Very few people can say they knew a former Prime Minister in a personal capacity. Unless you are Michael Cooney, who last Wednesday was hosted by the ANU and The Canberra Times in a “Meet the Author” event for his book on Julia Gillard.

Author of The Gillard Project, Cooney was one of former Prime Minister Gillard’s speechwriters, and a self-described writer “who writes with both individual integrity, and the integrity of a partisan”. It was this term, “partisan”, that became a recurring motif throughout the evening, as Cooney spoke of it as something to be proud, rather than be ashamed of.

A born and bred Canberran and ANU Alumnus, Cooney attended the Johns Chapel, endured windy sport trainings on North Oval, and attended many post class sessions at the ANU bar. However, as it became obvious in his address, ANU also fostered his “limitless thoughts”, and encouraged the “integrity of partisanship”. It was here that he first joined the campus’ Labor Right, then by 1994, the Labor Party.

Cooney’s address made use of references to George Orwell’s 1984, as Cooney attempted to convey the integrity in partisanship, rather than the shattering stereotype of a partisan mind being comparable to the “duck” speaker 1984 describes. Yet throughout, he suggested to the audience that it is unrealistic to demand that someone adopt a stance of “false neutrality”, as inevitably “partisans are inseparable from the values of the party”.

This candid approach continued through his reminder that The Gillard Project was very much “his story”.

Once the floor opened up to questions, audience member Liam Fitzpatrick immediately raised Gillard’s famous “Misogyny speech”, which was one Cooney “ironically played very little part in”. Fitzpatrick asked what he thought of it, and whether he was frustrated that he was not a part of it. Cooney conceded that politicians could write their own speeches better, but they “simply have too many other things to do”.
Question time provided the audience with insight into Cooney’s partisan views. If he was to work for any Labor leader now, Cooney revealed it would be Luke Foley, because he is a “thinker” and perhaps someone who can pioneer the “new model for Labor that NSW needs”.

It was interesting that Cooney also summarised Labor’s position now as “more ideologically unified now than in any other time in history”, whilst conceding that this may affect the ability of activists from different factions of Labor to make a strong ideological case.

The next ANU and Canberra Times meet the author event will be held on Wednesday May 20 with multi-award winning foreign correspondent Christina Lamb.

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