How did you become interested in Journalism and how did you get your start?
“I lived in an outer suburb. There was nothing to do there and I think it was something to do with living there, living in Frankston, at the time. How do I get out of here, nothing happens here, all the things I see in the papers none of it happens here. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a job where you had access to that, asking people about it then telling other people about it. It sounds a bit twee, but that’s what I did, and I determined that was the only thing I was interested in doing.
Now you would think I would have devoted myself entirely to ensuring I had every single connection in the world and that I had explored every avenue on becoming a journalist. But by the time I was 20 and in my final year of university I had not done that. I simply wrote to The Age and the Herald Weekly Times. The Age told me, thanks but we aren’t interested in interviewing you. But the Herald Weekly Times interviewed me. And some way or another out of the hundreds of people they interviewed they took me on, so it was incredibly lucky and life just takes one piece of luck to turn for you. Because God knows what I would have become. I would have become a school teacher I suspect but that would have just been a path to unhappiness. So I was rescued by fate, and once I got the job I certainly wasn’t going to waste it.”
What did the Industrial Relations round teach you, and what did it entail?
“I was sent … to the Attribution Commission, which lives on in much reduced form now in the Fair Work Commission. Back then it was a massively important economic institution that covered just about every worker through the industrial awards system. The Herald realised there was a lot of decisions, a lot of judgements and if you sent someone up there you could get a lot of stories and they could cover workers. I did that for about 18 months and then I was sent up to the Trades Hall round, and you worked out of a press room in Trades Hall looking out over Victoria Street and South Carlton.
I did that for about three and half years, and that was really the making of me because it meant for about five years, from the age of 23 through to the age of 28, I was immersed in industrial politics, unions, business, employers, the interface between institutional Australia and working Australia, and the Labor Party as well and all the factions.
Does the Industrial round still exist?
“Yes, it does in a way. In a way, it has been diminished in the same way unionism and centralised wage–fixing have all been diminished… I reckon that’s a shame though. If you want to really understand power in society as a journalist, so that you can explain why things happen to your readers and your audience, I do think you have got to know something about how those institutions run and the reality of them as well. You know you will often read about how Bill Shorten never really had a real job because he was National Secretary of the AWU. I mean these are multimillion–dollar organisations. It’s a real job if you are running a union. You have to employ people and you are answerable to other people.”
What lead you to politics and political journalism?
“If I’m honest, I grew up as an only child and my parents had a very difficult marriage. Rather than breaking up they stayed together. Which meant there was a permanent sort of cold war power thing going on in the house all the time. I had to navigate through that all the time and not get involved. I really think that made politics an easy fit for me in terms of being an observer of politics and not a participant. Because I have always been attracted to the psychological side of politics as well, like leadership. I remember learning about it at university it was called ‘psycho-politics’ back then, it has a very different application now in the time of Trump and others.”
How do you decide what issues you write about in your column?
“Look I almost can’t answer that, because it’s still a mystery to me. Maybe the best way is to talk about the mechanics of it. So, at the moment I have to write every Monday, I lodge my column at 3:30 on Monday afternoon. I’ll start thinking about it on a Thursday, so even though I only really work journalistic one day a week, I consume the media in exactly the same way I used to… I think about what’s this thing that is happening just underneath, like you’re looking for news. I like to think that’s it’s a form of reporting I do with my columns. It’s trying to go underneath and find a way of looking at something that will become an issue down the track.”
Do you feel more fulfilled now that you are writing columns compared to when you were a full-time working journalist?
“I figure everything I write now is an absolute bonus, because when I left The Age, I thought that was the end of journalism for me. I thought I had danced my dance. I had 34 and a half great years and I realised my ambitions largely. It’s an incredible privilege to still be having the opportunity trying to just assemble my thoughts and that a couple of people, probably just the editor and the opinion editor, think I still have something to contribute. Fulfilled? definitely. It’s amazing to me.”