This conversation is not meant to be a traditional political interview.
It is a discussion between John Keane, a leading academic, and Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens about developments in Australian, and international, public life.
Keane: Bob, for my sins I’m not a politician or a journalist.
Brown: That means you’re further up the social approval scale then.
Keane: I may rank a fraction higher than real estate agents, but following your recent steamy encounter with the press gallery I wanted to talk to you frankly, not about the dollar price of carbon or Cate Blanchett, but about the media landscape in which politics is operating today in Australia.
I thought the most interesting thing about your encounter was the way it began with koalas and ended up exposing some basic rules of the media game. And at the end of this press conference, I remember that you said, defiantly, there’ll be more of it, get used to it.
What on earth were you up to? Surely your attack was pre-planned?
Brown: No it wasn’t pre-planned at all. I’d been to the Koala Inquiry, which I set up. In 1927, two million were shot in Queensland alone. The total population in Australia now is less than 100,000 and they are headed downhill at a great rate.
Anyway, we’d just had some frustrating evidence before the inquiry but I came down to a pre-planned press conference. I got my statement out about koalas, and it was straight into all the other issues of the day, which you expect.
[On] the day that we announced we had gone into an arrangement to form government with Gillard, not Abbott, when we had a press conference. The Australian had three journalists spread around, who were just hammering us. Not in a way which was aimed to get information but in a way which was accusatory in its nature even though there were questions attached and that’s been the case ever since.
On the day before [the agreement] we had a front-page editorial dressed up as a news story from Denis Shanahan saying there should be a new election. Then a few days later we had an editorial that the Greens should be “destroyed”. And then we had Rupert himself in Australia saying “the bloody Greens”.
They just picked a bad day. I have been giving them a fair riposte at various press conferences since then. I have had three of them come to me and say: “Why are you being hard on me or us, why do you ask us questions?”
And I say because this is a free and open democracy and I must say that when I question them about why they work for The Australian, on each occasion, they’ve said to me: “Because it pays more money.”
These are things along the road but when it came to that particular press conference, I said to them don’t be so tetchy, but maybe I was being a bit tetchy. There are issues like carbon and koalas and so on that are important.
I must say there’s three or four of them [journalists] each time, they signal and talk with each other, they come with a planned strategy and if they can get a phrase out of you that they think is suitable for critique the next day, they actually nod at each other, it is like they have got something in the bag.
I see all this happening and on that day it just developed as it did. Let me just say though, there was zero plan, it just happened.
Keane: What was interesting was the way you raised principles like their lack of balance, their habit of substituting well-researched views with opinion and the fact that you complained openly about the immaturity of our media compared with other parts of the world. These are pretty fundamental objections.
You must now know that you were biting the very hand that feeds you?
Brown: I do.
Picture by The Australian, during that