I landed back into Canberra at the end of Budget week after a month travelling the Mediterranean with my mother, aunt and uncle – all in their 70s with an appetite for life that I hope is genetic. Now home, I was about to join Sky News as a contributor for the Federal election and transition from the political back room to media frontline.
Arriving at Parliament House on Saturday for my opening salvo with David Speers, I reflected that this was my first time ever in the press gallery as well as my first political interview. It wasn’t going to be easy subjecting myself to a 30 minute grilling from someone who had already collected a prime ministerial scalp only days earlier: I hoped he wouldn’t get mine.
I’ll leave the viewers to judge how I went – but, for my part, it was good to have one of the country’s toughest but fairest interviewers run through what went wrong and what went right with the Abbott government. Of course, there were mistakes. Still, stopping the boats, scrapping the carbon tax, finalising the FTAs, being serious about budget repair, and keeping our country safe in the face of unprecedented challenges has given Malcolm Turnbull a good record to run on, and a healthy buffer of seats.
However uncomfortable I might have felt, the scrutiny was worth it because it gave me a chance to show people that I was not the scheming control-freak that some in the media had tried to portray while a cadre of colleagues stalked my former boss. Sure, I had strong opinions; yes, I’d invariably speak my mind; but a prime ministerial chief of staff can hardly be a shrinking violet and do the job properly. If I wasn’t able to keep the show on the road and the PM’s decisions moving they would’ve been the first to complain I wasn’t up to the job because governments wracked by lack of decision-making die by paralysis.
Taking on the role of commentator, my job is to take people behind the scenes as this long election campaign unfolds. I’ve been in campaign headquarters and in ministerial and prime ministerial offices, so I know how it works. I’m also one of the few that know what it takes to win from opposition. While every campaign is different, there’s a lot that’s the same too: anxiety about polls, toing-and-froing about policy, panic about things thrown together at the last minute and scorn for candidates who don’t pull their weight. I know it and can read what’s happening behind the smiles.
I want the Coalition government to win. The country can’t afford to go back to Labor, especially as they pretend there was nothing wrong with the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years apart from leadership rivalry. Still, the Turnbull government isn’t rushing on with budget repair either and, when my side lets people down, I can’t pretend otherwise: I will call it as I see it.
After David Speers, my next encounter was with Andrew Bolt whose new nightly spot up against the ABC’s 7.30 programme is long overdue. He’s not short of an opinion or the facts to back it up which is why he inspires hatred amongst the Left. Like me, he wonders why the government is funding company tax cuts with a superannuation tax slug. Superannuation is our money, not the government’s. We’ve had a lot of changes in recent years and now should be the time for policy certainty. The Coalition is mired in a debate it doesn’t need about whether these changes are retrospective. Putting the introduction of a $1.6 million cap to one side, the new $500,000 limit on non-concessional contributions has incited fury with Liberal supporters. After all, if there’s a $1.6m total cap, why do we need a secondary constraint that limits how much of our own post-tax dollars we put away to save for our retirement? I hope it doesn’t stop rusted on Liberals from supporting the government but it’s certainly dampening the enthusiasm of the party faithful.
I got through a discussion with Paul Murray (my mother’s favourite interviewer) and an interview with Alan Jones (anyone wanting to win elections has got to talk to Alan). I also noted that the Prime Minister’s visit to Penrith didn’t go well. The candidate needed better preparation and the street walk shouldn’t have been cancelled especially when the Prime Minister needs to look like a local and not like a blow-in. This is why campaigns require experience, some not so common common-sense, and advisers who can hold their nerve.
On my wedding day 14 years ago I remarked that the best way to leave a message for my husband was a note on The Spectator’s Diary page. So this is as good a place as any to record my thanks for his unwavering support and encouragement over a momentous 16 years in politics. It’s always been a shared professional passion and for two people such as ourselves from small country towns, it’s been a privilege to serve our country.
At the close of my first week as a tyro news commentator, I’m now ready to admit that preparing leaders for an interview is a whole lot easier than fronting up yourself. We don’t have to agree with our national leaders but we should respect them. With rare exception, they are spending their lives and giving their all in a hope they can make our country better.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.