Book Review: Plots and Prayers by Niki Savva

Journalist Niki Savva reveals the inside story on how Malcolm Turnbull was deposed as prime minister.
Book Review: Plots and Prayers by Niki Savva

For those with an interest in politics, universities offer courses that include the study of democracy, the media, policy-making, conflict and cooperation, and the many faces of power, including how it is exercised and contested. In Plots and Prayers, Niki Savva incisively spotlights all of these areas.

Savva has impeccable credentials as a journalist. She is the recipient of the Melbourne Press Club’s lifetime achievement award for ‘outstanding coverage of Australian politics as a reporter, columnist and author.’ For this, her third book, she interviewed politicians, staff and officials before the May 2019 federal election ‘with the explicit understanding that nothing would appear until after it.’ She offered that guarantee ‘in the hope that they would be more honest and more forthcoming about what happened.’ It is evident from reading Plots and Prayers that she was largely successful in this; only a few of the key players refused to be interviewed.


It is no small matter when the prime minister of Australia is deposed and a new prime minister is elected by his parliamentary colleagues by a margin of four votes over another contender. Savva writes that, like many Australians, she wanted to know why that had happened. In 408 pages, she presents the answers in some detail.

Not surprisingly, there were politicians who wanted Malcolm Turnbull gone no matter what: Some were eager for revenge. Some dubbed him ‘Labor-lite’. Some wanted Peter Dutton as prime minister and planned or plotted accordingly. Others were happy with Turnbull, or loyal to him. Many worried about getting re-elected and that influenced their behaviour more than anything else. There was confusion, obfuscation, lying and double-crossing. But there was also friendship, honesty and loyalty. There were sacrifices and compromises, and eventually, through a somewhat bizarre set of circumstances, Scott Morrison came out the winner. The big losers were Turnbull (often referred to as a good prime minister but not a clever politician) and his deputy, Julie Bishop, Australia’s first female foreign minister.

Book reviews are not intended to be a précis of the work being reviewed and the preceding paragraph should not be read as such. Rather, it should give the reader the flavour of this excellent book. You will read about lunches and dinners and text messages and conversations and in the end, you will form your own opinion as to who were the villains, if any, and who came out with their reputation unscathed.

As one politician said, ‘I came to Canberra with a business, not political, background. I came here with a good heart, believing in people. I am a loyal bloke. Everything I believed to be right and wrong has turned to crap. I have had enough.’

Books about politicians are not for everyone. Nor are horror stories. This absorbing and very well-researched book is both.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Plots and Prayers: Malcolm Turnbull’s Demise and Scott Morrison’s Ascension by Niki Savva
Publisher: Scribe
ISBN: 9781925849189

Format: Paperback
Categories: Non-Fiction | Australian | Politics
Pages: 408
Release Date: 2 July 2019
RRP: $35

Erich Mayer

Wednesday 31 July, 2019

About the author

Erich Mayer is a retired company director and former organic walnut farmer. He now edits the blog