Mediocrity rules in our Parliaments but the memoir of a 32-year veteran of the Australian Senate might be the antidote.
Ron Boswell’s political career began almost half a century ago when the then small businessman helped the Queensland Nationals under Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen do what no one thought possible – win seats in metropolitan Brisbane.
His effective organisational skills in building support amongst disenfranchised constituencies like fishers, banana growers, pharmacists and post office franchisees, and then deploying thousands of volunteers on polling booths during elections, led to him winning and holding his Senate seat against all odds.
As a Brisbane-based Senator, Boswell broke the mould for the Nationals in winning over city-based small business while at the same time staying true to the concerns of the bush.
Most political careers end in tears but even when they don’t, few depart on their own terms.
Boswell retired from the Senate at the top of his game almost a decade ago.
A near death experience in 2019 when routine knee replacement surgery went wrong saw him survive even the reading of the last rites and spurred him to put pen to paper.
Given the terrible state of Australian politics, we are fortunate he did.
In lifting the veil on the inner workings of the Senate and the machinations of conservative party politics, Boswell gifts the reader, who he hopes might include aspiring politicians, with gems that might just inspire a better class to come.
It’s the story of a now lost golden age when adults like John Howard, Peter Costello, John Anderson, Richard Alston and Warren Truss delivered competent public policy.
Ron Boswell – Not Pretty, But Pretty Effective is, in my opinion, one of the most consequential contemporary political memoirs released and deserves a wide audience.
As the title suggests, and as anyone who knows Boswell knows, he is a colourful character as the beetroot and tomatoe sauce stains on the spinnaker-like shirts of the former yachting enthusiast would attest.
His staff gave him the computer login “meatpie” which he never used because he never used a computer.
And no annual trip to Kingaroy to drop former Senate colleague Lady Flo Bjelke Petersen a Christmas ham was complete without a stop at the Blackbutt bakery.
In a parliament now filled with apparatchiks who know no life out of political staffing and self-serving factional games, Boswell showed what a non-tertiary educated former paint-brush salesman who built a business from nothing could achieve in the seat of the nation’s power through common-sense and bloody-minded determination.
The adage of politics that your enemy is not those who sit opposite but those that sit behind you plays out through Boswell’s political career.
More than once, Flo came to his aid when his preselection was under fire, turning a room in his favour to the chagrin of party heavies like Sir Robert Sparkes.
The “not pretty but pretty effective” slogan was deployed in the political fight of Boswell’s life when he took on and beat Pauline Hanson whose then toxic popularism was an existential threat to the conservatives.
He acknowledges Pauline has moderated. “The old One Nation is no more,” he writes.
Mentored by the great Sir Joh, Boswell gives an unvarnished but respectful account of Queensland’s longest serving premier.
Bjelke-Petersen has been unfairly caricatured by the Left but his contribution to lifting the moribund Sunshine State deserves greater attention along with his leadership, with Boswell’s help, of the Nationals to victory in their own right.
Boswell’s telling of the ill-fated Joh for PM campaign respectfully gives an insiders’ view of a difficult period for the Liberals and Nationals.
There’s so much spilt milk in conservative politics and Boswell rues that the dynamic duo of Peter Costello and John Anderson never had the chance to lead the nation after the great John Howard.
Essentially the book is a manual on how to fight and scrap and get things done in politics.
The importance of winning the respect of colleagues, going to the coal face to observe firsthand peoples’ problems and being prepared to stand in public for one’s convictions are what sets Boswell apart today’s crop of white bread politicians.
He details how he and colleagues like Barnaby Joyce fought the carbon tax and killed it only to fumble the conservative’s capitulation to taxpayer-subsidised renewable energy.
“When I see homeless people on the street, I think of the billions wasted to get more expensive electricity and I shudder….I’ll regret that decision to not oppose the renewable energy regime for the rest of my life.”
Sadly after Boswell left, his beloved Nationals put Scott Morrison on the plane to Glasgow where he signed Australia to the UN’s net zero dream, an economic death warrant.
Reading the book one can’t help but wonder where are the Ron Boswell’s of conservative politics today?
He rightly thinks a big factor is the popularist scrapping of the parliamentary superannuation scheme, which while generous, allowed politicians to retire with dignity having served their nation.
It provided a potential incentive for those who were lack lustre or who had lost the passion to get out, knowing they could do so and retain some economic dignity.
Instead, dead wood is incentivised to stay because careers take a hit and it is difficult for many to re-enter.
“I propose, contrary to popular whim, that we offer better superannuation to politicians if we want them to be better at their jobs than the current crew.”
When Boswell retired, he was the only one in the joint party room who did not have a degree and who had ever run a business.
Boswell’s genius was his ability to fight for those no-one else would – sugar and tobacco growers, Golden Circle and the Asian community to name a few are all chronicled.
Social conservatives and Christians will be disappointed their constituency misses out.
Boswell always fearlessly fought for the human rights of the unborn, once describing in Parliament a group of pro-abortion politicians pushing for taxpayer funding for the abortion of disabled babies as being gripped with “thinking that was typical of the Hitler regime”.
Sadly the Queensland LNP under David Crisafulli is taking pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia policies to the next election.
This would never have happened in Joh or Boswell’s day.
With the help of long-time staffer Joanne Newbery, one of the very best to serve an Australian parliamentarian, Boswell provides a telling insight into a golden era of politics.
This book will inspire a new generation of Ron Boswells.
We need them now more than ever.
Ron Boswell – Not Pretty, But Pretty Effective is published by Connor Court. Order you copy here.
Lyle Shelton was an assistant adviser to Senator Boswell from 2006-2007.
Do you like this page?