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Williamstown Literary Festival

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by Peter Dewar (subscribe)
Businessman and writer. Peter nurtures a special interest in Korea and Japan.
Published June 8th 2013
What's Going Wrong in Politics?
Winter brings 'Willi Lit Fest' to town; for some, it's our annual booster of political gossip.

Sessions like the one with respected journalist, James Button, and ex-State Premier, Steve Bracks, give the public a chance to see political figures in an informal setting with their guards lowered, if not down completely.

Steve Bracks, a Williamstown resident, toppled Jeff Kennett and went on to enjoy two terms as Victorian Premier. He will go down in history as one of the more successful Labor leaders. A Premier's State, a reflection on his political career launched by Bob Hawke, was published last year.

James Button captured the attention of a broader audience after the 2012 publication of his book, Speechless: A Year in My Father's Business. It earned him a degree of notoriety for his criticism of Kevin Rudd during James's brief interlude as the ex-PM's speechwriter, no matter that it occupies a small part of the book.

A Festival program that said, 'Bracks and Button: Conversation Hour', gave no clue as to what they would talk about. Full points for sheer nerve: the topic they chose to discuss was 'What's Going Wrong in Politics?'.

The modern interior of the newly renovated Williamstown Library provided a warm and uplifting setting. The presence of a retired federal cabinet minister, members of local council and a bevy of political staffers added to the sense of being on the 'inside'. Even the speakers fronted full of energy.

Williamstown Library
Old and New: a renovated library next the Town Hall played host to the Bracks and Button session


But there was no escaping the gloomy mood and a litany of problems: politics was no longer a calling but a career; an insatiable media had undermined political dialogue; politicians were sanitized and too carefully managed by minders; the Labor government couldn't sell its message; as for the Labor movement - it faces oblivion.

Bracks and Button
Journalist and politician on friendly terms


Steve Bracks showed what an accomplished political leader he is by tempering the discussion. Politics was no more partisan today than in the past - remember the battles of days gone-by. Paying homage to the late Jim Button (James's father), a much loved Labor stalwart, he pointed out that political success would come, as it had in the past, with hard work and learning to argue your case. Bracks was resolute: the negative case for Labor is overstated - as long as Labor learns, the political cycle will turn in its favour.

James Button pointed to the achievements of the Gillard government in politically volatile times, but the mood of anticipation of an upcoming Labor defeat couldn't be shifted. Steve Bracks's conceded, "You can't be successful if you're not a team". No-one chose to disagree.

At the end of the session, Steve Bracks talked about his new posting as Australian Consulate General to the USA. One could be forgiven for wondering if Labor can ill-afford to lose him, even for a while.

Political tragics got their fill ... for another year. Steve Bracks and James Button were generous and candid. I reckon the 'body politic' is in good shape as long as individuals like these two are nearby.

Williamstown
There's plenty to see in Williamstown after the Festival


Bye the way, congratulations 'Willi Lit Fest' on your tenth birthday. See you in 2014.
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Why? Politics without the minders
When: Yearly
Phone: 0409 121 028
Where: Williamstown Town Hall
Cost: Tickets: $10. Concessions available
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