This Tuesday night on ABC TV, Walkley Award winning journalist Sarah Ferguson commences a powerful three-part examination of what went wrong with the Rudd and Gillard Governments.
Titled ‘The Killing Season’ the series is an enthralling account of one of the most turbulent periods of Australian political history.
For the first time, Kevin Rudd gives his own, full account of the period and relives in vivid detail the events of losing the Prime Minister-ship, a retelling he found painful. While Julia Gillard is forthright with her recollections and analysis and doesn’t spare her colleagues.
These were “very intense interviews” says host Sarah Ferguson, “To borrow Julia's expression from the night of the 23rd, you could cut the air with a knife."
It is a documentary series like no other. Visually striking, filled with tension like the best political dramas, the comprehensive cast of the main players – including Wayne Swan, Greg Combet, Chris Bowen, Simon Crean, Anthony Albanese, Stephen Conroy, Tony Burke, Tanya Plibersek and more speak frankly, providing a dramatic portrait of a party at war with itself.
Ferguson describes the interview with Rudd as a “very intensely emotional event.” “By the end of it we were completely washed out” “He was, I was, the producer was, the cameramen were. It was a very big deal".
It took the ABC 18 months to convince Rudd and Gillard to participate in the series,
“They were both equally mistrustful of the media. Both have a view that the media had served them poorly during their prime minister-ships”
“He's nervous. And so is Julia ... it was tense with both of them. “
Both former PM’s regularly contradict each throughout the series with viewers left to make up their own mind.
“There are some moments where you wonder whether it's memory or sincerity.”
“They both want their account of those months, those narratives to be the salient narrative. They want that to be the narrative that is recognised”
Inevitably this series will draw criticism with many viewers having already made up their minds over Rudd and Gillard.
“People do have very fixed views, I think they should un-shift them and have a look. Have an honest, open look at the series and see if they still think exactly the same thing.”
While having worked as a TV journalist for SBS and ABC for number of years it was her extended stint hosting 7:30 last year while Leigh Sales took maternity leave that elevated her profile, and attracted both praise and criticism for her ‘no-nonsense’ approach.
Some of that criticism included an ABC conducted audit by AFR editor Colleen Ryan that noted a 7:30 interview with Joe Hockey "did not appear to show the Treasurer enough respect.”
Ryan stated in her report that "the 'tone' of the questioning in this particular interview could have been interpreted by some viewers to be a potential breach of the ABC's impartiality guidelines." Ferguson is strong in refuting the claims.
“There was a patently daft process in which the conclusion could have been drawn by some not paying very close attention that a review found me to be biased.”
“Now that was a daft process that ended up with a daft result and was pushed back very hard by all of my colleagues. It wasn't our finest hour, but it remains the case I don't have any doubt that Mark Scott (ABC Managing Director) and Kate Torley (ABC News Director) want strong, feisty interviews.
When asked if she believes her interview style attracts increased attention due to being female, Ferguson admits it can be a factor for some viewers.
“Its an open question for me as to whether or not finding a register for a woman to be tough is still a little bit harder, not that you shouldn’t, not that people won’t let you. But finding the right register in which to do that. I think that's still an open question. It's to do with people's perceptions, you see it in audience feedback. It's a grey area still.”
“All the feedback I had from people in the Liberal Party, those people that give you any kind of feedback, none of them ever objected to the interviews that I gave them. Their supporters might, but they don't. They appreciate, as all smart people do, that you perform better with a testing, pressing interview.”
“Look at the rise of Kevin Rudd. He actually honed his skills by facing up to endless testing interviews. John Howard said it. You build up a hinterland by doing that. You learn your skills, you get better at it by facing those interviews. You don't get good by never facing them.”
At the same time Ferguson concedes,
“An interviewer should be skilful and have at their disposal a whole range of tones. You know, being hard all of the time is just boring.”
While many have expressed hope that Sarah Ferguson would find a role hosting an interview series, her next TV project will be a confronting series focusing on domestic violence in Australia. The immersive series expected to air in late 2015 will see Ferguson living in refuges in order to see the experience of those women as closely as possible.
The Killing Season premieres Tuesday 9th June at 8.30pm on ABC