Let Julia be Julia

Gonzo Meets the Press #13 June 30, 2011

What happens when the Prime Minister appears on Meet the Press? Tom Krause takes
you behind the scenes to reveal a different Julia than the one you see on
television.

This week, a pressing issue for Meet the Press: a prime ministerial visit. Julia Gillard came to talk to us last
Sunday, and we appreciated having her on the program.  Okay, you are going to
say, “Well, that’s because you’re a bunch of left-wing journos who love Labor
and climate change and hate Tony Abbott.” No, we were appreciative because the
Prime Minister of Australia came to Channel Ten studios in Sydney after a long
flight from Perth the night before where she addressed the WA Labor Party
Conference — to answer our questions and to tell us her views on the carbon
price and offer Tony Abbott access to Treasury to cost his carbon tax plan.
Later that day, the Opposition Leader rejected the offer, saying the PM was
playing political “one upmanship.”
Andrew Bolt (and a number of his viewers) had a go at the Prime Minister for not coming on his program, The
Bolt Report
, which precedes Meet the Press on the Ten Network (except in
the afternoon when it’s shown in Canberra and other regional centres after
Meet the Press on a regional network). I can sympathise with him
because I could never get the then PM Kevin Rudd to appear on Sky
News’ Sunday Agenda program which I produced for two and a bit years.
There have only been eight Bolt Reports since the show was launched on
May 8; it’s early days yet.
There are some who say it’s because the PM does not want to appear on programs or talk to journalists who might be
unfriendly to her. That was the O’Leary Line, as one of our panellists Malcolm
Farr of news.com.au described it on The Punch this week, referring to
Tony O’Leary, John Howard’s long-time press secretary, who now rules the roost
in Tony Abbott’s office and makes the final decision on where Coalition
politicians appear and which journalists they talk to.
The O’Leary Line was refined back in 1995 when then Opposition Leader John Howard went on Nine’s
Sunday Program to talk to Laurie Oakes, expecting an easy go in a quiet
week. The interview was in two parts of about eight minutes each, and in the
first segment, Oakes hit him with every hard statement from archives he could
find on his views on immigration in the late eighties. The guest was shaken. It
was silent in the three minute break until with about 20 seconds to go, host Jim
Waley said: “What’s the weather like out there,” just to break the steely ice
that had settled into the cavernous studio. I was in the control room putting
the show to air, and can confirm how cold it was down on the floor!
As a result of that interview, John Howard and Tony O’Leary made sure they never came
unprepared for a session with a journalist, and always had something positive to
offer that would provide hard news for the program or the reporter. I believe
the change in policy helped John Howard win the 1996 election and the
prime-ministership – and stay in power for 11 years.
The interview last Sunday gave the Prime Minister an opportunity to tell her side of the story, but
host Paul Bongiorno and panellists Malcolm Farr and Jessica Irvine also asked
tough questions (here’s a link to the transcript: http://bit.ly/eyW3kg). For example, Bongiorno
followed up the PM’s proposal to Tony Abbott to use the Treasury to cost his tax
plan with: “So this is a real offer? It’s not a stunt?” And he also asked her if
her statement last August that “there will be no carbon tax under the government
I lead” was the one she most regretted over the past 12 months.
Jessica Irvine, economics writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, said Shadow
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s question in parliament about how long the
funding would last to support the asylum seekers in Malaysia under the proposed
deal was a valid one. So she asked Julia Gillard how long the $292 million of
funding would last.
And Malcolm Farr asked the PM: “How do you feel personally about being behind what is now considered one of the cruellest
methods to stop asylum seekers?”
Yet one of our viewers, Emma Meconi, said this about Meet the Press on our Facebook page: “The whole show was so
carefully contrived, constructed & calculated that it was an utter waste of
time. Almost as bad as The Bolt Report. I don’t know why they bothered
interviewing her as it was not balanced, factual or objective.”
I beg to differ with Ms Meconi. The host, producer, researcher and panellists did their
homework and did not submit their questions to the Prime Minister before the
program. The goal of Meet the Press is to make news and set the
political agenda for the week. We did that, and the Prime Minister was gracious
enough to come on the show, despite a crushing schedule. It’s her job to answer
to the people and the press, but she can’t meet every request immediately. Every
Sunday show usually gets a go, and I’m pretty sure The Bolt Report will
get its turn.
There have been complaints that the Prime Minister is too scripted. Jessica Rowe, now with the Seven Network, and a former presenter with
Ten and Nine, said on Paul Murray Live on Sky News this week: “I wish
we would see the real Julia Gillard because she seems so, sort of, scripted, and
not natural, and when you meet her … she’s warm, she’s charismatic, she can be
funny, she can be engaging, but we never actually see that on television.”

Julia Gillard is warm, charismatic, funny and engaging, and that doesn’t
come across on television very often, but when you see her working a room as she
did with our studio crew and observers last Sunday morning, you’d think she was
a female Bob Hawke – and he is the best I’ve ever seen. Let Julia Gillard be
Julia Gillard and the Labor Party and the country will be a better place as a
result.
It’s all about empathy, viewers, putting yourself in other people’s shoes, which allows me to go back to a blog I wrote earlier this year on the
subject (http://bit.ly/iDzbgN). My thesis was that empathy could provide a solution to Australia’s asylum seekers problem. Now
I discover in the last Sunday Age that Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of
psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University and cousin of Sacha (of Borat
fame), has just published a book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of
Human Cruelty
(Penguin Australia), in which he argues: “Empathy is like a
universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble. It is
effective as a way of anticipating and resolving interpersonal problems, whether
this is a marital conflict, an international conflict, a problem at work,
difficulties in a friendship, political deadlocks, a family dispute, or a
problem with the neighbour.” I hope you will forgive me if I say: “I told you
so.”
And last, but not least, a book that’s celebrating its 30th birthday,
with the help of poet Les Murray and an excerpt from his 1982 essay, Eric
Rolls and the Golden Disobedience
. Murray extols the merits of A
Million Wild Acres
, by Eric Rolls, now reprinted in a 30th anniversary
edition (Hale & Iremonger). If you haven’t read the original, and are
wondering whether it’s worth it, just peruse Les Murray’s Foreword, and the
essay by Tom Griffiths, The Writing of a Million Wild Acres, both at
the beginning of the book, and wild horses won’t stop you from finishing it. As
Les Murray puts it, Rolls’ controversial contention in 1981 was that the forests
of Australia are no more than a 100 to 130 years old, and goes on to say: “Rolls
sidesteps all the received literary manners and tells ‘people’s history’ in a
way which belongs to them rather than to most these days who would speak of The
People. And in doing so creates a great work of art in which a central native
tradition is renewed, altered and immeasurably deepened.” Suffice it to say, the
work lives up to Murray’s high praise.
Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views are his own; always have been.

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