Sarah Ferguson: Rudd & Gillard interviews were “intense”


“I think what’s really gripping about this series is hearing them talk at length. I was at pains to tell both of them the very obvious things that, ‘This is nothing like a studio political interview. This is a totally different proposition,'” Sarah Ferguson explains.

“People have a performance elements to how they give studio interviews. It’s much more combat. This was not that. Watching them over a long period of time relive these moments was in itself, very intense.”

‘Intense’ is an apt word to describe The Killing Season, Ferguson’s ABC documentary that looks at the forces that shaped Labor during the Kevin Rudd / Julia Gillard leadership years.

Over three episodes she explores the once-strong relationship between the Labor duo with candid, sometimes startling interviews, and penetrating footage that will trigger national headlines. The title evokes the last week of Parliament, when a leader is apparently at their most vulnerable, but it is the two key players here who will unleash the most impact on one another.

Ferguson filmed the former leaders across a series of interviews in Australia and the US. What emerges is a clear picture that each still seeks history to leave them with the upper hand.

“This is one of the most disputed narratives in contemporary Australian political history and will remain so. Obviously there are powerful discrepancies between Hawke and Keating, to a slightly-lesser degree between Howard and Costello,” says Ferguson.

“They both feel strongly that their narrative should be the dominant one. I don’t speak for their motivation but that’s what I understand their presence to be about.”

Episode 1 focusses on Rudd’s rise to the leadership, toppling Kim Beazley, with Gillard as his Deputy. Episode 2 zeroes in on 2010 when Gillard took the job from underneath him and Episode 3 will end with him snatching it back.

“The dominant political narrative here is what happened as a result of the leadership change in 2010, and the end of 2013 he lost the election. We know what happened, so there is a lot less to say from the period of Kevin Rudd’s return.

“This is like a real-life drama and it’s very clear when you consider the whole that when he comes back, that is where the drama ends.

“In a sense everything flows into that leadership change and then everything flows out of it.”

“Fantastic narrative tension”

Ferguson’s extensive interviews allowed her spend plenty of time with her two subjects and to raise arguments that the other had made.

“That creates a fantastic narrative tension, talking about the same things from the same perspective,” she suggests.

“We understood less about Kevin Rudd before we started because Julia Gillard had written a book and given some speeches.

“But the series goes way beyond both of those things. The experience of seeing her talk about him on camera is very intense. Her account is her account, but seeing her reflect on screen about him in that very tough way is quite an experience, in itself.

“I was concerned that Julia Gillard might hold back a bit because it was on camera. It’s usually the case that people are more cautious than they are giving quotes for books or writing their own account. But the opposite was true.”


While she won’t reveal the context, Ferguson says Gillard does make one very surprising admission.

“Gillard does something that I’ve never seen a male political leader do from the UK, the US, Europe to Australian history. She utters the immortal phrase, ‘Yes it was a mistake,'” Ferguson reveals.

“Have we ever heard Howard, Keating, Hawke say “Yes it was a mistake” or anything so substantial? I don’t think so. I think that’s because she’s a woman, she’s capable of admitting mistakes.

“She doesn’t concede much –I’m not suggesting she’s confessing to a whole series of errors of judgement.”

There are also interviews with other Labor figures adding context to the key turning points in the series. The footage is exhaustive, seeking to give the viewer a behind the scenes perspective on the drama. Ferguson credits producer Deb Masters, executive producer Sue Spencer, editors and cameramen for bringing the series to life.

“Gasping at the candour”

“The ‘behind the scenes’ (feel) is what they set out to achieve. After a short period the editor of Episode One said, ‘It feels like we’re watching an Observational Documentary,'” she says.

“This series was not made for the Press Gallery but a wide Australian audience whether you lived here during that period or watched it closely or not at all –you can turn it on and be gripped from start to finish no matter where you are in the political spectrum.

“I think it’s incredibly surprising. I find myself looking at it still, after all these months of being across it, and still gasping at the candour.”

After months painstakingly piecing together the series, Ferguson concedes she is desperate to know how it will be received.

But having undertaken press interviews she anticipates not everybody will view the same material in the same way. Whether The Killing Season improves or impedes its subjects in setting the record straight, remains to be seen.

“Many people have asked me questions where I think they are looking for me to confirm their existing prejudices. And I say, ‘Look at the series. Look at the Television,” she adds.

“Go into this with an open mind as we did, and see if you think the same things afterwards.’”

The Killing Season premieres 8:30pm Tuesday on ABC.


  1. So the interviews were “intense”, Ms Ferguson! Hopefully you were more restrained with Rudd and Gillard than you had been previously with many an unsuspecting interviewee on 7:30. I personally found your interview technique – if that’s what you could call it – to be aggressive and belligerent. And offensive.

  2. jezza the first original one

    These 2 fully deserved what the electorate eventually gave them. Just a waste of 6 years of a lack of leadership in the country. Remember Kevs 2020 summit? What a load of crap that turned out to be…and Julia doing a deal with the mad leftie greens…..madness. The list can go on and on

  3. Secret Squïrrel

    “Many people have asked me questions where I think they are looking for me to confirm their existing prejudices.”

    This. No matter how good this is, I doubt that it will change many people’s view. They will simply cherry-pick the bits that match what they already believe and ignore those which don’t.

    • Very much this SS.

      Similarly various media will cherry pick the bits that suit whatever narrative they want to present. Undoubtedly also the most salacious bits will be highlighted for their click-worthiness rather than any inherent newsworthiness.

  4. Lets not forget the real star of this doco, Sarah Ferguson. She is the most incredible interviewer I have seen in a long time. This thing will easily rate over a million.

  5. Honestly I am getting a bit sick of this “sexist” drum narrative that seems to beaten by the usual suspects – Howard in The Howard Years admitted many mistakes, including wearing the Bulletproof vest to the pro gun rally…. sheesh, anyone would think all males are apes and not worthy of oxygen the way some media people of a certain network carry on…. enough already!

    Other than that, I am looking forward to this, and it should serve to remind everyone why these jokers were voted out, and why the ALP should take a long time in opposition to sort their mess out. How they could’ve squandered a long time in govt in such a quick and clinical mess it something that should be studied for the next few hundred years of how “not to do” leadership and government.

  6. Michael Young

    I can’t wait to see this. It will be astounding. I am also amazed how deep the wounds of that time have impacted me as the old anger and frustration rose up as soon as I read this. One of them will never be forgiven for what they did … putting us in this current political mess we are now suffering through! Who that is I will not say, but those who know me also know the answer.

  7. “Gillard does something that I’ve never seen a male political leader do from the UK, the US, Europe to Australian history…”

    Sarah Ferguson should check every transcript of Peter Beattie.

    • To be fair Sarah was probably only referring to national leaders. You’re correct with Beatty, though … he was a master of the mea culpa.

  8. daveinprogress

    It’s hard to believe it is 5 years since Rudd was removed. I say that, because the promos and indeed this interview with Sarah evokes a wound or series of wounds still quite open and somewhat fresh – and yet it is 5 years! I think this joust has much more punch than the other political jostles mentioned, in part because Rudd/.Gillard played itself out on 24.7 media platforms and was unheralded. This should be rivetting television.

    • Rudd as PM was a dud, Gillard wasn’t really “allowed” to do her job as PM, partly because of her gender. Rudd should never have been given the second chance as he was vindictive and appeared to “white-ant” not just Gillard, but the entire party coming into the last federal election. Gillard’s mia culpa should(hopefully) include her “captain’s call” of bringing in Nova Perris for the NT Senate seat at the expense of another long-time female ALP senator for the NT and stripping away benefits for young mothers. Much has been said just recently by Shorten and others that “this is all in the past”, well, those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the mistakes of history!

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