ACT News


Author Paul Daley: 'I don't buy ISIS is an existential threat'

The fiction about Canberra just keeps rolling in. The lies, the backstabbing, the falls from grace. 

This week journalist and author Paul Daley's political thriller Challenge becomes available in bookshops.

And again the public servants at VisitCanberra tasked with attracting tourists to the nation's capital must be loving it, at least partly because it is fictional as opposed to recent non-fictional threats relating to the city's most well-known crowd pleaser, Parliament House.

Publication of Challenge follows the release of The Mandarin Code by journalists Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann as well as the airing of The Code on ABC, both of which elaborate Canberra's strengths. 

Even ABC's comedy Utopia had a Canberra episode. 

Challenge unfolds across three days as protagonist and unpredictable Opposition Leader Daniel Slattery attempts to maintain his principles while politicians debate the threat of Australian-made jihadis.


"I wrote them [the jihadis] into the manuscript in the middle of last year, just to remind readers this is fiction," Daley said.

Back in the real world, Daley said there was no difference between the Coalition and Labor about how to deal with the Islamic State and his book explored in a fictional way the reasons for this. 

"We are told ISIS is an existential threat to Australia," he said.

"I don't buy that.

"The political issue at the centre of Challenge is just this: the supposed threat of homegrown jihadis and the inability of political parties to genuinely, honestly debate such a threat and how to respond, politically and militarily, without fear of retribution as being labelled non-Australian, piss-weak and treacherous in Parliament, not to mention by the intellectually venal shock jocks and some of the more brain-dead newspapers and their websites."

Daley, who once co-wrote a play titled The Hansard Monologues, was surprised politics had not been portrayed more in fictional works but noted the recent TV success stories Game of Thrones, House of Cards and Secret State.

"I do find it astounding still that the political workplace is so ugly and hostile," he said.

"Anywhere else half of them would be sent to human resources for counselling. In politics if you show public compassion to the wrong people, tell the truth at the wrong time about the wrong things, you get arse-kicked by the whips.

"It's hugely fertile ground for writers."

Canberrans may be pleased the protagonist Slattery's heroes include Lyndhurst Falkiner Giblin, who ran the World War Two economy from the nation's capital.

"I wanted to convey a Canberra that does host politics but that also exists as a place with a distinct culture – intelligent, political, left, green, more at one-ish with nature than other capitals – and communities.

"I also wanted to emphasise the importance of Canberra, symbolically, to the rest of the nation – the memory and conscience and archive of the country, with the street names and suburbs dedicated to exploration and public service."