Road to Ruin: Niki Savva on lying and separating home and politics

Road to Ruin: Niki Savva on lying and separating home and politics

Niki Savva knows a little something about when personal relationships get political.

The columnist's 33-year marriage to Liberal party veteran Vincent Woolcock​ has made life "tricky" for him at times, downright uncomfortable at others as people openly wondered where loyalties on both sides lay.

Niki Savva, author of the book, Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government.

Niki Savva, author of the book, Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Her new book, Road to Ruin documents the reverse, what she calls a "bizarre" relationship between a prime minister and his chief of staff, and their eventual downfall.

While not alleging an affair between Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin, the book includes accounts of such things as Mr Abbott slapping Ms Credlin on the bottom, and another of her feeding him pasta.

Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott.

Ms Credlin and Mr Abbott.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

To no one's surprise then, the book's publication proved controversial. But, she says, she was motivated to write it to "give people an idea about how they operated".

Mr Abbott decried the content as "scurrilous gossip", and Ms Credlin labelled Savva, who started working at The Australian in 1970, a "so-called journalist".

The seasoned political reporter has brushed off the personal attacks.

"[Paul] Keating was much better with his insults, you know, than Abbott and Credlin ever were," she laughs. "He had a way with them, so no, I've been assaulted and abused by experts in the past, so [it] doesn't worry me."

But among the controversies were accusations Savva played it loose with ethics, which were not as easily dismissed. One charge was that she failed to seek comment from her protagonists, a choice she has vigorously defended.

Another was that she lied while working as a journalist, to which she has confessed.

"What I said was, in trying to get stories out of people you do kind of fib.

"Like gee, that was a great performance you put in last night, good on you, etcetera, etcetera, so it's a kind of a buttering up technique to get people to relax and to, you know, tell you what you want to know.

"The other part was that I lied about my sources. I make no apologies for that."

Ms Credlin brought Mr Woolcock publicly into the furore with an article in The Australian. Mr Woolcock is a 40-year veteran of the Liberal party, and it was not the first time someone had used his relationship with Savva to question her independence.

Savva says the trick to managing their marriage – where lines may appear blurred – is an active separation of work and life and mutual respect of those boundaries.

"I never tell Vincent what I'm writing," she says. "He didn't see a single word of my manuscript. Not one. He only got his copy of [Road to Ruin] on the Saturday when the extracts were in The Australian.

"I don't discuss my columns with him. I never tell him who I talk to. I try to keep that separate because I don't want to compromise him, and I also don't want to compromise the people I speak to."

The diminutive author ("You know, I measured myself against the wheelie bin and I tower over it, but that's about the only thing I tower over") will speak at a booked-out Canberra Times/ANU event on Monday.

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times

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