2023
‘How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin destroyed their own government.’

Tony Abbott was Australia’s 28th Prime Minister, his chief of staff was Peta Credlin. He served as Prime Minister from 18 September 2013 to 14 September 2015. A period of less than two years, and shorter (even) than Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard. In this book, prominent political commentator, author, and columnist for The Australian Niki Savva sets out how Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin failed.

‘The combination of the two of them, so successful in opposition, proved to be deadly in government. Together, they masterminded their own downfall.’

It’s an interesting read. In the political world, perception is everything. And one perception was that Peta Credlin micro-managed the Prime Minister’s Office, became a bottleneck in terms of information flow, and did not possess particularly effective people management skills. Another perception is that Tony Abbott found it easier to allow Peta Credlin such control than he did to try to set effective and appropriate boundaries. Was there ever recognition of the boundary between party political issues, and effective governance?

My interest in this book is not whether or not Tony Abbott and Peter Credlin had an affair, or even whether Joe Hockey broke the marble table during Tony Abbott’s end-of-rule party, or who slapped whose buttocks at various times. My interest is in the process followed by the Liberals to replace Tony Abbott after he had ignored so many warnings (including from John Howard) about what was going wrong. There’s been a lot of talk about disloyalty since Tony Abbott was replaced, but what were his colleagues supposed to do?

This book provides example after example of how dysfunctional the Prime Minister’s Office had become. Example after example where Tony Abbott didn’t want to upset Peta Credlin. And, in one case (the knighting of Prince Philip) an example of when Tony Abbott didn’t take Peta Credlin’s advice (and surely should have).

Should Niki Savva have provided Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin with an opportunity to comment before publication? Perhaps.

This is a book for the political junkies amongst us. It’s a book about people and personalities rather than party politics and policies.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
1 review
March 20, 2016
Savva's access to sources is fantastic, and there are some very illuminating insider accounts here.

I have two main problems with the book.

Firstly it was clearly rushed to publication - apart from the typos, the writing is uneven and jumps about a lot. It would have benefited from more polish and a more logical structure.

Secondly, while Savva doesn't pretend to be a neutral observer and did have an involvement in some of the matters discussed, she injects herself into the writing a bit too much. I kept expecting one of the random name-dropping asides to end with, "Needless to say, I had the last laugh".

A good read overall though.
Profile Image for David Dyer.
Author 18 books78 followers
April 23, 2016
I loved reading this detail-by-dismaying-detail account of the downfall of Australia's worst ever prime minister. Other reviewers say the writing is a bit choppy in parts, with typos here and there, and that it could have done with a bit more polishing and editing, but I loved these aspects of the book, too. Writing which is a bit rushed and chaotic is a perfect way to describe rushed and chaotic events.

Tony Abbott should never, ever have been Prime Minister of Australia, and this book spells out in excruciating detail just why.

A Goodread indeed!
Profile Image for Marian Weaver.
191 reviews10 followers
May 1, 2016

There was actually a good story buried in here, but the editing and proofing undermined it dreadfully. Scribe, ordinarily a particularly good publisher, really let Savva down with this book. It was difficult to stay engaged with what should have been a fascinating story.

If you can overlook the bad editing, it's a great read. The low rating is certainly not indicative of Savva's ability - it's Scribe's failure to bring her narrative to fruition.
Profile Image for Benjamin.
Author 2 books13 followers
March 20, 2016
Rollicking good read detailing the dirt and dysfunction within the Abbott government. I loved especially that one of the Murdoch News Corp journos penned this, so the experience was kind of like watching a wolf eat one of its own. Of course, very little put down on how bad the actual policies of the Abbott government were that played a role in his downfall, the book focuses instead on his flawed personality, the arrogance, and a corrosive working relationship with the controlling Chief of Staff Peta Credlin to the exclusion of everyone else.
Profile Image for Rachael.
53 reviews4 followers
April 5, 2016
It's fascinating to read recent political history and reflect on the stories behind the headlines.

Niki Savva is a respected political journalist and I enjoy watching her appearances on Insiders (ABC TV).

I'm not sure I completely like her writing style. The book is very readable, but feels piecemeal and repetitive in parts. There was also a sense that Savva really doesn't LIKE Abbott or Credlin and there's a subsequent hint of bias. But Savva brings a unique perspective to telling this tale; not only a journalist, she was a political staffer. She's seen the 'story' from the staffer's side and that's a valuable insight in this story.

Despite slight misgivings about writing style, I enjoyed the book. It was interesting. I think the content overrides any minor qualms about writing style. For that reason, I'd like to read Niki's other book, So Greek. It would be interesting I'm sure.

I do like Savva's ending.
To paraphrase: She warns that Turnbull need not follow the same road as Abbott. Only time will tell which road he takes.
Profile Image for Andrew Mcdonald.
115 reviews3 followers
March 27, 2016
Those who would prefer just the laughs of Australia's worst ever prime Minister tony Abbott, may prefer, "The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott" by Andrew Street. LOLs abound.
However, Savva's book show's Abbott as not so much as the blithering idiot he was (which Street does well), but as a kind of empty shell, who was barely capable of anything as complicated as dressing himself. Savva doesn't detail the onions, the minister for women, the gaffes, the day to day stupidity, but more detail of his office culture. But despite the clinical detail, you are left with more questions than answers. Why did he give his control and authority to someone else, especially an obvious nutcase? How did such a dunderhead last as long as he did? Who was putting on his pants for him?
An excellent read.
Profile Image for Greenway40.
19 reviews
December 26, 2016
This book is good, but it could have been so much better. The first two chapters read as the extract for the papers, and it's not until Chapter 3 that Savva gets into the details. The book could have benefited from a tighter structure - less jumping from anecdote to anecdote, seemingly unrelated to a firm time line. There are also many typos, indicative of hasty editing and proofing. However, worth reading for what we learn about a disgraceful period in Oz politics.
Profile Image for Karen.
1,794 reviews107 followers
April 26, 2016
Sometimes it's hard to work out what happened to the Australian Political system, and then along comes a book like this to explain quite a bit of it.

Whilst there is a page or two of salacious commentary and speculation (as often quoted in the media at the time of release) that's a minor distraction from the bulk that outlines an office, and people who operate in absolute, total and utter dysfunction. Stupidity, arrogance play their own part as well.

Alas it's the sort of book that the anti-Abbott camp is more likely to read, but really should be something that people from his own particular branch of thinking have a good hard look at.
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,627 reviews177 followers
April 17, 2016

This is a book about Australian politics, of which I know little despite four years working for one of its more memorable characters. (He is quoted twice, one on the "Relevance Deprivation Syndrome" that hits politicians who have been removed from office, and once on Bronwyn Bishop: "Why do people take an instant dislike to her? It saves time.")

The story told is of the collapse of the government of Tony Abbott, who won the September 2013 election for the Liberal Party (as you know, Bob, the Liberals in Australia are the main right-wing party) and was then thrown out by his own MPs just before his second anniversary in power, six months ago. Savva is a journalist, but a journalist with a privileged position; she makes no secret of her support for the Liberals, who employ her husband and who she has worked for herself; and she somewhat obsessively tracks the last text messages sent by the protagonists to herself and to those she is friendly with. It's also a book written for those with more knowledge of and interest in Australian politics than I have; many crucial points of reference are simply not explained to the reader (eg the Bronwyn Bishop helicopter affair). The structure and style are journalistic rather than analytical, which I sometimes find tiresome.

But at the same time, it's a great study of how a political career can crash and burn. Two political careers, in fact, because Abbott's right hand (and occasionally brain and mouth) throughout his leadership, Peta Credlin, is portrayed as a key factor in his failure - centralising information flow, bullying staffers and political colleagues, leaking important stories to selected journalists (Savva seems never to have been one of them), demanding and getting special treatment way beyond the norm for her office. Abbott's key failing was that he took no interest in what other people thought, in particular his MPs but indeed Australians as a whole; Credlin's failing was that she protected him rather than help him deal with the problem, to the point that she became part of the problem herself.

Savva has been criticised for concentrating so much fire on Credlin, in the context of the atrocious misogyny directed at Julia Gillard during her term as Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013, and in particular for her coverage of the rumours that Abbott and Credlin were having an affair. But in fact she finds the rumours unfounded (though their relationship was clearly one of deep and unhealthy co-dependence) and it is hardly Savva's fault that the rumours were circulating. One could have wished for a more forensic interrogation of why there are always rumours of this kind in this sort of situation, but she actually isn't all that interested in it, unlike some of her readers.

In any case, she is very clear that responsibility for reining Credlin in rested with Abbott, and he failed to exercise it. I found it fascinating that the two key moments which prompted rebellions against him - one unsuccessful in February, and the successful one in September - were only marginally related to policy issues at all. The precipitating issue in February was Abbott's decision to award a knighthood to Prince Philip, which attracted widespread criticism for being tone-deaf and an unnecessary investment of political capital when there were much more serious problems to address. Abbott survived the February push, and promised to listen more in future. But his disastrous handling of an internal party discussion on same-sex marriage in August, which achieved the remarkable feat of deeply enraging both sides of the argument, was the final straw in convincing a majority to get rid of him - and the problem was not the policy itself, but the way in which Abbott dealt with it.

Savva's hour-by-hour account of how the coup was executed is the core of the book, and is very good writing. (The other really good passage is a historical description of how his staffers dealt with the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt, who went swimming in the sea one day in 1967 and never came back.) On the backbenches, Abbott appears to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing - he blames his fall on "white-anting", an Australianism (that I had to look up) referring to termites undermining buildings; in other words, he was undermined because he was being undermined. He continues to ungraciously snipe at his successor, to Savva's dismay; she makes it clear that Abbott's behaviour risked and still risks bringing about what she regards as the ultimate catastrophe, the return to power of the Labour Party. I think reasonable people can disagree with her on that last point!
Profile Image for Sally.
862 reviews9 followers
September 14, 2016
Who would have thought politics could be so entertaining?! As a confirmed leftie, I always struggled to understand how Tony Abbott came to be Prime Minister in the first place. Although I am not a Liberal voter, I had never had any particular issue with the party until Tony Abbott came along. Having lived my life in Tony's long and strong held seat of Warringah, over the years I have come to be very familiar with Mr Abbott and his particular brand of right wing extremism. I always swore I would leave the country if he ever became Prime Minister, but then Labor decided to go completely potty and suddenly I was faced with my worst nightmare politically speaking. I didn't take off for Switzerland after all but I thought Tony Abbott just wasn't suited to be Prime Minister. I found him inflexible, I felt he spoke only to those who agreed with his views and everyone else could go and jump basically. He demonstrated this attitude time and time again as Prime Minister, for example his war with the ABC. I was astounded he was voted in, when many Liberal supporters I spoke to even said that they could not stand him. So anyway, when the Book Club covered this book and bestowed upon it high praise I had to read it.

Niki Savva is a die hard Liberal. A former Liberal party staffer and journalist for the Australian, it is very clear immediately where her loyalties lie. She speaks of the Labor party as if voting for them would be akin to voting in the Russian mafia. And that is one of the reasons why this book is so compelling, this is a book written by a loyal Liberal who argues that Tony Abbott was an absolutely appalling Prime Minister. And somehow she manages to make this a fascinating read, it is scandalous and accessible, full of intrigue, this is quite the page turner. But she is also cautious, and meticulous. As a former journalism student I can say that despite all the juicy gossip, Niki Savva is very, very aware of how to avoid a defamation suit. Everything is backed up to the teeth with on the record quotes and FOI documentation. It is really quite impressive given what she does, and more importantly, does not say in this tale. This book confirmed absolutely everything I have always thought about Tony Abbott and it is nice to know that my opinions are not just those of a 'commie' like myself but apparently an opinion shared by even Tony Abbott's closest colleagues.

This is a wonderful piece of journalism and a great read, particularly for anyone who has a vague interest in how the political process works behind the scenes but finds books by politicians very boring.
Profile Image for Malcolm Frawley.
681 reviews5 followers
June 29, 2016
I predicted that Tony Abbott would be the worst Prime Minister in Australia's history early in his reign. But it wasn't until I read this book, the 3rd* I have devoured about his time at the helm, that I fully appreciated how terminally incompetent he was/is. This is a man so monumentally incapable of doing the job to which he was elected that it defies the odds that he lasted as long as he did. The fact that his department was run by a woman who seemed to think it was she who had been voted into The Lodge only complicated matters. For all Abbott's macho brazenness - the Speedos, the John Wayne walk, the fire fighting, the shirt fronting, the cycling beyond endurance - he was cowed into submission, & even worse, by Peta Credlin who, theoretically, worked for him. He was advised, by everyone from Peter Dutton to John Howard, that he had to make changes to both his staff & the way that he related to his fellow party members or he would be cut off at the knees. The fact that he listened to no-one, except Credlin, only hastened his demise. He has spent every waking moment since his removal blaming everyone except the 2 people who were actually responsible &, if Turnbull has a close call this Saturday, he will believe he could have won more convincingly. Tragically, for Australia, if it is a close call then we haven't seen the back of Captain Flagpole. He still believes that his party, & his country, will one day welcome him back to the role he was born to fulfill. But he wasn't. He spent 20 years as member for Warringah before becoming P.M. The fact that this is 1 of the safest, blue ribbon, Liberal seats in the country enabled Abbott to spend no time whatsoever in that period working for his constituents (of which I am 1, & have been throughout that 20 years). But he spent a lot of time on his career &, to some extent, succeeded. he did become P.M. But he will go down in history as the worst ever, almost destroying the country while he was at it. Unless he is unexpectedly removed on Saturday he will have further opportunities to flex his narcissism. If he does, we are the ones who will pay for it.

*Credlin & Co, The Short & Excruciatingly Embarrassing Rule Of Captain Abbott were the other two.
Profile Image for Neil Spark.
Author 2 books30 followers
April 3, 2016
Dysfunctional, damaging and delusional is the only conclusion to reach about Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership after reading Road to Ruin. Nikki Savva, who worked for Peter Costello, has provided a detailed account of the workings of the office.

It confirms what was known: the job was beyond Abbott’s capability. There’s plenty of shocking information, from the micro-management of his chief of staff Peta Credlin to the way he treated colleagues. His claims of treachery, skullduggery and ambush about his loss of his leadership do not accord with the facts. Political junkies will enjoy it and politics students will find it informative.

Rumours of Abbott and Credlin having an affair and his Wallis-Simpson-like dependency on her are well known thanks to the publicity about the book. But there are many other incidents that will leave you shaking your head and wondering how these incompetent people got to the positions they did.
One incident that stood out of me was a Credlin tantrum during a state visit to Indonesia that held up a motorcade that required the closure of streets. I couldn’t help thinking one of Savva’s objectives was to ensure Abbott will never return to the leadership; hopefully not even a ministry.
Profile Image for Teri Cooper.
138 reviews3 followers
May 17, 2016
I knew Abbott and Credlin were a sordid pair and that Tony Abbott was a useless a leader driven solely by ideology and personal religious convictions, however, the sheer scale of their collective shortcomings took me by surprise. If Dr Zachary Smith were still alive - and indeed a real person - he would almost certainly dub them "incompetent ninnies of the tallest order", and I really can't think of a more apt description.

An enjoyable romp through a deplorable and blissfully short period of Australian political tomfoolery. 3 stars.
Profile Image for David.
21 reviews
March 12, 2016
Corker of a read - even if half of the book is true (and I'm guessing a solid 80-90% of it's spot on), then the fact Tony Abbott was removed as leader is a damn good thing for Australia.
Profile Image for Kate (Lillytales).
62 reviews57 followers
September 21, 2016
The Road to Ruin by Niki Savva documents the events that lead up to the second and final leadership spill that saw Tony Abbott removed from his prime ministerial office to be replaced by his rival, Malcolm Turnbull. For me, this was a book split into three parts: the first focused heavily on the relationship between Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, which read like an absolutely fascinating character study of two people who, quite frankly, couldn't get their shit together.

The middle section discusses the Liberal Party in general, its key players, the issues that plagued its progress under Abbott's rule and how the internal machine faltered and sputtered when Credlin worked towards isolating the prime minister from the rest of his party. The third and final section of the book reads as a countdown towards the leadership spill.

As with any piece of non-fiction (especially when it's political) it's important to be critical of whose voice is represented and whose isn't. Throughout this read, I wanted to know more about Niki Savva - why does she have the opinions she does? Is her viewpoint objective? Is she a credible source to be speaking about certain people and situations? Those questions will inevitably be answered by each different reader, however it cannot be denied that Niki Savva has a substantial background knowledge into the every day goings on in Australia's government - and although some of this book reads like fiction (surely our parliament can't be that much of a circus, right?), you have to remind yourself that these events actually occurred, in very recent history. Frightening.

The Road to Ruin tells the story of how Tony Abbott, with Peta Credlin's constant assistance, played hard and ruthless to get to the top spot and how they then struggled to remain there through isolating the prime minister's office and not allowing any communication to come in or out without it first going through Credlin. Credlin reads like a stereotypical bully in this book: a character who provides great interest for the reader as she makes rash decisions, manipulates her colleagues (and opponents) and, seemingly, will do anything to wield the power her position allows her.

This book is the behind-the-scenes story of how the Abbott government imploded, even with all of the forewarning that came before the day of the leadership spill. A fascinating book with great insight into the aspects of a government that otherwise would be unknown by Australia's public. I was hooked from page one.
Profile Image for Annette.
186 reviews4 followers
April 2, 2016
Wow! What a story. A great political insiders look at an incredibly dysfunctional PMs office. Some of the things revealed in this book you would doubt were real if Savva didn't use named sources to back up what she was saying.

It highlighted how completely delusional Abbott was and how little self-awareness he had. Not to mention that he was a pathological liar. If he decided that something happened one way and everyone else saw it happen another way there is no way you could convince him that he was wrong. The perfect example is the promises he made the night before the election which he then proceeded to break. Abbott convinced himself that he hadn't lied and that was the end of the story, no matter what anyone else said to him. Credlin played into these aspects of Abbott's personality. Her behaviour was inexcusable and destructive.

Savva's writing style took a bit of getting used to. It was quite choppy and jumped around a bit, but there is no doubting her access to the people who matter in Canberra.

This book was one I needed to read. I wanted to know if Abbott was really as incompetent as I'd always believed him to be. This definitely confirmed it.
Profile Image for Meaghan.
240 reviews
June 27, 2016
Weird people these politicians. Such egos and woeful listening skills. Unfortunately, this reads more as a prop for Turnbull than as a dissection of Abbott. Made me crinkle my nose.
Profile Image for John.
Author 12 books9 followers
May 9, 2021
An extremely important book for the insights it gives into the dysfunction in probably the worst government in Australian history. Abbott was the most effective opposition leader but once in government he couldn’t stop fighting. Worse his chief of staff Peta Credlin was a micromanager who bullied all the rest of the staff and senior ministers. She censored access to the PM, and micromanaged whatever she could, communications to the press, who could peak to the PM and who couldn’t, invitations to entertainment events deliberately excluding Abbott’s wife Margie who she said was distracting Abbott from this his real job. Abbott took holidays with Credlin often with her husband present, as leader of the Party. Stories too numerous to mention but the net effect was to throw the government into complete confusion. Politicians to the most senior complained to Abbott about her saying she must go but he point blank refused, blaming any problems on anyone but her. She maintained that Abbott was up to the job of PM without her backing, and amazingly he agreed with that. After the first vote against him in Feb ’15 he was gone. His best friends kept telling him he was in trouble, he refused to believe it. When the spill came in Sept, he was shocked, outraged to the core, and six months later still is; he still believes he ran a most effective government and he did a sterling job. His behaviour afterwards surely indicates serious mental problems, having red days and black days, white hot anger at Turnbull and Bishop (who kept out of all this in act) followed by days of dep depression. Yet he says he still believes he should have a second go at PM. Savva’s book was written in a hurry and so what the printing (my first copy had 100 pages missing) . She can be talking about Julie and Bronwyn but you are not sure which Bishop she is referring to: a whole paragraph consists of “he’s” that is quite confusing. Savva’s judgement on people and parties is heavily biased: nothing Labor or the Greens do is good, even Bronwyn B. is praised for her part as Speaker. In a way that’s good, because it is obviously a Liberal sympathiser which adds verismo to the story. However the book is too long, breathless relation of minor incident after another. She is obviously very pro Turnbull praising his calm and judgement. Last Sentence: he (Turnbull) does not have to follow the same road (to ruin). Present indications months after that was written are that he probably will. She utterly rejects suggestions that the system is broken, blaming the problems of the last 13 years on broken personalities not the system. But how dud these personalities get there? Today that's a more pressing question than ever. Does the system accommodate the minor parties and independents? Savva doesn’t consider these questions: as an ex Liberal staffer she is totally committed to the present system.
Profile Image for Peter Geyer.
304 reviews68 followers
November 6, 2016
One of the courses I applied for when finishing school was about Journalism, probably because I liked writing, and newspapers. In reality, I would have been totally unsuited interviewing, phone calling etc are still out of my league. Amongst other things, Niki Savva provides an insight into what political journalism requires, as a reporter and also as a staffer for senior politicians.

Savva is unusual in that she reports on the conservative, or Liberal, side of politics in Australia, without being ideological, in the shock-jock sense. Currently a columnist for The Australian (Rupert Murdoch's national broadsheet), she also appears intermittently on the ABC program Insiders, in which a variety of Canberra-based journalists, with a variety of perspectives but similar thinking approach, discuss the issues at hand, national and international. In reading this book, her speaking voice appears throughout, which is useful for understanding some of her comments in more depth, as she's not a great prose stylist, and indeed says at the end that she never thought she could write one book, let alone two.

Savva is an insider to the conservative side of politics, and so her description of the operations and ultimate demise of the government led by Tony Abbott is both open and colourful. Apparently she has upset a few people over her decades in this domain (possibly because of her quiet directness and bluntness), notwithstanding her ability to find plenty of people to talk to her, both on and off the record.

The focus of this book is the competence of the office of Abbott as Prime Minister, more particularly the role of Peta Credlin, his chief of staff. Credlin is depicted as a volatile, domineering figure who seeks to control just about every aspect of the Abbott government. She sits in on various committees that no other person in her role has done, sets out rules for the hiring and firing of staff from across the government, is subject to wild mood swings and her invective, regularly expressed, is colourful to say the least, even in the context of conventional colourful language in this area. Credlin also monitors access to the Prime Minister so that ministers, backbenchers and even Abbott's wife are sidelined. The first two groups here find this immensely frustrating, particularly as nothing appears to be decided and they also get their fair share of her invective.

There also appears to be a dependency relationship between Abbott and Credlin, such that there are rumours of a relationship. At any rate, it's clear that he does what she says, and does not listen to those who complain about her role and its consequences.

Savva writes as someone who has worked as a ministerial staffer, as well as someone who knows the people engaged in this work at this time (2013-2015). Historical information from these sources is also provided, going back 50 years or so, to give context, and Labor Party staffers are also quoted and discussed.

Ultimately, the conclusion is drawn that both the Prime Minister and his chief of staff were incompetent, which seems a fair assessment to me. Savva includes the previous two holders of the office in Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard as also not being up to the job, and there's a point to be made there, with some similarity in Rudd being unable to manage his office (his invective is also legendary) and some poor decisions being made by both these people.

Because Savva is of the right, she includes amongst the poor decisions things that may not be ideologically acceptable, as well as some simply poorly-managed legislation and projects. In that respect, I was a little startled to find praise directed towards people like current Treasurer Scott Morrison who to me are incompetent and amoral. I would also include previous Treasurer Peter Costello as someone who didn't really know what he was doing and failed to grasp the bigger picture. John Howard, Prime Minister in Costello's time, and a person of dubious merit to me, is positively depicted as someone who ran his office very well to the satisfaction of those in the party. This was new information to me, and it reflects well on him, as well as suggesting that he was an experienced person ultimately capable of managing what is a difficult task.

One of the things that's interesting here is the number of people who are there to defeat the other side – current Labor leader Bill Shorten is mentioned pejoratively several times in that context. There's little about how to represent and inform the people or develop appropriate policies.

One hears this of course from all sides of politics, but it seems to me that this attitude, and the failure of imagination, thought and compromise required for democracy is a key reason for the decline of this form of government in the western world and the complaints of a variety of people and groups that they are not being represented. In this respect the social contract, however perceived, may be broken and it will need better people than those depicted in this book (on any side of politics) to repair it.

So it was an interesting read, given to me by a friend who had read it. Many of the things described in the book had been part of public discourse earlier and so I wouldn't have purchased it myself, even though it's informative and worthwhile.
37 reviews
January 4, 2019
Nikki Savva is an entertaining writer. Her descriptions of behind the scenes action illuminate areas of Abbotts time in govt that were not well known.
Profile Image for Remus Brasier.
7 reviews
July 7, 2022
Shock ending, never would have seen it coming, jaw dropped. Want to make a house of cards esque TV drama of it now.
Profile Image for Rohan.
23 reviews
September 8, 2022
Nobody cuts to the core of political arrogance like Niki Savva! Would have appreciated a little less Rudd/Gillard slander but I’ll take what I can get
Profile Image for Tory Gregory.
7 reviews
February 6, 2020
Hard to believe it's a true story! Baffling and addictive at the same time - reads more like a soap opera than a political drama but in a good way.
Profile Image for Denise Rawling.
127 reviews
December 3, 2020
As a politics tragic I devoured this clear sighted page turner - a double dose of weirdness with the Abbott/Credlin circus in full flight. Savva's insightful analysis, insider research and just plain good writing make this as fresh as when it was happening though I am reading it some years later.
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