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Tiberius with a Telephone
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The oddly compelling story of a man regarded as Australia's worst prime minister.

About the Author

Patrick Mullins is a Canberra-based writer and academic. He holds a PhD from the University of Canberra, where he tutors and lectures in writing and journalism. He was the inaugural Donald Horne Fellow at the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research, and is a research fellow at the Museum of Australian Democracy. His early, brief version of this book won the 2015 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers.

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``For God's sake behave like a prime minister', implored the journalist who had assisted William McMahon to attain that office. His faults were legion. Throughout his political career he boasted and intrigued, curried favour, and was habitually disloyal. He worked assiduously with little comprehension of his responsibilities, and was indecisive and prone to panic. Patrick Mullins' engrossing, fine biography does much more than document all these liabilities: it explains how they enabled him to attain national leadership and left him unable to exercise it.' - Stuart Macintyre `Mullins fills an enormous gap in our political history with extraordinary insight and clarity. He casts new light on our post-war politics. and rescues one of its most dominant figures from the throes of partisan caricature.' - Lindsay Tanner, author of Sideshow and Politics with Purpose `Sir William McMahon, Liberal party leader and Australia's 20th prime minister, was a master of political intrigue. He accumulated epithets - `Billy big-ears', `Billy the leak', `a quean', and in Gough Whitlam's memorable quip, `Tiberius with a telephone'. In this commanding and exceptionally researched biography, Patrick Mullins has retrieved McMahon from historical neglect, revealing the man behind the personal and political caricature. It is a compelling portrait of an insecure, vain, deeply ambitious man, and a skilful political operator whose one great strength, his remarkable persistence, was eventually rewarded with the liberal prime ministership. At once fascinating, revelatory, unflattering, and at times uncomfortable, Mullins never shies away from McMahon's clear and unavoidable personal failings. His own colleagues described him as an inveterate liar, a compulsive leaker, and `completely untrustworthy'. Some refused outright ever to work with him. As Mullins unravels this devastating personal and political critique, McMahon's ascendency is all the more remarkable. But this is a story also of the Liberal Party in decline, divided and uncertain of its place in the weary interregnum between the twin titans of Australian politics - the founding Liberal leader, Sir Robert Menzies, and Labor's Gough Whitlam. Mullins' exemplary research, skilful use of an innovative structure, and engaging biographical narrative shows a complete picture of McMahon for the first time. This is everything a political biography should be.' - Emeritus Professor Jenny Hocking, Monash University, author of Gough Whitlam: the definitive biography

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