Prime Minister Scott Morrison is ‘sneaky’ and only reveals his real nature when deviating from the careful scripting of his advisers, a panel at the Sydney Writers’ Festival has claimed.

Former Insiders host Barrie Cassidy joined a panel of fellow political journalists, Niki Savva, Peter Van Onselen and Chris Wallace in a conversation about the PM’s leadership and political style.

The session was opened with the words of Laurie Oakes, asking “what is it about Scott Morrison ‘that allows him to shake off the sins and makes vices virtues?’”

Niki Savva, Author of Plots and Prayers, said the true Scott Morrison was seen during the 2020 Bushfire, not the 2019 election where he “was incredibly disciplined, was scripted every day, was told what to do”.

“When it actually comes to Morrison having to do things, he falls short, or he does them in a very sneaky, and cowardly way and can I mention the example of the decision on Friday, on India, and telling the Australians who are in India that if they did come home, they can be jailed, and they can be fined, which I think, is unconscionable.”

Cassidy also said of the India decision “we’ve got an obligation to Australians, we always have had, to Australians caught in situations overseas. We didn’t shut the door to those in the UK and the US when the numbers were higher.”

The Project host, The Australian columnist and author of How Good is Scot Morrison? Peter Van Onselen was also questioned about his comment on Insiders about his personal struggle with being Attorney-General Christian Porter’s friend following the historical rape allegations against him, which Porter denies.

“If I had my time again, I’d do things differently, because of the recognition,” Olsen said. “I think it’s a truism that if an allegation like that is made about a close friend or family member, that it is difficult, but there’s a time and a place to make that point.”

The larger point that has not sunk in is just how advantaged the Liberal and National parties are by having had that Darwinian leadership system through which the most cunning and politically able person emerged as leader

Cassidy noted that Morrison’s ascendency to Prime Minister, much like Paul Keating, Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull, was without a federal election and instead with a leadership spill and “portraying himself not as the assassin but as the guy who just happened to be around when the final ballot arrived.”

Former Press Gallery Journalist and author of How to Win an Election, Chris Wallace spoke of the 2019 ‘miracle win’ saying: “The entire federal Liberal party gave up on that election… Scott Morrison virtually alone was convinced he could pull it off… and good on him, he backed himself and he won and it was an incredible victory.

“The larger point that has not sunk in is just how advantaged the Liberal and National parties are by having had that Darwinian leadership system through which the most cunning and politically able person emerged as leader.”

Elsewhere at the Festival author Kate Holden and ABC investigative journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna joined ABC’s The Signal host Ange Lavoipierre to discuss the complexities of telling stories about traumatic events.

Ms Meldrum-Hanna discussed the process of making her ABC TV series Exposed, which recently returned with its’ second season, about the 1979 Luna Park Ghost Train fire.

She said that a tragedy is worth covering in greater detail if “it isn’t resolved, or if they’re voices who haven’t been heard, when there’s always a story behind the story, and always when there are conflicting accounts and there are always parts of those accounts that haven’t been covered properly or those who have been affected, feel that they haven’t been covered properly and haven’t been heard.”

The power for them was taking a hold of their story

Ms Meldrum-Hanna also spoke about the first season of Exposed, about  convicted child killer’ Keli Lane.

“A lot of people would say, ‘why would you spend time speaking to a human being like that?’ Well, we found out a completely different story that she had never spoken about before and she had experienced a life path that perhaps it had led her to make the decisions that she did… So she actually embodies the victim and … really that’s what is what was born out in the series.”

Also mentioned was her Walkley award-winning Four Corners episode about Don Dale Prison, saying “in that instance, when we approached those children, so many of them said ‘I want to talk because my face has been published everywhere. It’s been spread around but no one heard from me and what my experiences were in Don Dale’. … and the power for them was taking a hold of their story.”

Holden talked about her new book, The Winter Road, which looks into the 2014 Croppa Creek murder of an environmental officer Glenn Turner and farmer Ian Turnbull who was convicted of shooting him over a land dispute.

Holden talked about the decisions she made in writing about someone’s death and where an author must draw the line.

“I wanted to depict the sorrow of what had happened to him and, and I needed to do it in such a way that it was immediate, and the reader could feel it, which I obviously tried to do and not sensationalising it,” she told the audience.

Main picture of Barrie Cassidy and friends: The Canberra Bubble panel. Photo: Soofia Tariq