Lindsay Tanner’s book of essays will be bought by few and chatted about by many as it provides anti-Labor fodder for the Liberal election campaign beast.

Roll up, roll up. Pic: Supplied

The essays contained in Inside the Gang of Four make just enough sense - Labor hasn’t had a confident and composed agenda - for Mr Tanner’s own contradictions to be ignored.

But those contradictions are really big ones.

In today’s The Australian he fumes at the injustice heaped on Kevin Rudd by the colleagues who ousted him.

“The Rudd Government wasn’t dysfunctional. That description is completely unfair.”

But there is evidence for the charge and it comes from essayist Lindsay Tanner. In his latest book he discusses operation of the so-called Gang of Four, the four members of the powerful Strategic Priorities and Budget Committee - Mr Rudd, Mr Tanner, Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard.

“By the beginning of 2010, the SPBC process was deteriorating. Meetings were called, rescheduled and cancelled with great regularity, so that I lost the ability to schedule diary appointments any more than two or three days in advance with any confidence,” he wrote.

“Individual matters of middling importance were left unresolved for extended periods, and ministers and public servants were sometimes kept waiting for hours before getting a chance to enter an SPBC meeting to discuss their particular issues. In some cases, the issues weren’t even discussed because of the logjam in the agenda.

“Late in 2009, concerns about our decision-making processes were raised in cabinet. Only a couple of ministers complained at the time, while several indicated that they were quite happy for others to spend half their lives in arduous meetings about matters outside their own portfolios. It wasn’t until March or April 2010 that serious rumblings about the role of the Gang of Four began to emerge.’‘

I’m not sure what the descriptions of dysfunction Mr Tanner objects to from others, but he provides a pretty convincing one himself.

Mr Tanner of course also wrote Sideshow, in which he argued the media exploits politics at its simplest levels. He knows his media stuff, having handed extracts of his current book to selected journalists and then lept on the ABC interview circuit to promote his work.

The common thread between Sideshow and this latest effort, Inside the Gang of Four, is that a lot of problems are laid out but no solutions.

Former colleagues claim this is what he was like in Government, with one saying today, “He was always carping but never coming up with answers.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Bob Carr has raised the issue of former Labor figures rushing to a publisher when they leave Parliament, rarely to the benefit of their former colleagues.

Few things send shudders through the spine of a Labor leader than a former colleague’s news, “I’m thinking of writing a book.”

On Twitter today I asked why this happened to Labor with fewer Liberals taking up the pen after politics, and there were thoughtful and blunt responses.

“Political books are not so much the telling of history but the re-writing it. Partisan me says Labor has more need to rewrite it,” said one Liberal backer.

Another tweet read: “The left always eat their own. Also, former Libs seem to end up in the party machine or with comfy directorships.”

Said one, “Bitterness, they feel they were wronged? Can’t seem to move on from Rudd (Lindsay T)? Lives in the past?”

Troy Bramston, himself a political author, points out that while Lazarus Rising was a big seller for John Howard, it isn’t the biggest political seller.

“The best selling political book in Australia is Gough Whitlam’s The Truth of The Matter (1979 first edition.”

Inside the Gang of Four is unlikely to trouble the record.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.

Most commented


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    • john says:

      11:27am | 26/09/12

      So a politician wrote a book and we are the mugs promoting it, why muck rake over the past over these clowns -pardon the photo pun?

    • scumbag says:

      12:31pm | 26/09/12

      Who’s promoting the book? It’s not Malcolm Farr. Try “the mugs”, if you feel included; (pardon the pun).

    • john says:

      01:45pm | 26/09/12

      @scumbag “Who’s promoting the book?”

      one would think we all are by the sheer fact we are ‘talking’ about it .

      promoting it indirectly- clever marketing - by reacting to verbal diarrhoea from politicians opening their mouths!

    • Anna C says:

      11:45am | 26/09/12

      Gee, another politician with a book and an axe to grind.  Whopedidoda

    • Anthony says:

      11:47am | 26/09/12

      Seems like Tanner was the only person who stood up to what was a poor political decision at the time. I don’t think a political reporter should be so critical of Tanner.

    • warren says:

      12:28pm | 26/09/12


      It seems that standing up for one’s principles is only done when one is out of office…

      Where was Tanner during the decline of Labor?  He was out there, bashing on the Coalition each day (which of course, is his job), but he was also there defending Labor policies at every turn.  He was there telling us that his political opponents were dead wrong.

      Yet now he’s saying his political opponents were often RIGHT.  That Labor has indeed been taken over by apparatchiks, union thugs and lifers.  People who only care about numbers and factions, rather than ideas. 

      But this didn’t happen suddenly. Labor has been in trouble for decades.  They could blame it on Howard, and now they’re blaming it on Abbott, but Labor has become increasingly irrelevant to modern Australian life.  And Wayne Swan’s shrill class warfare isn’t helping. Neither is Labor’s love-hate relationship with the zealots and fanatics in the Greens.

      If Labor has big troubles—and it most certainly does—then Tanner has been PART of the problem.

      And keep in mind his personal agenda in all this, and the Rudd factionalism.  Tanner hasn’t produced this material because he wants a Gillard government to do well…

    • Tom says:

      03:20pm | 26/09/12

      Tanner was not the “only person who stood up” after the spilling of Kevin’s blood. Maxine McKew and McLelland as well as Tanner have all told us what the ALP did wrong.  Hell hath no fury like a scorned Labor politician.

      And don’t forget that Gillard and Conroy rejoiced in telling us what Kevin did wrong.

      Gotta love Labor. It seems the press is de-sensitised to their bloodbaths.

    • dovif says:

      03:21pm | 26/09/12


      I agree with some of what you say, but in my opinion Tanner was one of the more competant ALP federal members, and one of the very few with talent.

      I have listen to him talk a few time and he makes much more sense then the rambling from the likes of Gillard, Rudd, Swann, Shorten and Wong

      Australia would do much better with more talented members like Tanner in the ALP

    • dovif says:

      03:22pm | 26/09/12


      I agree with some of what you say, but in my opinion Tanner was one of the more competant ALP federal members, and one of the very few with talent.

      I have listen to him talk a few time and he makes much more sense then the rambling from the likes of Gillard, Rudd, Swann, Shorten and Wong

      Australia would do much better with more talented members like Tanner in the ALP

    • Steve says:

      11:54am | 26/09/12

      I’ve read one of Lindsay Tanner’s earlier books from the 1990’s. 

      Even back then raising good questions but without suggesting any answers was a very obvious theme.  But apart from that, he does talk about real issues, and should not be simply dismissed. 

      I suspect that almost all of the ALP professionals know that their organisation is dysfunctional and dying, but none of them can see a way to break the power structures - especially when to suggest doing so means the end of their political careers because they will be forced out of paid employment.  Pity about that.

    • dovif says:

      03:24pm | 26/09/12

      It is called gravy train, from Parlimentary leader to safe ALP seats, to plum union leader jobs, to being a lawyer in Labour law firms

    • JoniM says:

      06:26pm | 26/09/12

      Spot on dovif !
      In a nutshell !
      The ALP is nothing but a huge gravy train for all its associated players and this is the prime focus of all political and strategy decisions it makes.  From the smearing of Abbott to the pork barreling of the electorate, to the coverups and endless back flips,  to the polls and focus group addiction. Its all about hanging onto power and keeping those snouts well and truly in the trough !

    • nihonin says:

      11:56am | 26/09/12

      Spot fire over there, spot fire over here, there, there and there as well.  Ex Labor Minister releases kiss and tell book, so it has be lambasted and lampooned by the sycophants.

    • Babylon says:

      12:02pm | 26/09/12

      You look at history around the world, betrayals and your forced to ask why is it that the traitors are always socialists?

    • Bear says:

      12:19pm | 26/09/12

      Yea, “always” and “socialist”. Just like “liar” and “fascist” go hand in hand if you’re to be consistent.

    • Rolls Canardly says:

      12:23pm | 26/09/12

      It might have something to do with those “Labor values” so often spruiked as being at the heart of everything Labor is, and does.
      With mates like Richo, Latham, and now Tanner, who needs enemies?

    • john says:

      12:24pm | 26/09/12

      How convenient, how about Howard, no gst ever ever ever never ever?

      How about core and non core promise nonsense? It seems Julia learned from the best.

      So did Hawke, “by 1990 no child….poverty ” rant.

      So did Keating “bring home the bacon” - seems only bacon he brought home was his own piggery and seems even lied about that business in parliament.

      Socialists perhaps lie more and blatantly.

    • fml says:

      12:24pm | 26/09/12

      So betrayal didn’t exist before Marx??

      Or even before socialism exist and betrayals occurred, it was still the fault of socialism?

      btw, you’re*.

    • DJ says:

      01:06pm | 26/09/12

      Maybe you should have a chat with Andrew Peacock…

    • Blind idiot says:

      01:09pm | 26/09/12

      If you look throughout history right wingers are “always” knits!

    • warren says:

      01:10pm | 26/09/12


      “Or even before socialism exist* and betrayals occurred, it was still the fault of socialism?

      btw, you’re*.”

      BTW, “existed”. (Grammar cops gotta be careful, eh?)

    • TimB says:

      01:19pm | 26/09/12

      “Just like “liar” and “fascist” go hand in hand if you’re to be consistent. “

      Gillard is a fascist now?

      Good to know.

    • fml says:

      01:35pm | 26/09/12

      Warren, Nope not for me.

      I am allowed to because I am not a socialist.  and I believe in freedom. And I hate communists.

    • john says:

      02:32pm | 26/09/12

      Socialism, communism, monarchist or conservative - whatever.

      Socialism, qasi communism only seems to work in times of need like post world war 2 Russia’s arms race, industrial boom and chinas boom for nation building, USA’s space and arms race in the 60’s 70’s under kennedy carter etc.

      Unless there is a need to mobilise a global effort to save the planet , colonise space or terraform mars to live on other worlds socialism will make us all obese and lazy on welfare to the point where japanese whaling may take on a different meaning where it will be done on land. where it may be more profitable smile Gone are the days of chiselled jawed hard lean working fit bodies.

      Obese socialists is a new phenomena that’s taken the world by storm which now look more like conservative fatties..

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      03:27pm | 26/09/12

      Yep, Howard and Abbott are socialist scum for promoting middle class welfare. Must be traitors also…..

    • Stephen says:

      12:06pm | 26/09/12

      More evidence, if any were needed, that the political elite needs to be swept aside.

    • Rolls Canardly says:

      12:09pm | 26/09/12

      Geez, Mal. I can’t remember you ever having a bad word to say about Tanner while he was in parliament… As a member of Duddy’s kitchen cabinet, he was always portrayed, and often by you, as the sensible one.
      Now that he’s not singing from the ALP songsheet, however.
      You’re as transparent as they come, sunshine.

    • James says:

      12:41pm | 26/09/12

      Well Lindsay Tanner was sensible when he was in politics. But Mal has pointed out that his view on this is hypocritical.

      I would have been supportive of a Tanner for PM push if it ever happened when he was in parliament.

      It does not mean that I agree with what he has said now.

      Pure political revisionism.

      By the way, calling somebody sunshine is about as patronising as it gets. Just saying.

    • Alfie says:

      12:47pm | 26/09/12


      With due respect to Mal, regarding the gang of 4, he did get the circus and clown theme pretty right.

    • Joan says:

      01:16pm | 26/09/12

      Alfie: Yep spot on and the Les Paterson of politics Carr - of the galahs added to to circus act

    • Two Sugars says:

      03:16pm | 26/09/12

      James reckons Tanner was good enough to be pm once upon a time, but now he’s just some type of political revisionist jerk.
      Funny isn’t it, how they’re all heroes while in parliament, but dogs when they get clear enough of the Labor machine to tell it like it really was. Says a lot about the individuals but even more about the political machine they were once a willing part of, and the resident boosters like Farr, and the irrepressible Larry Oakes.
      Looking forward to Maxine McKew’s book hitting the stands. She was the hero who knocked the evil Johnny Howard off his perch, remember?
      Mal will no doubt assin himself to do the hatchet job on her too.

    • Knemon says:

      03:37pm | 26/09/12

      @ Joan - “the Les Paterson of politics Carr”

      That’s being a bit harsh on Les Paterson…I’d imagine Les would be highly offended by that remark, Les did more to raise the profile of Australia than Bob Carr has ever done!

    • M. Fraser says:

      05:05pm | 26/09/12

      “Funny isn’t it, how they’re all heroes while in parliament, but dogs when they get clear enough of the Labor machine to tell it like it really was. Says a lot about the individuals but even more about the political machine they were once a willing part of”

      Two Sugars - It goes both ways, both major parties and their ex pollies are as bad as each other, open your other eye, it will help you see more clearly.

    • Two Sugars says:

      05:53pm | 26/09/12

      M. Fraser
      Har-bloody-har. Tell me one Liberal who has ever been feted by the press corps while he/she was still in the house? In the last fifty years? Unless of course they’re white-anters like Turnbull.
      Actually, the inverse of what you say is true. Rather than being “the same” the Libs generally treated with scorn while on the job, only to be treated like bastions of credibility by the press, once blokes like Fraser, and the jilted Hewson start bucketing on their ex-colleagues from the safety of the sidelines.
      I just love it when the geniuses like you hop into others for bias. You think you’re doing a spot of a grade Tory bashing,  but all you effectively manage to do is expose yourselves as incapable of even a whiff of objectivity.
      I shake my head at the sheer ignorance that’s required to be supportive of the worst government in living memory, and the party that has brought it to life, but take solace in the fact that blokes like you are a dying breed. The ALP you support isn’t a shell of what it once was, and most sensible folk seem to have figured that out.
      Enjoy you last year of cheering for probably another decade.

    • Senexx says:

      12:17pm | 26/09/12

      A new government learning the ropes in a fluid political environment.  The static quotes provided as extracts hardly gives the situation the full context.

    • Jokular says:

      01:57pm | 26/09/12

      Kev that you?

    • SAm says:

      12:23pm | 26/09/12

      I honestly dont give a damn but hes right in many ways.
      Rudd was the only chance for a clean election in 2010, conservatives fear him (hence the hatred showed his way), die hard Labor supporters jump on the party bandwagon and trash him because of what happened, while us in the middle still think he was a damn good PM and I wish he was back. Not perfect but he did what he promised he would acheive when elected. Cant remember the last time thats happened

    • nihonin says:

      02:00pm | 26/09/12

      SAm, hopefully you’re just kidding…....right, ‘Not perfect but he did what he promised he would acheive when elected’.

      Only thing I remember him ever achieving was his 20/20 Summit and what a pot of gold for policy that turned out to be, for a PM who’s only real policy during the election that installed his government was… too.

    • SAm says:

      02:30pm | 26/09/12

      Nihonin > it was a few years back but from my memory he went to the polls on 2 main issues:
      Workchoices (check)
      Reconcilliation (check)

      Has Gillard kept any of her promises? what were they even?
      Would Tony have kept any of his? Will he next year?
      Rudd had conviction and the will to see things through, something neither current leader has.

      BTW the polls suggest im far from being in a minority in thinking this

    • nihonin says:

      03:22pm | 26/09/12

      I never mentioned the polls, but lets just wait and see for the next 3 or 4 polls how well Labor are doing, one poll is good for Labor morale but its not the second coming.

    • SAm says:

      07:44pm | 26/09/12

      nah bugger labor i meant KRudd! Without him their a ship without a RUDDer.
      As in he is the prefered leader out of him, julia and tony

    • AdamC says:

      01:34pm | 26/09/12

      I find Labor’s navel-gazing self-obsession quite hilarious.

      The ALP, or its ancestor organisation, was founded in the late 19th century to politically represent unions and, where convenient, union members. By and large, Labor has done that fairly consistently, but with varying degrees of political success, for the lat 100 plus years. At times, Labor has flirted with communism (which led to a disastrous schism in the 1950s); with cult-of-personality leaders like Chifley, Whitlam and Keating; and even, for a short-time, with reformism in the 1980s. However, its fundamental role and function has remained the same.

      I assume this weird sort of Labor self-analysis is being driven by the fact that Labor main clients and funders, being unions, are increasingly being seen as less relevant, because they represent a far smaller share of workers than they did a few decades ago. However, I cannot see how that changes Labor’s basic mission on representing union interests. They just need to be a bit smarter at dressing these up as the public interest.

    • fedup labourvoter says:

      01:37pm | 26/09/12

      A dysfunctional govt? well even Nicola Roxon described Ruddy as a “Dysfunctional maniac “and reading this article seems to add more credence to that assertion.  Why do labour people always see fit to “rewrite “history, it’s because they are giving an inside story closer to the truth, the truth that labour denies over and over again. Maybe Tanner was right that Rudd should not have been deposed, if this came about, then we would have an Abbott govt and be far better off. Instead we are suffering through more labour incompetence.

    • dovif says:

      04:00pm | 26/09/12

      If you are going to pretend to be a LABOR voter at least spell it right

    • Denny says:

      02:05pm | 26/09/12

      Mal, I would have thought in such an article that you would have made mention of Maxine McKew’s new book. The one where she says that Gillard was the key player in the removal of Rudd and that her involvement was far greater than what she has told us.

      Then agan that would just prove Gillard to be the lier we all know she is and that would not fit into your cause. I’m sure this article would be very different if it was Brendan Nelson bagging the Coalition.

    • Pippa says:

      02:14pm | 26/09/12

      Poor Lindsay poor Kevin - yawn… Kev got the boot not because of the polls but because he was/is an autocratic wanker.

    • JoniM says:

      06:53pm | 26/09/12

      Quick ! Find David Marr ! We need a quarterly essay done on Tanner at age 19 ! There must be an old unionist out there ready to dump on him for the good of the ALP cause ! Or send out the harpies to question his problem with capable females in power !
      We shall overcome ! We shall overcome !

    • Luke says:

      02:18pm | 26/09/12

      Mal I bet if this was a former Liberal polly putting the boot into the Libs you would be saying what a terrific book and what a terrific guy/girl they are/were.

    • Super D says:

      02:49pm | 26/09/12

      Labor folks write more books as at the end of their careers they realiz how many of their principles they walked away from in the pursuit of power. 
      Pretty much every Labor politician starts out as a university socialist and most by the end have tempered their views after a lifetime of being roshamboed by reality.

      I see them more as enances of self justification.

    • St. Michael says:

      02:58pm | 26/09/12

      Two things:

      (1) Sideshow doesn’t fillet Labor alone.  It casts Shakespeare’s plague on both your houses, the relevant houses being the House of Parliament in its entirety and the Fourth Estate that sits in a seriously twisted relationship with it.  If people actually read the book as opposed to taking sound bites out of it that would be apparent.  But Tanner was exactly right when he predicted how the book would be dealt with by the media and by politicians of the day.  One can see Mal Farr is still smarting over that.  Nobody in the oral-fellating circle of politics or the media gets off lightly (so to speak.)

      (2) “Former colleagues claim this is what he was like in Government, with one saying today, “He was always carping but never coming up with answers.””

      This is an intellectually dishonest debating tactic, namely, changing the subject.  Being unable to dispute Tanner’s facts or logic, the opponent takes the line that the person identifying the problem must also be the one to come up with a solution.

      That’s a gutless line to take, because one can take the following analogy for that sort of argument:
      Tanner: There’s a fire in the Lower House! It’s going to burn the place down!
      Mal Farr/former colleagues: Oh, you’re so smart? Who made you an expert? Why didn’t you pay to have the Lower House building out of your own pocket so to be fireproofed? Huh?
      Tanner: Look, I don’t have either the funds or legal permission to personally redesign our building to be fireproofed—listen, we have to get out of the damn building, there’s a fire! And I can tell you from decades of wandering around this building that we’re all going to die if we stay here.
      Mal Farr/former colleagues: You’re always whinging about the lack of fire extinguishers in the building, but did you ever personally pay for them to be installed? That’s you, Lindsay, always carping, never providing answers.

      Let’s also be clear that Tanner himself is no angel on this - he’s been part of the political machine, and he regularly acknowledges that for decades he was part of the problem, not part of the solution.  Like most politicians, he seems to have regained his (or, perhaps, gained a) moral compass after leaving the trade.  It doesn’t make his points any less valid or correct.  If anything it qualifies him superbly to comment: nobody knows the evils of the system better than someone who was actually a major player in it.

    • Paul Mason says:

      03:52pm | 26/09/12

      Tanner was one of the few within the Labor Govnt.with some integrity intact.But the thought of serving under Gillard was just too much .He could’nt stand the stench. He is well aware that the whole shebang is about turn bottom up. Can’t wait.

    • The teacher says:

      06:08pm | 26/09/12

      As a lover in the correct use of an apostrophe please do it correcty.  The word is couldn’t not could’nt which would mean it was originally could ont as the apostrophe signifies that the letter ‘o’  has been ommitted from the words ‘could not’  to make it a contraction. Just saying

    • Richard says:

      04:12pm | 26/09/12

      According to former Finance Minister’s Labor Lindsay Tanner, labor has lost purpose, it is obvious to any listener when he said; ‘‘Everyone in politics exaggerates everything all of the time.’’ For advancement, he suggests, compare your opponent to Gaddafi, Jack the Ripper or Hitler. They decided how to run their country and the circumstances how to run it.
      A political class who are in essence a dictatorship ( THEY DECIDE HOW TO RUN THE COUNTRY AND THE CIRCUMSTANCES HOW TO RUN IT) who are cut off from real world, manipulate the truth, enrich themselves at the tax payers expense. The political parties no longer represent the interests of the public but serve as vehicles for personal ambitions.
      Can you spot the difference?
      Following the excellent streetalk question ” Do you expect our politicians will lie to us when we vote for them?”
      AT LEAST I know that under the Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, which has no parallel in any other country,  the people are given a direct say in their own affairs and politicians wouldn’t dare to lie to them and I’m sure that we would be a more relax and comfortable society that we are now.

    • Sid says:

      04:12pm | 26/09/12

      Is anyone suprised by Tanners comments. It hardly a secret that he was not a fan of Gillard. Lets get thing straight Rudd took his eyes off the road and a better, sharper and more saavy operator took his place. He didnt see it coming. So what if his comments are true its a dog eat dog world and Rudd could see the writing on the wall.  I think he is doing a great job attacking Newman and under mining his government

    • NigelC says:

      04:40pm | 26/09/12

      “a better, sharper and more saavy (sic.) operator” So who was that and why did they install Gillard instead?

    • dovif says:

      04:42pm | 26/09/12

      you mean real/fake julia?
      you mean “there will be no carbon tax under a government I led” julia?
      you mean Citizen asembly Julia?
      you mean Kevin lost his way on border protection Julia?

      What is the difference between the ALP and a circuss

      The Circus normally have less then 5 clowns

    • Babylon says:

      07:45pm | 26/09/12

      Remember the article on the Punch the other day, attacking the Coalition on the grounds it was full of infighting and disarray? Complete twaddle as usual.

      But this Labor mob is in total self distruction mode.

      God they’re in charge of our country!


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