What is it about Louise ?

The blog hasn’t read Nicki Savva’s book and probably won’t – but it’s difficult to avoid the media stories and commentaries about it.

Well before the blog’s rare hard copy of The Age landed in the front garden a couple of people had sent it the link to an article in the paper on the book by Louise Adler. Within a few hours later the blog had also been sent by various people details of a Tweet link (don’t worry the blog has not sunk to Twitter) from the Saturday Paper’s Martin McKenzie-Murray to a speech Peta Credlin made to a an MLC Foundation event www.mlc.vic.edu.au/files/dmfile/Peta Credlin MLC Foundation  in which Ms Credlin had said some things about Ms Adler as Ms Adler had some things to say about Ms Credlin in The Age. No doubt the Saturday Paper on 12 March will have more to say about it.

Now the blog doesn’t know Ms Adler and, as far as its aged memory can remember, has met her only once. It was when the blog was Melbourne International Arts Festival Chair and the late, and very sadly missed, Paul Clarkson proposed a 20th anniversary history of the Festival. Someone, Paul possibly, suggested we approach Melbourne University Press where Ms Adler was the Publisher. We had a preliminary discussion with her and MUP came back to us with a proposal for publication which involved the Festival subsidising publication. Having looked at the proposed cost it was obvious that it would be cheaper for the Festival to just publish the book itself and that’s what subsequently happened.

The blog also had some indirect contact when it was, very briefly, a member of the University of Melbourne Council as a result of an accident of history caused by the Victoria College of the Arts (for which Ms Adler once worked) merger with the UoM. At the time MUP was losing lots of money and when the subject was discussed at Council the blog said a few words about why it might be – focussing on the vexed issues of advances and the problems publishers around the world were having maintaining the system of large advances where the many duds were paid for by the great successes. Soon after a Council committee was established to look at the MUP problems although the blog, and another Council member with some experience in books and writing, were not invited to join. The blog persevered nevertheless and put together a submission about roles for university publishers, possible models for MUP and suggested that the committee might draw on the experience of a recently retired publisher, widely respected throughout the industry, who might be willing to help. Needless to say the suggestions weren’t picked up. At the same time the then MLC Head, Rosa Storelli, who subsequently had a spectacular falling out with Ms Adler, was also a UoM Council member. As Michael Kirby remarked to the blog at an RMIT function when he realised the blog had an adjunct chair at RMIT and UoM Council membership: “Only in Melbourne!”

Otherwise the blog has noticed from time to time Ms Adler in her regular appearances in the media. When Kevin Rudd scheduled his 2008 Summit at Passover Ms Adler announced she would miss Pesach with the family and attend the summit. In retrospect, when one considers the outputs from the Summit, the Kevin 07 expectations and the Rudd years, it might have been more constructive spending Pesach with the family – or waiting for the messiah. Now she has rushed to the defence of Peta Credlin. As to whether this is a feminist issue the blog feels it is not appropriate for it to comment – but it does know that Ministerial (let alone Prime Ministerial staff) – like good PR people and referees – should never, never, ever become the issue.

In a rather prissy article Ms Adler contrasts the Savva book with the sort of books she publishes. “As a publisher I have always preferred the account of the main players, however myopic, to the commentary. Those commentators we publish, like the eminence grise (one hopes MUP editors delete such clichés even if the few remaining newspaper subs don’t) Paul Kelly, bring the highest standards of journalism to their craft.” Such prissiness contrasts with MUP’s publication of Mick Gatto’s autobiography though it is arguable that he is a ‘main player’ though in what is a question of as much interest as is why a university press published it. The Adler article went on to say, of her contact with Ms Credlin, “My own dealings with Credlin have been on book industry issues.” And of course, as we all bond from time to time over books (if not always over book industry issues), Ms Credlin said about Ms Adler in that MLC Foundation speech that: “Almost from ‘hello’, Louise and I formed a friendship based on a mutual love of Melbourne, the written word, the human story and good company. While we couldn’t be more different in our politics, we want the same things for our country (really?). Over the years, we’ve have probably covered almost every topic under the sun because Louise is a genuine polymath and someone, who despite being a formidable CEO, is warm and engaging, and a passionate supporter of women. So where many have tried, it was your Chair who managed to persuade me to accept her invitation to speak at this year’s MLC Foundation Dinner.”

Blog readers will remember that Ms Adler was to be Chair of the Book Council of Australia Tony Abbott set up and Malcolm Turnbull dumped, along with his government’s savage cutbacks to Canberra-based cultural institutions. As an aside the blog notes that the Turnbull Government can spend taxpayers’ money advertising an innovation strategy while simultaneously endangering the National Library’s remarkably innovative and internationally renowned Trove system lends new meaning to the word hypocrisy. However, Ms Adler showed her diverse political connections by not only being favoured by Abbott as a chairperson but also being selected to chair the recent Andrews Government cultural policy taskforce which had the remarkable distinction of not having any indigenous representation on the main group and relegating indigenous membership to a reference/advisory panel. The blog can’t remember a similar situation anywhere in Australia in recent years.

Some years ago, while the blog was still writing for crikey, Margaret Simons wrote a crikey piece about possible ABC Board members and mentioned Louise Adler as a probable/possible candidate. As she remarked at the time – she had never before had so many comments (forcibly for and forcibly against) on an article. Which prompts one to ask the question: what is it about Louise which encourages such fierce loyalty and such fierce criticism?