A producer’s diary: The night the People’s Princess died

Matt White was a show business legend, from his days on Fleet Street after his stint in World War II in the Intelligence Service and later on The Daily Mirror and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. He wrote about films and television and movie stars, many of whom were his friends. Matt was also a great mentor. Whenever I had a problem at The Australian, I would look for him at the local pub, The Evening Star, and ask for his advice over a beer or two.
When I decided to leave The Australian to become foreign editor at Channel Seven, I asked Matt what he thought about the move. “Well,” he said, “how many words do you write a week? You’re the literary editor and TV critic for The Australian, and write author interviews, book and tv reviews and profiles of famous celebrities.” I thought about it for a few seconds and said: “Probably about 3000 words in a normal week.” Matt replied: “How many words will you write when you go to television? You’ll write intros to news stories and voiceovers for packages and the morning foreign news list. You’ve got to keep writing every day, longer pieces.”
That made sense, so I thought about it and decided I’d keep a diary of my days in television. I started the diary in September 1983 and kept going until my last full-time journalism job in 2013, as a series producer for The Observer Effect, hosted by Ellen Fanning, working at Shine Australia and putting it to air with EP Paul Steindl on SBS. This blog began when I was working as supervising producer on Ten’s Meet the Press in 2011, but the diary still haunts me. I wrote a novel that was rejected by three publishers, mainly, I was told by those who read it, because it concentrated too much on television and not enough on the story. I’m still working on the third rewrite, but the diary notebooks are still there, and I decided to look up what I wrote in my diary on August 31, 1997. It was 20 years ago today when Princess Diana died in a car crash (photo above of Princess Diana: AAP; photo below of the car: AFP), and I was putting the Sunday Program to air. It all started on August 30 because I always worked from Saturday morning about 8am or so until Sunday afternoon when the show was finished, and the paper work and the political guest transcripts were completed.
Here’s an edited version of that day and a half, with some additions that weren’t in the notebook!
Saturday, Aug 30, 1997
“In early and I cut down the Stuart Diver piece with (gun editor) Ross Wilson and was finished by 2pm. Everything else was going well. The power piece was being cut by Cindy Kelly and it was finished by midnight after all the sound work by Cindy. I got the news feed in from Darwin at 10.30 to 11, thereby missing the end of the Swans game – which they managed to lose again (Editor’s note: Things have changed since then!). While waiting for Cindy to bring up the tape, I wrote a news story, and after that I got about 40 minutes sleep.”

Sunday, Aug 31, 1997
“Up at 5.10am, and as soon as the news editor Ross Chilvers was ready, he cut the Darwin package with Jim Waley’s voice on it. After a difficult night, I was just starting to relax in the control room at 9.30am (the show started at 9am), when Jim said on the floor via the IFB (Interrupted Feed Back): ‘Princess Diana’s been seriously injured in a car crash.’ We didn’t have any pictures from Paris yet (remember this was 20 years ago), and I was worried about how we were going to cover the story. All this occurred during (Nine’s political editor) Laurie Oakes’ interview with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Shane Stone, so I had to write a back announce for Jim, saying Princess Di and Dodi Fayed had been seriously injured in a car crash in Paris and we would bring viewers the latest details as soon as they came to hand. After the 13-minute interview, Shane Stone turned to Laurie and said: ‘I don’t think we’re going to be on page one tomorrow.’ I then sent a message to the Nine News executive producer of the day, Anthony Murdoch, asking if we could get a two-way with reporter Danny Blyde in London, who he just woke up. Jim had asked for a voiceover to write at the end of the next segment, but we still didn’t have any pix. Jim had to do a long live read, and he wasn’t happy we didn’t have any pictures from the scene. Ross had cut some Princess Di background, but that was all we had. At 10.55am, with only five minutes left in the show, Anthony let us know Dan was there, with Michael Usher on his way to Lausanne for a SOCOG (Sydney Organising Committee for the 2000 Olympic Games) meeting! It was a brief two way: not many details were coming out of Paris. We went over a bit due to the breaking news, driving the presentation director bananas. It was that kind of morning. I was stuffed and sure enough, Diana and Dodi were both pronounced dead by one pm Sydney time. I turned on ABC radio and the veteran newsreader, John Hall, presented the sad news for the first five minutes of the bulletin, and then said: ‘In domestic news, the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Sharon Stone, told Nine News …’ I don’t remember what he said after that I was laughing so hard at John’s slip of the tongue, and I immediately called Laurie Oakes and said: ‘Did you hear what I just heard on the ABC? The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Sharon Stone?’ Laurie was laughing, too, and confirmed it.’ It was a laugh we needed after an emotional and very sad morning.”
I then wrote: “Wait till next week.” I was thinking how big the funeral would be for the People’s Princess on the following weekend. I wrote in the diary on Tuesday, September 2: “I had my work cut out for me this week with Princess Di’s funeral on Saturday night our time. It meant a ‘That was the night that was’ story, suggested by Jim, followed by an extended breakout written by me, and cut by Bruce Inglis, a former BBC producer, who covered Di’s last tour here. So we were okay on that one.”
The next Saturday Princess Di’s funeral was watched by 2 billion people around the world and all hands were on deck for the Sunday Program of September 7. We had to squeeze an obituary of Mother Teresa into the packed show. She died early on Saturday morning Australian time. The diary for Sunday, September 7 reads: “I didn’t get any sleep, but I knew that would happen anyway … It was a good show, a good week, and Father’s Day.” (My daughters used to call it half-jokingly Anti-Father’s Day because I was always working.)
Dear Diary: Thanks for the memories. Now a question I have to ask myself: Is it time to go through the diaries, and write a novel based on them, or make it a memoir? As another old mate, no longer with us, the wonderful journalist and author, Ian Moffitt, said to me when I asked about writing a novel: “We are all living on borrowed time.”

Why I can’t trust Donald Trump

I knew it was time to chill out when I got into an argument at the TAB – the local betting agency – over Donald Trump.
All I said was I hope I have better luck with my bets on the races than my vote against Donald Trump. Out of the blue, a bloke I never met before said: “Give him time,” which prompted me to say Trump was the closest thing to Richard Nixon the US has ever had, and he will be impeached in a year or two. My new best enemy carried on, as did a TAB friend, who started to add his two cents. It was at this point, I said: “He’s a bully, a bullshit artist and a horrible human being.” I’ve said worse things about Richard Nixon. Then I left.
For those people who read my blog, you may have come across the post I wrote earlier this year where I said this about the President-Elect: “Donald Trump is likely to win the presidency on November 8 because not enough Americans will realise how awful he will be and vote for him. They voted for Richard Nixon who claimed he was not a crook. But he was a crook and a liar and he ruined a generation of Americans. He had to resign on August 9, 1974 because of the Watergate scandal, and it was one of the happiest days of my life … I think Donald Trump is likely to win because Americans are divided, angry, tired of politicians and political correctness, hypocrisy, broken promises, Wall Street and banks … I’m planning on going back later this year to the US for a university reunion, and I will be asking people if they’ll be voting for Trump. I think the majority will say yes. I hope I’m wrong.”
But no, I wasn’t wrong. I went back to the US to the 50th reunion of the Villanova University class of 1966, and this is what I found in my June post. After friends in northeastern Pennsylvania said they’d vote for Hillary Clinton, I asked at least two dozen alumni at Villanova who they’d vote for. Too many of them said, like Villanova nursing graduate, Lorraine Brewer: “Anybody but Hillary.” An old friend, Steve Freind, the president of the student body in 1966, and a former Republican representative for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, said yes immediately when I asked if he would vote for Trump. “Why?” I asked. He replied: “I’m not going to vote for that (a rude word describing Hillary).” The Chairman of the Class Committee, S. Curtis Seifert, said he’d vote for Trump: “I don’t like politicians and Donald Trump is not a politician.” Rich Galli, who’s an attorney in suburban Philadelphia, said: “I have to vote for Donald Trump. He’ll scare the foreign leaders and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks.” Joe McCauley, a retired bank vice-president, was standing next to his wife when I asked if he would vote for Trump: “My wife would kill me. I’m not going to vote, I think. I don’t think I’ll want to vote for Trump and I can’t vote for Hillary.” Another old friend, Tom Sproul, surprised me with his reply: “Who else am I going to vote for? I’m not going to vote for Hillary. She’s terrible on foreign policy.” An alumnus standing nearby chimed in: “I can’t stand listening to her.” Dave Banmiller, a former CEO of Pan Am and Jamaica Airlines, said he wanted to get Mitt Romney (more of him later) elected. I asked Dave again if he’d vote for Trump and he repeated he wished Romney would have run for president. He wouldn’t say for certain if he’d vote for him, but it seems likely: “I just wish Donald would tone it down a bit.”
These were white male and female, university graduates, and they were voting for Trump. After travelling around northeast Pennsylvania, I saw quite a few “Trump for President” lawn signs and a particularly nasty one: “Hillary for Prison 2016.” It was rust-belt country, where manufacturing jobs are disappearing, and an omen for the Clinton campaign in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. I thought Trump could win, but I never thought he could triumph in my home state. I stayed with Jim and Roz Morgan in the lovely town of Lake Ariel, and we visited Roz’s relatives in Scranton and had drinks at an Irish bar that would have made Vice-President Joe Biden feel at home. Both he and Hillary Clinton’s father were born there, and Pat McMullen’s pub reminded me of the Irish bars in Philly. And this is where I found the secret vote … Americans who wouldn’t say they were voting for Trump, until after the election. They cropped up in a page one story in The Weekend Australian by Cameron Stewart. They were the “Forgotten People” of the United States. That’s what Donald Trump called them: “the forgotten men and women of America,” and there they were in Scranton. In Pat McMullen’s bar, no one said they were voting for Trump, but some Scranton residents told Cameron Stewart they would support him. Paul Bidwell, a 32-year-old handyman and security guard, who works three jobs to look after his wife and kids (Photo below: Paul Bidwell with his children Aires and Audrijanna in Scranton. The Australian, David Joshua Ford) said: “At least Donald Trump is a billionaire … he owns half of New York City so if he can bring that business model to the United States, we can start making money again.” A lifelong Democrat and council worker, Patrick McNicholls, said: “I am done with the Clintons, they are a dynasty and they have been there too long and they don’t care about the middle class. I like Trump’s message about undocumented aliens and I want America to be proud again. We are getting kicked around and we not respected any more.” That’s why the polls were wrong: the pundits didn’t talk to the Bidwells or the McNicholls or even look at the anti-Hillary signs on the lawns of Scranton and other rust-belt towns in Pennsylvania. According to the US Census, the white population was 84.1% in Scranton in 2010, and the number of people in poverty was 22 per cent.
I grew up in Philadelphia, about 160 kilometres southeast of Scranton, and it’s a Democratic town. Once an Irish and Italian stronghold, it’s now 43 per cent African American, 42 per cent Caucasian, 13 per cent Hispanic and 7 per cent. Many of those white residents have moved to the suburbs to get away from the minorities, allegedly ruining their neighbourhoods and bringing down house values. It was in the suburbs of Philadelphia and other US cities where the whites voted for Donald Trump, voicing the same kind of anger and disillusionment heard in Scranton. I heard it at my Villanova reunion, and I heard it in Pennsylvania, not as much in Washington, DC, which, of course, is a Democrat enclave under an Obama administration -– the beltway hated by Trump and his supporters.
I watched the election results on November 9 (8 in the US), a day that will live in infamy for the Democratic Party, but it started well for Hillary Clinton. Channel Nine’s political editor Laurie Oakes told presenter Karl Stefanovic about a prominent Republican Party operative who gave him the line: “Our only path to the White House now is if Bill and Hillary, when they move in, invite Mr and Mrs Trump in for lunch.” It looked good for Clinton and the Democrats until about 1.14pm Australian time when CNN’s John King, manning the electoral maps, commented: “Donald Trump voters are saying ‘We have a path (to the presidency)’. At 2.29, I switched to Sky News where an unhappy former Labor Party President and Federal MP, Stephen Loosley, said it was “Midnight in America,” what commentators had been saying about Trump’s gloomy convention speech. The Ohio-born, former NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, added there’s “not a lot of good news,” agreeing with Loosley’s “Midnight in America” theme. Sky’s political editor, David Speers, said: “That’s where it’s at”: a huge voter block, angry, voting for change and wanting to “drain the swamp” in Washington … “Republicans are polishing off their victory speech.” At 3.21pm, Speers says: “It has happened, Donald Trump is on his way to becoming the next president of the United States.” At 4.26 pm, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said it was “a truly amazing story.” The first to call it — at 6pm (2am New York time)– was the ABC Australia’s Antony Green. John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, whose emails released by Wikileaks, hurt Clinton, came out to the 11th Avenue street party where her supporters gathered to celebrate her victory. There was no celebration. Podesta said Hillary would speak to them tomorrow but she did call Trump later to concede. Donald Trump then appeared on stage to give his victory speech, congratulate Hillary Clinton for her concession and her hard-fought campaign and appeal to Americans “to bind the wounds of division.” Division he had created after a career of lies and 18 months of insults, misogyny, arrogance, ridiculous promises and unproven accusations of criminal action against Hillary Clinton. The next morning, she was gracious and told her supporters they must accept that “Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.” The president-elect tried to use those words against her this week after she joined the Green Party candidate Jill Stein (ABC America photo below) in her vote recount in as many as three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. If he had lost the election, he would have been the first to ask for a vote recount. But he told Associated Press that he would have won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” without a shred of evidence.
In November 1972, Richard Nixon was re-elected president of the United States in a landslide, winning 49 states and nearly 61 per cent of the popular vote. His opponent, Senator George McGovern won only one State, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia. In one of my favourite political biographies, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, author Rick Perlstein chronicles how Nixon only accepted four congratulatory phone calls and attacked McGovern for claiming the president would not end the war: “Wasn’t that fellow unbelievably irresponsible with his charges in the last two days?” Nixon then “congratulated himself for the unwarranted magnanimity of his victory speech: ‘You’ve got to be generous, don’t you think so?’” I’d like to think in a future biography of Donald Trump, someone will discover he said something similar to an aide after his victory speech, often described as magnanimous by his campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, and whichever one of his staff actually wrote the words.
The presidential election was all about trust: Many voters did not trust Hillary Clinton; but she did win the popular vote by nearly two million; therefore more people did not trust Donald Trump. I am one of them. The National Democratic Training Committee has asked Democrats to support an investigation into Donald Trump before he takes office. Why? They cite three reasons: Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women and multiple women have accused him of assault; he illegally donated $25,000 from the Trump Foundation to Florida Attorney-General Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign to avoid prosecution for Trump University’s fraud lawsuits in the state; and he has been involved in over 3500 lawsuits. Just last week, he paid off the victims of the Trump University lawsuit to avoid having to testify in court.
Mitt Romney, now being considered by Donald Trump as a possible Secretary of State, has described the president-elect as a “con man,” a “phony” and a “fraud.” In a speech in March this year, Romney said: “Look, his bankruptcies have crushed small businesses and the men and women who work for them. He inherited his business, he didn’t create it. And whatever happened to Trump Airlines? How about Trump University? And then there’s Trump Magazine and Trump Vodka and Trump Steaks and Trump Mortgage. A business genius he is not.” Of course, Trump claims he is a genius because he has never personally declared bankruptcy, but four times Trump-related companies, the Taj Mahal and the Trump Plaza Hotel, both in Atlantic City, the Trump Hotels and Casinos Resort, and Trump Entertainment Resorts, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy – allowing him to reorganise debt while the casinos and hotels stayed open. When the Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy in 2014, he was no longer in control of the casino, and reminded people of that in a tweet, saying it was “good timing.” The casino closed down in October, putting 3000 people out of work. How can you trust someone like that, Mr Romney?
Well, Mitt had dinner with Trump and Reince Preibus last night at a three-star Michelin restaurant, Jean-Georges, located in the Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan overlooking Central Park (AFP photo at the top, L to R: Reince Preibus, Donald Trump, Mitt Romney). After a superb meal, Romney told AFP he had been impressed by Trump’s acceptance speech and his preparations for office: “I think you’re going to see American continue to lead the world in this century,” adding he had “increasing hope that president-elect Trump is the very man who can lead us to that better future.” Talk about singing for your supper. Mitt, how can anybody trust you now?
I could go on, but you can see by now why I can’t trust Donald Trump, and why he is likely to be the worst president since Richard Nixon, the only one to resign, before he was impeached, and pardoned a month later by then President Gerald Ford to end “our long national nightmare.” Hunter S. Thompson in his obituary of Richard Nixon tells this story: “Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that ‘I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon’.”
How will American voters feel if Trump resigns, or is impeached, in 2018? According to professional prognosticator, Professor Allan Lichtman, who predicted a Trump victory, is now predicting that the Republican Congress will impeach him and put in Mike Pence as president: “I’m going to make another prediction. This one is not based on a system; it’s just my gut. They don’t want Trump as president, because they can’t control him. He’s unpredictable. They’d love to have Pence — an absolutely down-the-line, conservative, controllable Republican. And I’m quite certain Trump will give someone grounds for impeachment, either by doing something that endangers national security or because it helps his pocketbook.”
We live in hope.

The coup that led to a Liberal dose of leadership blues

Journo 1: “Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull. Isn’t it incredible? Since June 2013, four Prime Ministers.”
Journo 2: “And Rudd twice. Rudd, Gillard, Rudd.”
Journo 1: “Quite incredible.”
Journo 2: “So much dysfunction.”
Journo 1: “So much dysfunction, or is it so much lack of care in choosing your party leaders because although the system would allow this to happen here, we just don’t tend to see it.”
That was the reaction of two news presenters on British TV commenting on the leadership coup that resulted in Malcolm Turnbull becoming the 29th prime minister of Australia this week (Mr Turnbull shown above holding grandson Jack, from left, his daughter Daisy, wife Lucy and son-in-law James Brown. AAP Photo).
In other words, five prime ministers in five years.
The ABC played the clip, along with reaction from New Zealand and other media outlets in Europe, as it waited for Tony Abbott to make his last statement as Prime Minister outside Parliament House on Tuesday.
It all happened so quickly on Monday that I barely had time to grab a legal pad and start taking notes as Malcolm Turnbull challenged Tony Abbott’s leadership in front of a media mob on the parliamentary grounds. Turnbull’s attack was swift and brutal: “We need to restore traditional cabinet government. There must be an end to policy on the run and captain’s calls. We have to remember we have a great example of good cabinet government. John Howard’s government most of us served in. And yet few would say that the cabinet government of Mr Abbott bears any similarity to the style of Mr Howard.”
Nine’s political editor Laurie Oakes said Turnbull had to explain why Abbott needed to go. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake as Labor when they didn’t say why they got rid of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. Oakes said on Nine News: “Malcolm Turnbull is not making that mistake, he’s laying out his reasons for wanting Tony Abbott gone and for thinking he could do a better job.”
The media coverage of the lightning coup was good, especially at Sky News with a excellent team of presenters and people on the road and behind the scenes (they’re all good, but special mention to my friend Brihony Speed). In Canberra, there was the dynamic workaholic duo of political editor David Speers and chief political reporter Kieran Gilbert, joined by journalist and author, Kerri-Anne Walsh, and columnist for The Australian, Niki Savva, who has written two superb pieces for the paper this week, and the odd politician who could be convinced to go on camera. In Sydney, there was The Australian columnist and Sky anchor, Peter Van Onselen, and radio broadcaster and Sky presenter, Paul Murray, joined by Kevin Rudd’s former political director, Bruce Hawker, political analyst, former Labor minister, and Sky host, Graham Richardson, and Sky host of The Perrett Report and The Friday Show, Janine Perrett.
There was a bit of argy-bargy between Van Onselen and Murray, the former backing Turnbull and the latter supporting Abbott. It was understandable in a super-charged atmosphere. Perrett talked about how the latest leadership spill would hurt business, as they want certainty: “The economy isn’t going to turn overnight.”
After Tony Abbott said the messages of support were pouring in for him, and repeated a Liberal mantra: “We are not the Labor Party,” he made a last-minute appeal: “I am dismayed by the destabilisation that’s been taking place now for many, many months and I do say to my fellow Liberals that the destabilisation just has to stop … I firmly believe that our party is better than this, that our government is better than this and, by God, that our country is so much better than this.”
Graham Richardson said Abbott “did exactly what he had to do. It was pretty good. It wasn’t a Churchillian statement.” The soon-to-be replaced Treasurer Joe Hockey echoed Abbott’s remarks: “We cannot, we must not become a carbon copy of the Labor Party. We cannot and must not make the same mistakes that were made in the Rudd and Gillard years.”
Soon other Liberals joined the “We are not the Labor Party” crowd, including former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett, who blasted Turnbull: “Disgraceful, selfish, he has always put his own interests first … What he’s saying is the Liberal Party is no different to the Labor Party and Malcolm Turnbull is our Kevin Rudd.” Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, hearing Liberals attack Liberals, joined in the fun: “Australia does not need another out-of-touch, arrogant, Liberal leader; Australia needs a change of government.”
But all the Liberal pleas fell on deaf ears. Sky’s sharp political correspondent Laura Jayes reported Tony Abbott had offered the influential Social Services Minister, Scott Morrison, the roles of deputy PM and Treasurer, but he declined. Morrison told Sydney 2GB radio’s Ray Hadley in a testy interview yesterday that he was stunned by the offer: “I supported the prime minister, he offered me the job of treasurer hours out from that ballot. He’d never done that before, he’d never had a discussion with me before about being his deputy leader. I can’t understand why I was being offered that job when he had showed such strong support for Joe Hockey. He was asking me to throw Joe Hockey under a bus.” http://bit.ly/1KpFgFu
From about 7pm Monday, everybody played the numbers game while the ABC broadcast news packages of the day’s events, including a profile of Malcolm Turnbull and the traditional vox pops with voters in the candidates’ electorates, Wentworth and Warringah. All the networks had reporters in the field seeking comments from commuters on their way home from work. The ABC also had a mini-profile of Tony Abbott, and of course, a reporter in Canning, the site of today’s WA by-election, as well as a comment from election analyst, Antony Green, on the possibility of an early poll. He didn’t think there’d be one. On 7.30, Leigh Sales interviewed Senator Arthur Sinodinos, back from the ICAC wilderness to support Malcolm Turnbull, because “old habits have returned” and Turnbull has “promised a more consultative style.” The excellent Annabel Crabb provided more analysis, followed by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, backing Abbott, and Senator Cory Bernardi saying he’d already received hundreds of emails from voters not wanting any change. Soon the ABC stalwarts, political editor Chris Uhlmann, chief political correspondent Sabra Lane, and political correspondent Greg Jennett joined Annabel Crabb to keep the coverage rolling, cancelling Australian Story, Media Watch and Q & A (much to the delight of some Liberal politicians).
After the usual walking into the party room by Team Turnbull and Team Abbott, the Chief Whip Scott Buchholz made it official at 9.47pm: “Malcolm Turnbull was successful 54 votes to 44, one informal vote,” and for the deputy leadership, Julie Bishop was far ahead of Kevin Andrews, 70 votes to 30. Malcolm Turnbull would be sworn in as prime minister. On Nine, Laurie Oakes offered his condolences to Tony Abbott: “You’ve got to feel sorry for the prime minister.” On Ten, veteran political analyst Paul Bongiorno said Abbott could be a lightning rod for destabilisation. Abbott, of course, denied this the next day.
At 10.41pm, Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop faced the media, apologising for being late. The PM-designate was grateful and gracious: “I want to say at the outset what a great debt the nation owes and the party owes, the government owes, to Tony Abbott and of course, to his family, Margie and their daughters.” And he proposed something the previous government was lacking: “We need to have in this country and we will have now, an economic vision, a leadership that explains the great challenges and opportunities that we face and describes the way in which we can handle those challenges, seize those opportunities and does so in a manner that the Australian people understand so that we are seeking to persuade rather than seeking to lecture.”
The next day, a buoyant Malcolm Turnbull was sworn in by the Governor-General with his family around him but Tony Abbott got in first with his last statement as Prime Minister. It summed up Abbott: Honest and humble, but not particularly gracious – he did not mention Malcolm Turnbull, which was understandable. He admitted it was a tough day, but was proud of what he had achieved: free trade agreements; a spotlight shone on “dark and corrupt corners of the union movement;” responding to threats of terror, and yes, stopping the boats, which made the government “better able to display our compassion to refugees.” He was the first prime minister to spend a week a year in remote indigenous Australia, “and I hope I’m not the last.”
But the bitterness came out later, directed toward some of his leaking Liberal colleagues: “We stayed focused despite the white-anting.” And he also targeted the media: “The nature of politics has changed in the past decade. We have more polls and more commentary than ever before – mostly sour, bitter character assassination. Poll-driven panic has produced a revolving-door prime ministership which can’t be good for our country and a febrile media culture has developed that rewards treachery. And if there’s one piece of advice I can give to the media, it’s this: refuse to print self-serving claims that the person making them won’t put his or her name to: refuse to connive at dishonour by acting as the assassin’s knife.”
Whew, Tony, why don’t you say what you really think? Well, I will say what I think. At the beginning of your government I believed you could become a good prime minister. I wrote a post about it in November 2013, where I talked about your days as a volunteer firefighter in the seat of Davidson, how you drove yourself to early Sunday morning interviews because you didn’t think Commonwealth drivers should have to work on the Sabbath, your commitment to children in remote Indigenous communities, and the fact that you were a nice bloke. http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-eo And I quoted Laurie Oakes, discussing Tony Abbott becoming a good prime minister with Fran Kelly on ABC’s RN Breakfast. Oakes said it was possible but Abbott lacked vision and forward thinking: “I think Tony Abbott has very cleverly repositioned himself, but he still doesn’t come across as a visionary. Tony Abbott only a few years ago said you really can’t expect a politician to be interested in anything beyond his own period in parliament. Well, that’s really a very limiting view for a politician to have. If Tony Abbott really believes that, he’ll be useless as Prime Minister. Prime ministers have to be forward thinkers, but if Tony Abbott wants to be a good prime minister, he’s going to have to think a lot further ahead than his own period in parliament, so we’ll see.”
I’m afraid we have seen. The CEO of World Vision, Tim Costello, and brother of former Treasurer Peter Costello, commented on Abbott’s capabilities on Q & A on Thursday night (postponed due to the spill): “I certainly believe that Tony Abbott was an incredibly effective Opposition Leader. You sometimes find that people are made for opposition and the step up to being Prime Minister is sometimes too great.”
But now to the new Prime Minister. What chance has he of reunifying a divided party and defeating the Great Satan, Bill Shorten, in the next election? Well, the leaks, which Tony Abbott said he has never done and would never do, have been taken up by his Liberal allies inside and outside Canberra; according to Dennis Shanahan, political editor of The Australian, “cabinet figures contradicting Mr Turnbull’s claims about promoting women have been leaked; some of Mr Abbott’s supporters have had meetings; and Liberals are complaining they were kept in the dark over the Coalition agreement Mr Turnbull signed with Nationals leader, Warren Truss.” http://bit.ly/1QKGn8h
And as far as the promise of consultative government is concerned, a Canberra source told me Mr Turnbull still hasn’t called one of the ministers who is likely to be axed in the Cabinet reshuffle to be announced this weekend. I said: “Well, Turnbull could argue that he’s been too busy settling in to government.” The response was: “Yeah, too busy looking at himself in the mirror.”
Welcome to the prime ministership, Mr Turnbull. You have a tough job ahead of you.
PS Malcolm Turnbull’s name plaque in the photo above has a funny story attached to it. Twenty or more years ago when I was working at Channel Nine, I went to the Link Department to pick up tapes. Phil Mahoney, who ran the small office, said he had found the brass plaque in the bin, as Turnbull no longer worked at Nine (he was Kerry Packer’s lawyer). “Would you like it?” Phil asked. I looked at it, and said: “Why not? Just in case he ever becomes Prime Minister.” It took me a while to find it, but I’ve put it on the mantelpiece.

Sarah Ferguson’s interview with Joe Hockey: Bias is in the eye of the beholder

“One of the chief Functions of a television critic is to stay at home and watch the programmes on an ordinary domestic receiver, just as his readers do. If he goes to official previews, he will meet producers and directors, start understanding their problems, and find himself paying the inevitable price for free sandwiches. A critic who does not keep well clear of the World of the Media will soon lose his sting. He might also begin harbouring delusions about his capacity to modify official policy.”
Sorry for the long intro, but that was Clive James in the preface to his book, Visions Before Midnight: Television criticism from The Observer 1972-76 – his advice guiding my time as a TV critic for The Australian newspaper in the early 1980s.
Born in the Sydney suburb of Kogarah, Clive James was, and still is, one of the best critics in the history of television. His weekly columns for The Observer from 1972-1982 were must reading, and he started writing tv critiques for the London Daily Telegraph in 2011 until last year. Despite his bout with leukemia, he still writes the occasional feature for the Telegraph: http://www.clivejames.com/essays/cjtv He is, of course, a renowned literary critic, a brilliant poet, a noted novelist and memoirist, former television presenter, and an Australian icon.
Clive James came to mind when I read about the kerfuffle over former Australian Financial Review (AFR) editor Colleen Ryan’s review of the ABC’s coverage of the Federal Budget last year. The ABC asked Ms Ryan, a highly respected journalist, to look at the coverage as part of their quarterly review of a small cross-selection of content and “give us a warts and all view of it,” according to Alan Sunderland, Acting Head of People at the ABC. Mr Sunderland said: “Colleen produced an excellent and comprehensive report. Her overall judgement was that our coverage complied with all of our policies and guidelines and the overall quality was ‘excellent.’ At significant length [45 pages], the report discusses all aspects of the coverage and provides a series of observations on ways it might have been improved, expanded or extended.” http://ab.co/1AmPLYl
Okay, so why all the fuss? Well, Ms Ryan made the egregious mistake of suggesting the tone of questioning in Sarah Ferguson’s 7.30 interview with Treasurer Joe Hockey “could have been interpreted by some viewers to be a potential breach of the ABC’s impartiality guidelines.” http://ab.co/1JsDmcJ Ms Ryan focused on the first question of the interview: “Now, you’ve just delivered that Budget. It’s a Budget with a new tax, with levies, with co-payments. Is it liberating for a politician to decide election promises don’t matter?” Here’s a link to the interview if you haven’t seen it: http://ab.co/1CQck6a The former AFR editor said “that first question set the tone for the entire interview. The Treasurer appeared surprised and in my view was from that point on quite ‘rattled’ during the interview … the language in Ferguson’s first question was emotive. I also believe that the average viewer would consider that the Treasurer was not treated with sufficient respect by the interviewer.”
Whew! Let’s go back to Clive James. He didn’t say you had to pretend you were an average viewer. He clearly wasn’t, and the wit and wisdom in his columns proved that. He watched television like the average viewer in his own home, without the glitz and glamour of publicity previews. But he took notes and knew his subject. As long-time ABC interviewer Kerry O’Brien put it: “Ryan tries to put herself in the mind of an average viewer. Who on earth is an average viewer when you’re talking about politics?” http://bit.ly/1zPwCL8
I agree with Kerry that the ABC gave Colleen Ryan an impossible task: a “warts and all” review of the coverage under the corporation’s editorial commitments to accuracy, impartiality and fairness. Colleen had to consider whether the language was “emotive, hyperbolic, inflammatory or derogatory. And was the interviewee treated with civility and respect.” Joe Hockey’s a big boy. He can handle it, and like many politicians, he said so at the end of the interview to Sarah: “Thank you very much. Great to be here.” Former Liberal Foreign Minister Andrew Downer used to say to many journalists who had just wiped him out in an interview — “Pleasure” — when you knew it was far from it for him. When I was producing the Channel Nine Sunday program, Laurie Oakes nearly made Labor MP Daryl Melham fall off his chair at the end of a particularly hard interview, watch then Opposition Leader John Howard fall silent during a 3-minute commercial break after a disastrous part one of the conversation, and have then Liberal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge “for breakfast” on Sunday – a political cartoonist portraying Oakes coming out of a CT scanner with Wooldridge inside of him, with the doctor saying: “You really did have him for breakfast, didn’t you Laurie?” Respect was shown to each of the interviewees, and the language was not emotive or inflammatory. Just tough interviews exhibiting good journalism.
Ryan said in her evaluation: “This interview provided gripping television. But was it fair and impartial? Did it grant due respect to the interviewee? Would the average viewer consider its tone (on the part of Ferguson) as so aggressive that it exhibited bias?” She then had to consider those questions within the context of the ABC’s Impartiality Guidance Notes (issued 22 July 2013, revised 21 May 2014). Sorry, Colleen, at this point, I would have discarded the notes and just watched the interview.
It was gripping television, fair and impartial, granted due respect to the interviewee and was not so aggressive that it exhibited bias. Sarah Ferguson had 11 minutes and 58 seconds to get the most out of the interview, and Joe Hockey had the same amount of time to avoid answering the questions. Colleen Ryan pointed out two other exchanges where Ferguson might have been a bit cheeky. In the first Sarah asked: “… are you saying that individual promises made by an Opposition Leader no longer matter?” Hockey replied: “Well, we can spend the whole conversation talking about the process of promises …” She quickly added: “That’s a yes or no question.”
In the second exchange, the Treasurer talked about tax adjustments and Ferguson asked: “Adjustments? Is that what we’re going to call them now?” Hockey replied: “Well, of any substance, so any tax changes if you like or whatever you’d like to call it. Ferguson: “New taxes?” Hockey: “But whatever you’d like to call it, there’s two. You know, there’s actually fewer than any of the previous Budgets from the previous government. So that’s a good sign.” Ferguson: “They’re still taxes. I don’t need to teach you, Treasurer, what a tax is. You know that a co-payment, a levy and a tax are all taxes by any other name. Am I correct?” Hockey: “Of course they are. Yes.”
There was mixed reaction to the review especially when The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) came up with this headline: “Sarah Ferguson interview with Joe Hockey ‘breached ABC bias guidelines’: review” http://bit.ly/1BWxu7t ABC’s Media Watch had a comprehensive wrap of the pros and cons of the coverage. I thought Kerry O’Brien (photo above) and Alan Sunderland’s articles were two of the best on the positive side, and one of the shortest and sweetest was Laurie Oakes’ tweet: “Bottom line in my view — criticism of Ferguson interview in review just silly.”
On the negative side, it was hard to go past Herald Sun columnist and Network Ten presenter Andrew Bolt’s criticism. In his Herald Sun column he cited four examples out of 76 from Ryan’s review: the opening question of the Hockey interview; Lateline host Emma Alberici, asking a Coalition MP: “Do you think voters are really stupid and can’t recognise a lie when they see one?”; Tasmania’s 7.30 edition for giving the microphone to “a parade of Leftist critics;” and ABC’s The Drum for “stacking its panel with two pro-Labor panellists against one lone conservative.” http://bit.ly/1vtXnJE And he continued the attack on The Bolt Report on Ten in which he described Ferguson’s interview as “contemptuous,” and said there were “only four examples of ABC bias in a week.” He then asked Sydney Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine: “Ryan wasn’t really looking very hard, was she?” Devine replied: “No, and look, so what if she did because all these so-called inquiries and bias audits and so on are just laughable from the ABC. They are a fig leaf to appease conservatives or rural viewers who are incensed by the continual dripping Green Left, inner-city bias that comes out of every pore of the ABC, with a few honourable exceptions.” http://bit.ly/1A1MJoM
In my experience, getting an Australian politician to answer questions without resorting to cliches and “staying on message” and actually making news in a 12-minute interview is extremely difficult. It takes a lot of research and the ability to follow up answers. Sarah Ferguson did that in her interview, and all the good reporters and political editors I’ve worked with, like Laurie Oakes, Kerry O’Brien, Jana Wendt, Ellen Fanning, Paul Lyneham, Graham Davis, David Speers, Janine Perrett, Helen Dalley, Hugh Riminton and Paul Bongiorno, to name a few, have also done their homework.
Quentin Dempster, the former ABC presenter and interviewer, ended his column in the SMH: “While debate rages, please have some sympathy for the interviewer. How would you go if you had just eight to 10 minutes with a politician as slippery as we breed them in Australia? With very great respect.” http://bit.ly/1Eqijkr
But the last word should go to Clive James, who reviewed the resignation speech of Richard Nixon, in his Observer column on August 11, 1974: “Nixon has come a long way as a talking head, and never did a smoother gig than his last as President. ‘I have always preferred to carry through to the finish, whatever the personal agony involved.’ He meant that he had always preferred to cling on to power, whatever the agony involved for other people – but at least the lie was told in ringing tones . . . Semantically, the whole speech was rubbish. As a performance though, it merited what respect the viewer could summon.”

Portrait of the artist as a middle-aged muso

What happens to a world-class caricaturist when he decides to pursue a career in music? Does he lose his 15 minutes of fame, if he’s not successful as a recording artist? And what happens when he becomes a music teacher to pay the rent and put food on the table?
Well, if you’re Ulf Kaiser, who came to Australia as a 15 year old from Austria, speaking little English and staying at the Villawood hostel in Sydney, you go back to your first love – drawing caricatures in the style of David Levine, the famous artist long associated with the prestigious New York Review of Books.
Ulf, now in his fifties, would love to return to caricatures, but hasn’t found a newspaper or magazine or online publication willing to hire him, even on a freelance basis. I worked with him on The Australian newspaper in the early 80s when I was the literary editor and TV critic. When you needed a quick professional caricature, getting to the essence of the subject, Ulf was your man. Anyone from American author Saul Bellow to former Prime Minister John Curtin, to blues/jazz singer Tom Waits, plus a self-portrait of the artist as a younger man, as you can see above.
David Levine has always been his hero, and it’s not going too far to say his work resembles the master caricaturist. The renowned American author, John Updike, said this of Levine, who had drawn him many times: “Besides offering us the delight of recognition, his drawings comfort us, in an exacerbated and potentially desperate age, with the sense of a watching presence, an eye informed by an intelligence that has not panicked, a comic art ready to encapsulate the latest apparitions of publicity as well as those historical devils who haunt our unease.” http://bit.ly/1h1Xr6y
Like Levine, Kaiser’s caricatures ranged from politicians to authors to artists and entertainers and writers – and like any newspaper artist, he drew portraits of journalists on their departures or their significant birthdays or events.
I hadn’t seen Ulf for at least 20 years, and this profile began when I had a query from the political editor for the Nine Network, Laurie Oakes, a friend and former colleague on the Sunday Program, asking if I knew who had drawn the caricature below of former Governor-General, Sir Zelman Cowen. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Federal Member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg, had the caricature hanging in his office, and he wanted to make a plaque out of it. But he asked Laurie if he could confirm who the artist was, and when the caricature was drawn – probably for the Sunday Program. As soon as Laurie emailed me the drawing, I knew it was Ulf, and called him to check on the date.
ZelmanIMG-20140320-00516 (2)
I found his contact details on his website — http://ulfkaiser.com/ – and he was as surprised as I was. “I had been thinking of trying to resurrect my ‘caricature art stuff,’ and I’m going to see if I can knock on some doors, so it’s timely to hear from you.”
When he was working for The Australian in the 80s, Ulf also drew caricatures of politicians and prominent Australians like Sir Zelman for the Sunday Program. By the time I joined Sunday in 1986, he had a small spot in The Bulletin magazine, called “The Portrait.” Back in those days, two of his journalistic supporters at Consolidated Press, Trevor Sykes and Trevor Kennedy, reportedly kept urging Kerry Packer to sit for a portrait by Ulf. You can probably guess Packer’s reaction: “I don’t care if he’s fucking Rembrandt, I’m not sitting for a portrait.” Then Ulf managed to get a gig doing “Kaiser’s Komment” for The Australian IT section, which lasted for four years before the section crashed. (It has since resumed publication.)
Enter Ulf Kaiser, the artist, who began what he called a “wonderful project” painting historic sites for the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA), as part of their Heritage and Community Department. They commissioned him to paint Monet-esque landscapes, including famous Australian buildings, like the first concrete bridge in the Southern Hemisphere and governors’ residences. It lasted for four years until one of the managers of the project died unexpectedly.
Enter Ulf Kaiser, the musician. He’s always had a love for music, but the opportunity arose for him to record a few albums in Australia, and they went pretty well. He invested some money, hoping his songs would go just as well overseas. Where else would you go to record an album, but Abbey Road in London, where he met people like John Barry of James Bond film themes fame, and had to vacate studios for the likes of the Beatles, Annie Lennox, George Michael and Harry Connick Jnr, to name a few.
Then bad luck struck, a bit of an accountancy stuff-up, and the album didn’t sell as well as the ones in Australia. An honest and humble Ulf Kaiser explains: “When I got to Abbey Road, I just wasn’t good enough to take my music to the next level. Not rubbish – just not exciting enough to grab attention in the adult market which included Sting and Robbie Williams.”
Where to, from here? Ulf’s degree and experience in London enabled him to get a job teaching music in Australia on condition he go to Bourke High School. He loved teaching the kids, but Bourke was no picnic. From the outback to the western suburbs of Sydney Ulf wound up teaching music at Lurnea High School – a home of sorts. It’s not where he’d really like to be – at home or in an office, drawing caricatures of the rich and not so rich, and the famous and not so famous.
But he loves teaching students at Lurnea High, especially the Pacific Islanders, and his latest protégé, a girl named Ruthie. Ulf plays the piano and coaches her singing. He gives her a big rap: “I think she will end up in schools spectacular or on TV. She is the package. The musical rapport I have with this teenager is first class, and as good as music ever gets. I had this relationship with an Islander boy who played the piano while I strummed the guitar. It felt like Lennon and McCartney in the old days.”
Ulf is still performing his own songs. He’s just recorded his latest album, Lloyd Avenue, which he printed himself and put together manually. It’s like a cottage industry. He only ever assembles a few at a time, and leaves some at the local radio station at Hunters Hill in Sydney, where he used to live, at the RRRs end of the dial. His idea is to give them a test run, and if the demand is good, he will commercially produce a larger quantity. But he adds: “You’ve usually got to have a fairly big run to be cost effective. A lot of musos end up with a stack of CDs under their bed.” I’m no music critic, but I did like the album, with classics like Jimmy Webb’s “Wichita Lineman” and Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” and Ulf’s compositions, including “Red Lounge,” “Sometimes When You’re Down” and “Windmills & Sails” (my favourite). He describes his music as full of “rich textures and arrangement in the Pop-Reggae-Jazz-Country-Folk sort of way … a kind of a male version of Joni Mitchell, who spans many musical genres.” He also likes his latest album, even after repeated listening: “Liking your own CDs is not always the case or guaranteed.”
Despite his gift for music, Ulf Kaiser would like to give caricatures one last shot. He occasionally does a bit of drawing at Lurnea, and the kids have a look and say: “Sir, you should be an artist.”
Ulf says if he were ever to write his memoirs, that would be the title: “It also serves as a metaphor of the people who end up in teaching, when they might have been, or ought to have been, somewhere else. Weaving teaching with art and music, prompting that old refrain from the sixties film: “To Sir with Love.”

We no longer need to talk about Kevin

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself.
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I could think of no better quote to sum up Kevin Rudd, than the one above by the great 19th Century American writer and poet, Walt Whitman, described by his biographer, Henry Seidel Canby, as a “Jeffersonian Democrat, an idealist, a violent patriot, a humanitarian, a reformer, an ardent defender of progress and ‘a fighter for democracy who knows that democracy has to be fought for’.”*
Kevin Rudd is a living contradiction. The former two-time Prime Minister astonished us with his erudition, his passion for Indigenous Australians, his sense of humour (eg, asking for “gin” instead of water during his farewell speech in Parliament), yet angered us with his treatment of flight attendants and makeup artists, to say nothing of the way he expected his staff to perform Herculean feats of performance, and taking his revenge on Julia Gillard’s seizure of his job by allegedly leaking damaging things about her government for three years, and finally reclaiming what he thought rightfully belonged to him – the leadership of the Labor Pary and the primeministership.
In an excellent piece in the new online news journal, The New Daily, Sean Kelly, former media adviser to Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, says Rudd lost his way after he failed, despite giving it his all, to achieve global agreement on climate change. Kelly is one of the best press secretaries I’ve come across in decades of dealing with the gatekeepers who allow or disallow access to their bosses. He’s also a straightshooter who was with Rudd in Copenhagen during the ill-fated climate change conference, when the wheels came off for the Prime Minister: “His sweeping vision suddenly became a symbol of his inability to get things done. His preternatural reading of the popular will became seen as a slavishness to polling. His micro-management and centralisation of power, so effective in a time of crisis, were written about as marks of a man who couldn’t delegate or consult.” http://bit.ly/1j7YySO
I have to admit I never encountered the rude Rudd personally, but there was much evidence of it on television and in news reports – the most famous perhaps, his swearing during a rehearsal of a video in Mandarin, blaming his fluffs on a Chinese interpreter. In case you are one of the few who haven’t seen it, here’s a version from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyTCKoiYk7w When Kevin Rudd was shadow foreign minister from 2001 to 2006, you couldn’t have met a more gracious guest, willing to come in to the studios on a Sunday morning, and his press secretary, Alister Jordan, used to call on Friday nights and check to see if we had someone lined up for the Sunday program on the Nine Network.
Then in 2008, the Prime Minister, with a new press secretary, Lachlan Harris, and Alister Jordan, promoted to chief of staff, suddenly became difficult to get for an interview. Admittedly, I was now working for Sky News, as the EP of the Sunday Agenda program, up against my old Sunday program, and the doyen of the Canberra press gallery, Laurie Oakes, as well as The Insiders on the ABC, with the respected Barrie Cassidy, and Meet the Press, with the equally respected Paul Bongiorno. The latter two shows also had panels composed of the best political journalists in Australia.
Still, I made the calls to Lachlan Harris, who seldom returned them, so I tried getting in touch with Alister Jordan, and even sent him an email or two, and yes, you guessed it, I never heard from him again. I finally heard from Harris that Sky, meaning Sunday Agenda, of course, “wouldn’t get a look-in until later in the year,” and I could understand that. We were minnows in a pool with very large fish. But much later in the year, I tried calling Lachlan Harris again, and still had difficulty getting in touch, despite having secured the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, and the then Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and former presidential candidate, Howard Dean, as guests for Sunday Agenda, both of whom were interviewed by Sky’s political editor, David Speers, in Washington. In late November, I asked Lachlan Harris again, and he said: “Sorry, Sky will have to wait until next year.” I replied: “But you said later in the year. The year’s almost over, and we’ll be having a hiatus soon.” He did not apologise. At the time, I figured it was all Harris’s fault, but he (and Alister Jordan) must have been under massive micro-management pressure.
Kevin Rudd could have become a great prime minister. His achievements were highlighted on Wednesday night when he announced his resignation. Top of the list, of course, was his apology to the Stolen Generations in February 2008, one of the best speeches in Australian political history, followed by his leadership in steering the country through the Global Financial Crisis, and ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. But like Julius Caesar, Rudd’s hubris led to his downfall, though unlike Caesar, his assassination was figurative, carried out by faceless men, who brought him back to life as PM when they realised they could be next on the chopping block.
Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, who like Cassius (I won’t carry this analogy too far!) has a lean and hungry look and was instrumental in Kevin Rudd’s rebirth as prime minister, paid tribute to his departing colleague: “I do not believe we will see his like again in the parliament.” Many Labor politicians are clearly relieved about that. The PM Rudd deposed in June, Julia Gillard, was gracious in her farewell to the man she saw the best and worst of, in this tweet: “Best wishes to Kevin, Therese & their family as they embark on the next stage of their lives.” Surprisingly, perhaps, the Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, had no qualms about bringing up the knifing of Kevin Rudd: “The betrayal of you as leader of your party is one of the most shocking things I have ever witnessed in politics.”
Sean Kelly, who travelled with both Rudd and Gillard in good and bad times, makes a significant point: “After Rudd was removed, I went to work for Julia Gillard, a great leader in her own right. Over the years to come I would learn anew the lesson I had absorbed from my stint with Rudd: that each leader’s strengths are their weaknesses, that it is the intersection of those traits with their times that shapes their legacy.”
Rudd’s strengths were his energy, tenacity, determination and ambition. Gillard’s were her passions for reform and education, empathy, negotiating skills and trust. Yes, Sean, you’re right. Kevin Rudd needed an ego reduction operation, and Julia Gillard eyes in the back of her head to see where the knives were coming from.
As Kevin mentioned in his resignation speech, his family suffered from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in parliament, “which regrettably have become part of the stock and trade for so many of us in public life,” and that, of course, included Julia Gillard and her family.
Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten and their supporters in parliament immediately went for each other’s throats after a plea by the Prime Minister on the opening day for a kinder debate: “All of us can do better in this Parliament than we did in the last Parliament. I am determined to do that.”
And the last word really should go to Kevin Rudd, who didn’t always follow this advice, but who urged MPs on Wednesday night: “Be gentle to each other.”
*John Kouwenhoven in his introduction to Leaves of Grass and Selected Prose by Walt Whitman, Random House, 1950.

Fifty years after JFK, can LBJ teach a lesson to Tony Abbott?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Tony Abbott lately.
Why? I guess because I’ve been wondering what kind of a Prime Minister he’d make. I couldn’t bring myself to vote for him, mainly because he’s a Liberal, and I’ve been voting for Labor and the US Democrats for decades. I don’t normally declare my political preferences, but in my more than forty years in journalism, I’ve never let who I vote for get in the way of how I cover or write or produce a story or a program. I was also thinking how little I expected of Lyndon Johnson fifty years ago after the assassination of John F. Kennedy (pictured above), but more of that later.
I first came across Tony Abbott at The Australian newspaper in the late seventies, when he dropped in to see Tim Hewat, the features editor, to talk about student politics. I was on the back bench of the Oz, and Tony had a reputation of being a tough guy – from his days as a student boxer. I remember reading some of his articles in The Bulletin in the mid-eighties, and he penned a nice tribute to the Australian classic magazine when it was axed in 2008. (http://ab.co/1cj0SEO)
When he got into politics in the nineties, you couldn’t help noticing him if you were a producer in Australian television. Tony Abbott became an aggressive minister in the Howard Government, first in the employment and work relations portfolio, then in health and ageing. He was always good talent, and occasionally made gaffes, which kept producers happy and the prime minister on his toes. But he and John Howard struck up a friendship, which continues to this day.
I wasn’t impressed with Tony Abbott’s politics, but I did like his empathy with workers. Even as a minister and shadow minister, he insisted on driving to the studios, first at Channel Nine in Willoughby, then to Sky News in Macquarie Park, for Sunday morning interviews because he didn’t think it was fair for Commonwealth drivers to have to work on Sundays. In the nineties and early 2000s, he drove a 76 Valiant, and in the late 2000s, a 1993 Merc. The only thing you had to worry about was whether the car would make it to the studio in time. We had a couple of close calls at Sky News when he was the main guest on Sunday Agenda. If I called and he didn’t answer his mobile, at least I knew that he was on his way.
But after he became the Opposition Leader in December 2009, Tony Abbott was forced to use a Commonwealth driver, and I know he wasn’t happy with that. But I never heard of him treating a driver or a staffer badly, as was the case with Kevin Rudd, who was never in the running for Employer of the Year. Tony’s worst behaviour occurred in 2007 when just before the election, he had a go at asbestos campaigner and terminal mesothelioma sufferer, Bernie Banton, saying: “”just because a person is sick doesn’t mean that he is necessarily pure of heart in all things”, for which he later apologised. Bernie Banton died three days after the election. In 2011, I was the supervising producer of Meet the Press at Channel Ten, and we weren’t able to get Abbott on the program. But he did a couple of two-way interviews with The Bolt Report in Melbourne from the Ten building in Pyrmont, and I had to take him to makeup and the tiny studio where he was interviewed by Andrew Bolt.
Tony Abbott intimated he would appear on Meet the Press that year, but never made it, which surprised me, given that he had come on Sunday Agenda a few times at the last minute. Again, he was friendly and charming to the Ten staff, and the café workers next door where we would get coffee after the interview – and he would tell his media adviser to set up a time for us as he was getting into the car. The interview didn’t happen until 2012 when I was no longer with the program.
I knew we would never have a chance to get the Opposition Leader-Soon-To-Be-PM on The Observer Effect on SBS this year, but we did ask every couple of weeks. This time, it was the calendar which was our enemy. “We just can’t find a date for you” was the response of one of his friendly (honest!) media advisers. Malcolm Turnbull, who lost by one vote to Abbott in the Liberal leadership ballot in 2009, did accept our invitation (and did very well, I have to say).
Okay, you say, Tony Abbott is a nice bloke, so what does that have to do with his ability to be a good Prime Minister? Well, you don’t have to be charming to be an effective PM, but it helps. What really worries me is his lack of statesmanship. An example of that occurred in his interview with the Washington Post this week, when he told Lally Weymouth (the daughter of legendary Post publisher Katharine Graham) what he thought of Labor’s NBN: “Welcome to the wonderful, wacko world of the former government.” He added that it “was the most incompetent and untrustworthy government in modern Australian history.” Clearly, Labor under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard was not the best of governments, but to paint it as the worst is not going to help our relations with the United States and Barack Obama, who got along fairly well with both prime ministers. Former diplomat and respected senior public servant John Menadue told the Sydney Morning Herald the jury was still out as to whether Tony Abbott could “make the transition from a critic in opposition and an attack dog to a responsible and constructive prime minister.” (http://bit.ly/1aBavgM)
Constructive prime ministers (Julia Gillard above tried her best to be one) also have to be forward thinkers, and respected political commentator Laurie Oakes (declaration: he’s a mate and former colleague) says Tony Abbott is not yet a visionary. In discussing his new book, Remarkable Times: Australian Politics 2010-2013 What Really Happened, with ABC Radio National Breakfast host, Fran Kelly, Oakes had this to say of the Prime Minister: “I think Tony Abbott has very cleverly repositioned himself, but he still doesn’t come across as a visionary. Tony Abbott only a few years ago said you really can’t expect a politician to be interested in anything beyond his own period in parliament. Well, that’s really a very limiting view for a politician to have. If Tony Abbott really believes that, he’ll be useless as Prime Minister. Prime ministers have to be forward thinkers, but if Tony Abbott wants to be a good prime minister, he’s going to have to think a lot further ahead than his own period in parliament, so we’ll see. Tony Abbott is nothing, if not adaptable. He changes his mind when he needs to. He tells his own party he puts pragmatism ahead of principles. Maybe he will be able to lift his gaze and develop some long-term vision.”
I hope he can, too. I remember having a chat with Tony Abbott when he was the Shadow Aboriginal Minister just before he was about to travel to Cape York to teach Indigenous children on a parliamentary break in 2008. He had come in to Sky News to talk to host Helen Dalley on Sunday Agenda. I told him I had taught for three years in the black community of Harlem in New York City in the late sixties. It was difficult, and somewhat trauma-inducing, and, to be honest, my main reason for teaching in a disadvantaged area was to avoid being drafted. But I have always replied to anyone who asked that I would rather teach black children in Harlem than kill Vietnamese kids in Vietnam. And I told Tony: “You’re going to go up there and spend two weeks teaching and helping Aboriginal children in Cape York. But the real heroes are those teachers who stay. I often think about the staff who stayed in Harlem. Remember those who you leave behind in Cape York.”
Warren Mundine, the former National President of the Labor Party, and now head of the Indigenous Advisory Council, told Ellen Fanning on The Observer Effect that when he first met Tony Abbott he didn’t like him. But they agreed to meet in a Redfern coffee shop, and Tony said to him: “Well, why don’t we continue these conversations because I really want to know about Aboriginal people and Aboriginal affairs.” Mundine replied: “Yeah, sure.” Those conversations led to the pair becoming mates, and Warren Mundine is now a big fan of Tony Abbott: “He won the confidence of the Australian people and got the job as Prime Minister. He grew in Indigenous affairs. To me, we just totally disagreed on it, but now we’re very much one on one on it.”
But there is one more thing to like about Tony Abbott. He is a dedicated volunteer in the Davidson Rural Fire Brigade on Sydney’s North Shore. There were many weekends when he couldn’t appear on the Sunday Program or Sunday Agenda because he was fighting fires or preventing them. Perhaps he shouldn’t have allowed himself to be photographed with other volunteers in Bilpin during the recent fires in Sydney, but he is a politician and he was probably doing it as much for them as for himself. And his colleagues said he put in a full day’s work. Critics say a prime minister should not be risking his life fighting fires. But a PM shouldn’t be afraid to get his hands dirty, as long as it has nothing to do with corruption!
Well, that’s why I’ve been thinking about Tony Abbott. He could be a good Prime Minister, in spite of the Coalition he heads, whose policies are mean-spirited, designed to help the rich, cruel and uncaring, especially on immigration, and anti-union and anti-climate change, to name just a few. His sister, Liberal Sydney councillor, Christine Forster, who’s engaged to her long-term partner, Virginia Edwards, believes Tony Abbott will eventually come around on gay marriage, and will certainly attend their wedding, if the law (and a Coalition conscience vote) permits.
Back to the future: fifty years ago this month, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in as President of the United States after John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas, Texas. In his early years in the House of Representatives and the Senate, LBJ had voted against bills aimed at helping black Americans. In his superb profile of Barack Obama, The Bridge, David Remnick cites the acclaimed Robert Caro biography of Johnson to make this point: “LBJ had been profoundly affected by his experience as a young man in Cotulla, Texas, teaching poor Mexican-American children, but it was only in the mid-fifties – when, as Caro writes, his ‘ambition and compassion were finally pointing in the same direction’ – that he allowed himself to start working on behalf of civil rights.”
The result was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let’s hope the experiences of Tony Abbott in Cape York and his expressed desire to be Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs will really close the gap between white and black Australians and lead to a treaty, giving Aborigines a greater role in governing this country. It might even help make him a good PM.
Over to you, Tony.

Twitter journalism: Think before you tweet

Trying to make sense of the week’s news from the Boston Marathon Bombings has been very difficult, to say the least.
For those of you who read my previous post, The Boston Marathon heroes: We will remember them (http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-cY), you can see I took the easy option of describing the courage of the first responders. Of course, it wasn’t possible at the time of writing to say who had done it, and I wasn’t about to do an Alan Jones, and blame it on left-wing students, but I knew I had to comment on the biggest story of the week. Since then we have learned more about Dagestan, Chechnya and the Tsarnaev brothers and their families. And I have read every word I could (I’ve certainly missed a few!) because it is important to learn where they were coming from … just in case they have any counterparts here (and they probably do).
Speaking of every word brings me to the social media. I found a lot of the information from Twitter useful, particularly links to background articles. From a breaking news point of view, Twitter was terrific, from an accuracy view, it was much less so. One of its strengths, reaction to lightning-fast events, is also one of its weaknesses. You can’t take it at face value. You need to check with CNN, the New York Times, Associated Press, to name a few. And, of course, today, AP was hacked and a false tweet that two bombs had exploded in the White House, injuring President Obama, caused Wall Street to lose $195 billion (briefly — most of it recovered later in the day) http://bit.ly/17UWsQK
Last Saturday when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was being pursued in the Boston suburb of Watertown after his older brother, Tamerlan, was killed in a shootout with police (eyewitness photo above of the brothers hiding behind a car during the shootout), I was on Twitter and flicking back and forth from Sky News, which had a live feed from ABC America, to CNN, Channel Nine, Channel Seven and ABC Australia. The best coverage was ABC America, presented by Diane Sawyer and a host of reporters, but Denham Hitchcock of Nine managed to find a resident who reported that the surviving brother was hiding in a boat in a suburban backyard. The local got it from a very good source, obviously someone in the police, but couldn’t reveal who it was. That was excellent reporting by an Australian on the ground, with hundreds of journalists from around the world covering that backyard boat.
Diane Sawyer then spoke to the family next door whose boat was harbouring a dangerous terrorist, who told the wonderful story of their neighbour finding the terrorist in his beloved vessel and rushing inside to call 911 … and then being escorted out by the Boston Police. Imagine calling the police and then having 500 show up on your doorstep! Again good coverage.
I don’t agree with Crikey’s political correspondent, Bernard Keane, who said on The Drum last week http://bit.ly/10yoggr “If you sat and watched the Twitter feed this afternoon … around MIT, you’re watching the traditional media model dying before your very eyes.” On the same program, Dominic Knight, the presenter of the evening program on ABC 702, said: “You should think before you publish. Slow down.” The Walkley Award-winning investigative journalist for the SMH, Kate McClymont, also condemned “the rush to report.” She said what’s the point of “being first if you can’t get your facts right.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I still like my news stories to be analytical, well written and accurate. Take Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night about the anti-Vietnam war March on the Pentagon in 1967. He describes himself in the third person, but also puts the reader in the picture, and shows both sides of the story. He quotes one of my journalistic heroes, Jimmy Breslin, on the confrontation between the soldiers and the demonstrators: “Taste and decency had left the scene a long time before. All that remained were these lines of troops and packs of nondescript kids who taunted the soldiers. The kids went to the bathroom on the side of the Pentagon building. They threw a couple of rocks through first-floor windows. The soldiers faced them silently.” Then, as Mailer puts it, “let us now dare to give an extract of Gerald Long’s account in the National Guardian.”
“A girl confronted a soldier, ‘Why, why, why?’ she asked. ‘We’re just like you. You’re like us. It’s them,’ she said, pointing to the Pentagon. She brought her two fingers to her mouth, kissed them and touched the soldier’s lips. Four soldiers grabbed her and dragged her away, under arrest. The soldier she had spoken to tried to tell them that she hadn’t hurt him.”
Mailer goes on: “It may be obvious by now that a history of the March on the Pentagon, which is not unfair will never be written, any more than a history which could prove dependable in details!”
Can you imagine trying to condense Norman Mailer into tweets? Or how about the man after which my blog is named: Hunter S. Thompson, whose Songs of the Doomed, is subtitled: More Notes on the Death of the American Dream Gonzo Papers Vol 3. Try saying this in 140 characters: “It was 1968 – The Death Year – and this time it was the Democrats who ran amok. If the campaign had been conducted under the Rules of War – which it was a war: a civil war – thousands of hate-crazy young Democrats would have been tortured to death by their own kind, or killed in the street like wild animals. Both Johnson and Humphrey would have been executed for treason.
“We were all crazy, that year, and many people developed aggressive attitudes. When I packed for Chicago, there was nothing unusual about including a Bell motorcycle helmet, yellow ski goggles, a new pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars (sneakers), and a short billyclub. Packing for Chicago was not like taking off for Club Med. The Democratic Party has never recovered from that convention.”
This was written in 1990, when Republican George H.W. Bush was president.
I mentioned the improbability of Hunter S. Thompson tweeting in my first blog post two years ago http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-a. If you’ll excuse me quoting myself, here is what I said about Thompson: “I often wonder how he would have used Twitter. I think he would have rebelled against the 140-character limit – his rants were usually 140 pages long before he got warmed up, though he did write a good short column for the San Francisco Examiner (see his collection, A Generation of Swine), and a popular sports column for ESPN.com. But he would have loved having a million or two followers, and stirring them up, with his controversial opinions and sparkling wit. Alas, he committed suicide in his fortified compound in Woody Creek, Colorado in February 2005.”
I wasn’t the only one wondering about what one of his journalistic heroes would think of Twitter. Mark Little is the CEO of Storyful.com, a newsgathering platform developed and powered by journalists for journalists. His hero was the famous World War Two correspondent, Ernie Pyle:

“I wonder what Ernie Pyle would have made of Twitter and Reddit? What would he think of a world where everyone is an eye-witness, where reporters no longer control the first draft of history? How would he have viewed events in Boston, and the fierce, fitful stream of first-person horror and instant judgment that defined them?”

In his blog post, When everyone is an eye-witness, what is a journalist? http://bit.ly/17KT5vK
Little defends Twitter, and explains what he thinks is the greatest threat to journalism:

“On the night of the Boston bombings, my Twitter timeline was filled with the ambivalent cry of those who saw danger and opportunity around them. In the words of one angst-ridden tweep:
‘Today reminds me how Twitter has become one of the greatest tools as well as one of greatest threats to true journalism.’
“I share the sentiment … However, the frenzied debate about Boston and social media seems to have missed the central point. The greatest threat to ‘True Journalism’ is not social media but an outmoded concept of breaking news.
“The anonymous Twitter user rushing to name a suspect or the TV reporter breathlessly quoting unnamed sources are cut from the same cloth. This is ‘Me First’ journalism, powered by vanity and self-importance, and it is the greatest threat to ‘True Journalism’.”

Mark Little says we still need the Ernie Pyles on the scene (in my case, the Jimmy Breslins): “…taking their time to find the defining detail. But we also need a new category of reporter, responsible for finding the hidden signal in the noise. We desperately need skilled professionals who can turn isolated units of social content into compelling stories, who can shape the narrative emerging out of the cacophony of conversation flowing through the social web.”
In this big news week, you might not have caught Media Watch on ABC in which Jonathan Holmes focused on how politicians can bypass the gatekeepers – member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery – using the social media to address voters directly http://bit.ly/Y5u3sf. Toward the end, the criticism shifted to journalists interviewing other journalists, instead of reporting. Holmes said: “… even as their numbers dwindle, more and more senior journalists appear to be spending time analysing and opining, rather than digging and reporting.”
The Minister for Sport, Kate Lundy, agreed and so does Laurie Oakes, who never wanted journalists talking to other journalists on the Sunday Program. I know because, as his producer, whenever I suggested that, he told me to forget it, in rather harsher language. Here’s what he said in his Media Alliance Centenary Lecture last year, broadcast on Media Watch: “A concentration on providing facts – simple unfiltered information – would be a real point of difference in the coming contest with the new kind of political journalists – the ones who’ll be players in the political game reporting on themselves and using the media access that technology has given them to push their own political interests.”
The only way to write or produce a good story is to do your homework, think about what you want to say, and then rewrite until you get it right. That is impossible on Twitter, but you can break stories in 140 characters, as long as you know the facts. You can then look for the background pieces to fill in the gaps. In some cases, it may take days, if not weeks or months, for the full story to be told. That’s the one I want to read.
And on this Anzac Day, in a week when Dzhokhaar Tsarnaev was charged with using a weapon of mass destruction (ironic, given it was finally found ten years after a war was started because of it), I’d like to end with a poem written by one of the Anzacs, Thorvald Kook of the 43rd Battalion, quoted in Patsy Adam-Smith’s classic story about the men who went to Gallipoli, The Anzacs:

Do you remember?
Those scenes of sadness
To me like days of drunken madness
That awful dilemma
Looking straight at hell
While we ducked from the bullet and screeching shell
Do I remember?

The finalists in the 2013 Best Australian Blogs Competition were announced this week. As predicted, I wasn’t one of them. You can see the 25 finalists here http://bit.ly/Zmf0Jz. Congratulations to all of them!
You can still vote for my blog, by clicking on the badge above and ticking my box on page 2, as the People’s Choice Round is open until next Tuesday, April 30 at 5pm (AET). According to the organisers, The Australian Writers’ Centre, it’s still anyone’s round as more than 13,500 votes have been cast, but they’re spread fairly evenly across the 1008 entrants. I think they’re just being nice to us.
The winners will be announced on Wednesday, May 1. The winners of the special awards will also be announced then on Twitter: #bestblogs13
This is just a reminder. I promise not to mention it again! Thanks again to those who voted for me.

Looking after each other: From the Mater to Peter Harvey, a newsman for all seasons

There is a new group of “United Nations” in Australia – located at Mater Hospital in North Sydney.
Like most UN organisations, they look after the sick and dying, young and old, before and after surgery, and prepare them for the outside world when they’re ready to take that big step.
You’ve never heard of them before? Well, that’s because they’re staff at the hospital: Jeff from the Philippines; Tirtha, Nepal (born in Hong Kong); Anne Marie, Thomas, and Tracey, all from Ireland; Mary, Sudan; Jacqueline, New Zealand; Giselle, India; Fumi, Japan, and Gunda from Germany, to name just a few. (A photo of a few above, and yes, there are many Australians in the United Nations of Mater.)
They looked after me, and a number of patients, most over 55, having hip and knee replacements and revisions in the Ryman ward of Mater. It’s a lifestyle choice for many of us as our joints, both original and artificial, are squeaking and hurting, and the pain keeps us awake at night. I’ve had two artificial hips since 1987, and had my left hip revised in 2011 at Mater. (I wrote about it in my blog, Carry on Nurses http://wp.me/p1Ytmx-1P )
What I discovered then was an amazing fact, courtesy of the Australian Orthopaedic Association which recorded 44,500 knee replacements and 36,000 hip replacements in 2010. In 2012, the AOA recorded 47,644 knee replacements and 37,182 hip replacements. That’s 85,000 such replacements in Australia last year, mostly in private hospitals.
And caring for all those new joints and the people attached are staff from a variety of nations – including at least one refugee. Mary from Sudan, for example, told me: “I came here as a refugee in 2005, went to school in 2006 and 2007, and I have been here at Mater since 2008.” She had a smile a mile wide as she mopped up my hospital room.
Since my recent six-day stay at Mater to have my right hip revised, I think of the staff, who do jobs that not all Australians would want to do (have you wiped someone’s bum lately?), and add diversity and colour to this country. I feel my blood pressure rising as I listen to Scott Morrison, the Shadow Immigration Minister, as he talks about “these people” when he mentions asylum seekers. (Media Watch had a good segment on this phrase last night http://bit.ly/Z3pbkZ ) When I taught in the black community of Harlem, the first thing we learned in our sensitivity training was not to refer to African-Americans as “you people.” What most Australian politicians (and all shock jocks) need is sensitivity training.
On second thought, what they could really use is a week-long stay in Mater Hospital, being looked after by the multicultural staff, and they would see how much they contribute to Australia. They would no longer be called “these people,” but by their real names, and the pollies would learn how much they earn – not a lot – what their families are like and what they think of Australia. I think it would be even more educational than a week-long visit to western Sydney.
The United Nations of Mater are the real people the politicians continually talk about, but seldom meet. Let me give you an example: On Saturday night, I was watching television in my hospital room when the news broke about the death of Peter Harvey. I worked for 20 years at Channel Nine and knew Peter well, so I was glued to the set, immediately turning over to my former station.
We all knew Peter was in his last days with pancreatic cancer, but it was still difficult when he finally died. I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face, when one of the nurses from Nepal, Tirtha, stopped at the door, and asked: “Did Peter Harvey die?” “Yes,” I said, “he was a friend.” She was genuinely touched by the news, as were a number of others who poked their head in the door to ask the same question.
They identified with Peter Harvey, as we all did, because he was one of us. His reports spoke to the people, they made us laugh or cry; and he was willing to put on a silly hat to get a laugh, though nine times out of ten, his words produced the guffaws that usually accompanied a Harvey closer. No Nine News presenter ever had to fake a laugh at the end of a Peter Harvey funny package.
But if I told Peter that there was a regular United Nations at Mater, and it might be worth a story, he’d be on to his chief of staff in a New York minute. He’d talk to the staff, the administrators, the patients, get some statistics on the number of overseas staff at Sydney hospitals, as well as Mater, and find a way to make his piece to camera reflect what the story was all about – the incredible diversity of Australia. If Peter was still alive I’d tell him about it, and I can hear him say: “Sounds like a good yarn. Thanks Tom.”
Alas, he is no longer with us, and you would have read and watched myriad stories about Peter Harvey, who was described as “the newsman’s newsman,” by his great mate, Paul Bongiorno. Peter loved to travel, and covered the world for Channel Nine, from Los Angeles to London to the Middle East and Africa to Asia. I thought of him when I talked to Mary, a former Sudanese refugee, at Mater. Peter was on assignment for Nine News, but he also did a story for the Sunday Program in 2005 on Sudanese refugees in Chad, when Mary was there. He told Hal Crawford, the editor-in-chief of ninemsn, why he liked doing these sort of stories: “Not so long ago myself and a camera crew flew to Chad to do a story on refugees coming across from Darfur [in Sudan] and if that helped focus attention on the plight of these poor people, I think that’s terrific.” http://bit.ly/W0CxgX
I remember it because it was a classic Harvey yarn. Great pictures of the refugees from news cameraman Frank Ilankovan, focusing on the faces of the starving children. Evocative words, but not too many of them, from Peter, summing up the plight of the refugees. Peter was a bit crook, after a long flight back from Africa, but he came down to the Sunday cottage and put his magnificent voice down. Yes, in one take, for aficionados of the spoken word … spoken as only Peter could.
If he were still alive, I would ask Peter if he’d like to talk to Mary and do an update on what’s happening in Darfur (when was the last time you heard anything about that devastated region?), and what life has been like for a Sudanese refugee in Australia. I imagine he’d jump at the opportunity if he were well enough to do it.
As supervising producer of the Sunday Program, I found Peter Harvey to be just as generous to us as he was to everyone in the newsroom. If we needed a voice or information on a story, he was always there for us. And when I went up to News from the cottage on a Saturday morning, Peter would always ask what we had on the program, and if we had anything he could follow up. He was, after all, a former Canberra bureau chief for Nine, and as Laurie Oakes has said, a mentor to younger colleagues. When I talked to Peter last month to see how he was, he didn’t really want to speak about his illness (he did when I asked), but about what a great program Sunday was. I could only agree, of course, but I did point out that we were like a family at Sunday, and we all looked after each other.
Peter Harvey knew all about the importance of looking after each other. He did it every day at Channel Nine, and with his beloved family at home, Anne, Adam and Claire (see photo above). If you haven’t read it yet, please do yourself a favour and settle down with this lovely tribute to her father, from his daughter, Claire, the deputy editor of the Sunday Telegraph http://bit.ly/Z9wXrr And I just watched Peter’s final news story, a lovely piece about the Sydney Town Hall clock, on Nine News. In death, as in life, he could tell a story.
And finally I dips me lid to the staff at Mater Hospital – a united nations of carers who also know all about looking after each other … and their patients.

Why I’d vote against compulsory voting

In my nearly 42 years in Australia, there are two things I have never really understood: why rugby league players kick the ball backwards to start a play and compulsory voting.
The former has always reminded me of cowboy star Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger. Roy asks Trigger how old he is, and Trigger responds by using his right hoof to kick backwards, and Rogers counts: “one, two, three …” If I ever became head of the NRL, I would find a better way to continue play. (That’s about as likely as Trigger playing rugby league.)
The latter is something that seemed so strange to someone who had come from the US, where voting is not compulsory. It’s considered a right and a privilege, but not a requirement. I used to get into arguments about it, but I’ve been here so long, I am used to it, and I can see advantages.
In America, so much money and energy is spent trying to get out the vote, politicians don’t have as much time to explain their policies to their constituents as they should, and use campaign funds and negative advertising to appeal to voters.
In Australia, politicians conduct similar negative campaigns, but at least they know people will have to vote for them. When a truly awful government, like the NSW Labor Party in 2011, tries to get re-elected, they are in no doubt they will lose in a landslide, and they did.
But in a democracy, you shouldn’t be forced to do anything, except obey the law, and it certainly shouldn’t be against the law to refuse to cast a ballot.
What has prompted me to write about the issue was a silly season discussion paper on electoral reforms by the Queensland Liberal National Party which questions compulsory voting. The Labor Party has, of course, slammed the proposal, with Wayne Swan calling it something out of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s reign 30 years ago: “I thought I was back in the Joh era when I got up and read the paper this morning. I thought: ‘Has Queensland just gone back 30 years?’” http://bit.ly/136QonC
The Acting Prime Minister was aiming at the Newman government, which won in a landslide thanks to compulsory voting and state Labor’s poor performance: “It appears the new government is going to do everything it can to stop Queenslanders from having a say about their cruel cuts to services that they never outlined prior to the election.”
Julia Gillard, who’s on holiday, tweeted to back her deputy, saying non-compulsory voting would make “our democracy the plaything of cashed-up interest groups.” She was referring to the super PAC groups in the US who supply the funds for the negative advertising campaigns of candidates they favour.
The acting Queensland Labor leader Tim Mulherin told The Australian how the US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, had said that just getting Americans to vote “alters our politics, makes it more expensive, and I think it also alters people’s sense of responsibility.” I don’t agree on the last point as one of the reasons I became an Australian was to be able to engage in the politics of the country as a responsible voter. And I didn’t learn that in Australia, but in the US, where I was taught that it was a right and a privilege to vote, especially when so many nations did not have that right.
And there was another reason. It was 1974 and I wanted to vote for Gough Whitlam. As a Democrat from the US, I loved Gough for what he stood for: Medicare, multiculturalism, free university education, Reconciliation, a revival of the Arts, an independent foreign policy and a recognition that the Vietnam War was a failure, to name a few. He also had a wonderful sense of humour. Combine all these and compare them to what Richard Nixon stood for, and you can see why I wanted to vote for Whitlam. Okay, Whitlam’s economic policies weren’t the best, given the Loans Affair, in a bid to finance development plans, which was an unmitigated disaster for the government. But give me Gough any day.
When I was supervising producer for the Sunday Program at Nine, I often tried to get Gough to come on the program as a guest, to be interviewed by Laurie Oakes. One day in the late nineties, I called his office, and he came on the line. He couldn’t appear on the program that week, but we started to chat about my ethnic origin. “Krause,” he said. “That’s German isn’t it?” “Yes,” I replied, “but I’m more Irish than German as my grandparents on my mother’s side are from County Mayo. But I was born in the US, and came to Australia in the early seventies.” Up until this point, it was just a pleasant chat, until I said: “But I’m an Australian now. In fact, I became an Australian so I could vote for you in 1975.”
At this point, the former Prime Minister boomed down the line in that distinctive voice: “Your credentials are improving!” Gough Whitlam eventually appeared on the program on the 20th anniversary of Sunday, November 18, 2001. He was, as always, a tremendous guest.
I have never regretted my vote for Mr Whitlam in 1975, and have even come to tolerate compulsory voting. But if it’s put to a referendum, I would cast my ballot for optional voting – even though, it’s the system they use in America, and it’s far from perfect.
In last year’s US presidential elections, voter turnout was only 57.5 per cent – although more than 60 million people voted for each of the major parties for the first time – and there was criticism of the new voter ID requirements and long queues at the polling booths. The Loyola University newspaper, the Phoenix, in Chicago, wrote about low voter turnout and suggested a public holiday for the presidential election: “If the nation gets a whole day off to celebrate the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus, why not a day off to celebrate our right to decide who runs our country for the next four years from arguably the most powerful seat in the world?” http://bit.ly/136QonC
So there are Americans with a sense of responsibility about voting, and it’s not compulsory. Bring it on!
Two things before I go. Last week, I reviewed two books; one on baseball that was more than just a novel about America’s pastime, The Art of Fielding, and the other a history of the championship professional basketball team, the New York Knicks, When the Garden was Eden, which was also a portrait of the turbulent late sixties and early seventies in the US. Well, another novel came my way on the sport of cycling, called Gold, by Chris Cleave (Sceptre). And this one is more than a story about three cyclists pursuing Olympic gold medals. It’s about what you have to do to win a gold and is it worth the sacrifice. I think it’s worth reading because if you have an addiction to winning, it will make you stop and think. It also makes the point that there are more important things in life than sport; caring for sick children, for example. A great read.
And finally, a word about this blog. WordPress.com’s annual report on my blog – I didn’t even know they had “stats helper monkeys” who wrote reports – tells me it got about 5,600 views in 2012. That means I still need to get another 9,400 views a year before I have to be worried about regulation if the Finkelstein inquiry is adopted by the government.
I managed to write 56 new posts last year, and the busiest day of the year was August 23 with 167 views. The most popular post that day was If I worked in a newsroom like The Newsroom I’d still be working http://bit.ly/ZYPAU5
My most frequent commenters were my friends, Steve McQueen, Tim Wilson, Malcolm Weatherup (whose blog is: http://www.townsvillemagpie.com.au/), Paul Ellercamp, and Bill McMackin. Thanks, guys, for commenting and being regular readers of my blog.
If anyone wants to read an excerpt from the annual report, called 2012 in Review, it’s on the post below. You can click on the link in the post, if you want to see the complete report.
Happy New Year!