Chris Kenny is an associate editor and columnist for The Australian and host of daily Kenny Report at Sky News and the weekly Kenny on Media on Friday nights.
On Sunday May 2 Kenny will present his special investigation, Men in the Mirror: Rudd & Turnbull, his look at two recent former Australian prime ministers. He is very familiar with both men and worked previously for one of them.
“I worked for Malcolm Turnbull when he was Opposition Leader in 2009,” Chris Kenny told Mediaweek. “I also have seen of lot of Kevin Rudd up close in Canberra. Even back then political staff and other politicians used to talk about how Rudd and Turnbull were very similar. It was an observation some made as they went about their days combatting each other in parliament. Even before that they had similar upbringings – each of them lost one of their parents. They were both very driven as teenagers and then young men and then both very successful in their careers before politics. They both married strong and successful women.
“They then both got to the top of their parties so quickly and led those parties twice. They lost power with many people writing them off and extraordinarily they were both able to come back.
“From their days in parliament, their careers have been so similar. The final piece in the puzzle is now they have come together almost in a frenemy arrangement. They have a couple of key causes – climate change and the criticism of News Corp they share.
“You now even see them sharing platforms and writing joint op-eds together.”
The blame game is not limited to News Corp
After the announcement of this Sky News documentary, some people have wondered if this might be some sort of payback for the former PMs turning on Australia’s biggest newspaper publisher.
When asked about that, Kenny replied: “Not at all. This is just a fascinating story. Nobody needs to pay anybody back for any criticism. They can say what they like. What is fascinating about this is that it is one of their shared hobbies. What it does is speak to another similarity between these two.
“Neither of them have been able to recognise their own failures. With their News Corp rants what they are doing is trying to blame others for their own failures. Politics is a rough game and they have had a lot of good media and criticism too along the way. In the end, both Rudd and Turnbull failed because they were unable to keep their party rooms united behind them. They also lost popularity with the public as well.
“Instead of any self-examination and accepting failure on their own part, they are both out there trying to blame others and it’s not just News Corp. They are trying to blame and seek revenge on former political colleagues.
“While they have so many great talents and attributes, this is one of their great failings.”
Asked about judging the two businessmen-turned-politicians, Kenny called their early business success impressive. “Kevin Rudd first as a diplomat and then a bureaucrat in Queensland and Malcolm Turnbull as a journalist, lawyer and businessman. They were brilliant men.
“You can’t come into politics at the age they did and assume leadership of your party within six or seven years, and even quicker for Turnbull, without an enormous amount of talent.”
In the Sky News special Kenny talks to other people who have worked with them and know them well. Insights come from Kevin Rudd’s brother and Canberra lobbyist, Greg Rudd, former Labor party leader Mark Latham, former Liberal party minister Sharman Stone, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, political commentator Tom Switzer, former Liberal senator Nick Minchin, veteran cartoonist Warren Brown, former editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell and Sky News anchor and former Turnbull staffer Peta Credlin.
Chris Kenny: “I was very close to Malcolm”
Kenny explained his time working for Turnbull: “When you are chief of staff to a politician you are nearly with them 24/7 and see more of them than you do your own family. I got on well with Malcolm and I had an enormous amount of respect for him. I don’t speak to him so much now. I think he has written me off as part of the grand News Corp conspiracy.”
Kenny said Turnbull helped him get to Sydney and helped him settle into the city. “He introduced me to many people in Sydney and it was great for me. I am still a great admirer of him as a man, but to be honest I am very disappointed at what he is doing now. It ruins his own reputation. He should be enhancing his legacy as a Prime Minister, not destroying it with his campaigns about being a media victim and seeking revenge against his former colleagues.”
Is there anything wrong with News Corporation?
Kenny: “As long as I have been in the media – when I worked for the ABC, then for News Corp and then commercial television before returning to News Corp after politics – there has always been a fixation on News Corp from the loopy left of Australian politics. I remember doing stories at the ABC in my early 20s about the evil Murdoch empire.
“There is nothing new about the loopy left railing against News Corp.
“It is interesting that in the current era of cancel culture, if you were to ask yourself where the mainstream right of centre criticism of any politicians would be in this country you would be stranded without News Corp. Aside from some talk radio stations, if you didn’t have News Corp there would be no mainstream right of centre focus, analysis or criticism of politics whatsoever. Everything would come from the green-left side of the spectrum which is where media and journalism tend to view the world from.
“They want to silence News Corp because they want to silence mainstream opinion.”
Rudd and Turnbull compared to Morrison
Kenny: “Scott Morrison is going OK. He learnt a lot from Malcolm’s mistakes which is why he won the election. He stayed true to conservative values with some core policy beliefs. A lot of politicians get pushed around by the daily media agenda and that was certainly true of Rudd and Turnbull.
“My concern with Morrison at the moment he is a bit too reactive, rather than staying true to his own instincts and policy agenda.”
Nine and The Sydney Morning Herald
As a columnist with The Australian, what does Kenny think Nine has been like as an owner of his paper’s main competition in NSW as the publication celebrates 190 years?
“The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age are grand newspapers and grand institutions with fantastic histories. They have a lot of great writers. To be able to survive for that long is a great achievement and I say congratulations to them.
“My criticism would be they are out of sync with mainstream readership. They run a green-left agenda. Sure, have some of that, but where are their commentators that can connect with mainstream right of centre values that are shared by the majority of people in the cities they serve.
“It wasn’t that long ago they had people like Miranda Devine and Paul Sheehan writing for them.”
Men in the Mirror: Rudd & Turnbull
Sunday 2 May at 8pm AEST on Sky News on Foxtel and Sky News on WIN, or listen on Sky News on iHeartRadio
Below: Sharri Markson talks to Chris Kenny on Sky News about Men in the Mirror