The 6 game-changing moments of the The Killing Season.

“The big question for viewers is just one: Who do you believe?”

Whether you are a baked-on Labor supporter, a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal or you couldn’t give a toss for either, The Killing Season is as compelling a political drama as any you’ll find on Netflix.

The Killing Season is a three-part doco that is supposed to be about the Rudd/Gillard Labor Governments. But in truth it is only about two people: Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. And while there is a lot here about what their governments did well or poorly, the big question for viewers is just one thing: Who do you believe?

And if the first episode is any guide, the answer is: NO ONE.

Watch a teaser trailer for The Killing Season below. Post continues after video. 

1. Everybody lies – and everyone wants revenge.

There are more than a few moments in the first episode that will have you wondering who is telling the truth. Kevin Rudd says that he and Julia Gillard had never had a “cross word or a difficult moment” before he was deposed – but a lack of conflict between two forthright personalities seems inherently implausible and denying it just seems like you’re hiding something.

When Julia Gillard says that she and Wayne Swan would have conversations about “managing Kevin”, but none of those discussions were “leadership discussions” – that seems unlikely too. Why talk about the problems without a discussion of a solution? Who does that? (No one…) More than once during this episode, the players make statements that have you giving both of them a sceptical side-eye.

“There are more than a few moments in the first episode that will have you wondering who is telling the truth.”

Writer and presenter of the series, Sarah Ferguson told Mamamia that she believes that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard definitely lied to her during the making of the show: “Were there moments in which I thought ‘I don’t believe that at all’? Yes there were. Yes, unquestionably, they lied”.

Rather than letting us in on the lies that she identified, Ferguson thinks that viewers will see it for themselves: “There is a cumulative affect about what people say that reveals a lot about them,” says Ferguson. “I think people…will see what we saw.”

Ferguson told Fairfax that she thought that they were each trying to exact a form of revenge: “They would both absolutely say not, but it looks like it to me. Their vehemence to have their narrative win the day, that’s what’s driving them now. It’s not as simple as revenge, it’s bigger than revenge. They want a bigger victory than just to beat the other one. They want their version of those years to be history.”

2. Julia Gillard claims Kevin Rudd physically intimidated her. He says she’s lying.

Early in the episode, Julia Gillard describes an interaction in which Kevin Rudd physically intimidated and bullied her after an Opposition tactics meeting in 2007:
“Kevin was always very anxious to strut his stuff in Question Time, and tactics hadn’t gone his way. I had taken a view about something else forming the issue of the day.

“And after the tactics meeting had broken up he very physically stepped into my space and it was quite a bullying encounter.

“It was a, you know, menacing angry performance.”

Kevin Rudd says this never happened. “Utterly false,” he says. “Utterly, utterly false.”

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Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Image via The Killing Season.

He says there were never any sharp moments between them. “Never. Never with Julia, including on the night that she marches into the office to announce the coup. I said to her repeatedly: ‘But Julia, you’re a good person. Why are you doing this?'”

When Mamamia asked Sarah Ferguson what she was about to find out about this particular interaction, she said: “There was no immediate witness to that event. Those things can be a matter of perspective. It is very hard to determine what is intimidating. Julia Gillard is a very tough person and knows how to be very tough with people. I’m not saying it’s not a truthful rendition. I don’t know the answer to the question. There is no person who actually witnessed it.”


3. Malcolm Turnbull used to be a total bummer. Kevin Rudd was a rock star.

In 2015, Malcolm Turnbull is a GQ cover-model. He is inordinately popular in the community. A survey of Mamamia readers last year put him well ahead as preferred leader of the Liberal Party and preferred PM.

But The Killing Season reminds us that when he was Opposition Leader facing off against Kevin Rudd, he was, well, a bit of a dud. At one stage, Rudd led Turnbull as preferred PM in the opinion polls a staggering 65-18 – he was not really even in the game. The Godwin Grech affair – where Malcolm Turnbull staked his political capital on an email that turned out to be a fake – was a low point.

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Kevin Rudd appearing on the Rove McManus show. Image via The Killing the killing season.

Watching the man that is now considered the PM-in-waiting squirm and flounder as Opposition Leader feels very strange. Everyone loves him now, but back then he was the political equivalent of a fart in an elevator. How times have changed.

4. Everybody cries.

We’re used to seeing these politicians standing up before press conferences, in punishing interviews or in scripted speeches. We don’t see them cry very often. There is crying here.

Jenny Macklin cries when she describes the 2009 Victorian bushfires and the empathy shown by Kevin Rudd towards a widow and her son. Tanya Plibersek is visibly moved when discussing the seismic shift in the lives of the people of the Stolen Generation when they heard a nation take responsibility and apologise for their suffering. And Kevin Rudd tears up when he talks about how much he isn’t enjoying the experience of being interviewed for this series.

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Kevin Rudd tends to a victim of the 2009 Victorian bushfires. Image via The Killing Season.

Sarah Ferguson says of Jenny Macklin’s emotion, “Jenny Macklin is straight and she is very angry with him later in the series. She believes that he was responsible for the leaks during the election. And she thinks that is unforgivable.”

We’re not used to seeing our politicians cry. But here their tears emphasise the depth of emotion that still exists around this period in Australian political history. This stuff still hurts and you see that quite clearly.

5. Bill Shorten is MIA.

Bill Shorten refused to be involved in this series, but he was a well-known player in what went down in 2010. He is MIA here – we don’t get his insight into his motives or on the main protagonists. Importantly, he can’t defend himself.

David Epstein, Rudd’s former Chief of Staff (2007-08) says “The PM thought he was marginalising Shorten by putting him in the Disabilities Portfolio”. But Rudd says that he saw Shorten as one of the bright new stars (Of course, history tells us that Shorten made that portfolio his own and managed to lift the profile of disability policy to a point where the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) became one of the outstanding achievements of the Gillard Government – so as a ploy to put Shorten in a pointless playpen, it didn’t work.)


But was it a mistake for him not to be involved? Sarah Ferguson thinks so: “It was a great disappointment that he didn’t want to participate. He was there. He played an important role in 2010. He was one of the most important players in 2010. He should be part of this record and I am disappointed that he is not.”

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Where is Bill Shorten in all of this? Image via Getty.

Apparently Shorten sent a letter saying he wasn’t going to be involved, but didn’t give a reason (as is his right). Ferguson says that means that there are allegations in the series made against Shorten that go unanswered. “What happens to people like Shorten is that you put us in a position where other people have to tell their story. It’s never as satisfactory. Boy did I try. I tried very, very hard. [He] would have got a fair go and a chance to explain [his] role.

This might well have been a mistake for Shorten, but time will tell. Ferguson says, “He said in a recent profile piece that he didn’t expect people to vote for him until they knew who he was – well, here was a chance to show who he is. There are explanations for his role, but the problem is that those questions remain open – and it could have been a closed question.”

Sarah Ferguson wouldn’t be drawn on what this series means for the Labor Party. “I don’t spend any time thinking what this means for Labor – that’s not my interest nor my responsibility. I think giving these accounts is important for Labor itself and for the general public to understand how a group of dedicated, well-intentioned, hard-working people allowed their policy agenda to get swamped by politics. Explaining to the voters why that happened is crucial. It’s not a private matter.


“You can’t say ‘I don’t want to talk about the bad times’. Too bad. The bad times happened. You have to explain what it was,” she says.

But any time that anyone’s dirty laundry gets aired, it’s always going to be a problem. The fact that this series is being screened during the final two weeks of Parliament before the winter break means that it’s not great timing for Labor. We’ll have to see over the next three weeks how it plays out in public. Watch this space.

6. You will change your mind.

Unless your views are so baked-on that you’re resistant to anything that challenges what you know about this period in politics, this episode has a few things that make you go hmmm (as they say in the classics).

The strange and somewhat hollow retelling of events. The way that people talk about their motivations. The accounts of the minor players. The crying. The things that we’ve forgotten (remember when we all were giving $950 by the Government?). The fact that some people refused to be involved (and the presence of those who did).

Rudd and Gillard. Images via The Killing Season.

Regardless of whether you’re a Rudd-person or a Gillard-person or neither, you found out things here that you didn’t know before. And that does open up your perspective a little.

Sarah Ferguson certainly thinks it will. She says, “people have very fixed ideas about Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. I think that people will find their prejudices moved a little bit.”

Perhaps more than a little.

Bring on Episode Two.

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