University of Adelaide, 13 June 2019
In the re-furbished Students’ Bar at Adelaide University, we gathered to hear a highly entertaining chat by University Alumni, namely former Commonwealth Minister Christopher Pyne, and Journalist / Presenter Annabel Crabb, with Anthony Durkin acting as Moderator. Katrina Bochner, a Judge of the South Australian Supreme Court, introduced the participants (skipping some of Pyne’s lengthy CV despite his enthusiastic prompting for more) and then a large crowd experienced the voyeuristic pleasure of eavesdropping on a relaxed, droll, indulgent and wide-ranging discussion of Law School life and beyond. Mr. Durkin, such an expert at this thing that he really should have his own show, adroitly kept things moving and contributed his own bon mots as well.
Space, time, and the effects of a few glasses of wine, mean we can’t do justice to all of the topics covered in the 90 minute Conversation. We hope that a random sample will suffice:
‘Bronwyn Bishop (incidentally, no fan of John Howard) was the Norma Desmond of Australian politics. She wanted to be Prime Minister, or Leader, or something: we stopped her.’ [Pyne]
‘I hailed from ‘Two Wells’ as it seemed a step-up from ‘Lower Light’.’ [Crabb]
Both panelists agreed that a Law Degree was worthwhile, even though neither had pursued a career in private practice. (We ignore Pyne’s time at Corrs Chambers Westgarth, where he seems to have focused on binding campaign material and conducting political calls to talk-back radio). Crabb found a knowledge of the law had materially assisted her journalism (this must be true – as many lawyers will aver, a news report on any matter in which they act will almost invariably be somehow wrong), particularly in understanding constitutional issues.
Pyne found that the skills of legal analysis and advocacy equipped him to appreciate (and defend) both sides of an argument at a political level. Both enjoyed Law School life, perhaps preferring Law to the rigors of other disciplines: Pyne amusingly recalled spreading-out his economics notes and books at an exam, only to be told by the invigilator it was not open book (he scored 18%), and the two recalled various ventures in Student Politics, the borstal for those choosing public life.
On the perennial conservative bug-bear of bias in the national broadcaster, Pyne said that John Howard had once observed the ABC was a boon to the opposition benches, as they were at least guaranteed a voice – although perhaps that hearkens back to the days when the audiences were less balkanised. Crabb, a sometime employee of Rupert Murdoch, recalled tripping over the great man when covering the 2000 Olympics (even political hacks were pressed into reportage of the games then), and then Pyne one-upped her by recounting his various meetings with Rupert, such as at dinners, and a bizarre rendezvous at a private airstrip outside Canberra to explain the government’s education policy, such as it was.
‘At University, the HEX debt (student loan) was a good way to save money’ [Crabb] – ‘And we can thank Bob Hawke for that’ [Pyne].
Christopher was in the inaugural episode of Crabb’s hugely successful programme, “Kitchen Cabinet” (where she cooks, chats, eats and drinks with leading political figures). Pyne described his appearance on the pilot as risking ‘political suicide’.
For our part, we have never really understood Pyne’s veneration of Malcolm Turnbull. His political instincts always seemed savvy, but perhaps everyone has blind spots. Now that he has finished his career as an MP, Pyne intends to go into private consulting – the lucrative kind. He thus follows in Malcolm’s footsteps, but unlike that “miserable ghost,” we expect Pyne to remain his chipper and cocky self – and we are thankful for it. (L suggests he should make time to get back to the Parade to see the odd Norwood game). Crabb’s career, meanwhile, continues apace, and we look forward to more series where she charms our Leaders into having a few drinks – and hopefully letting their real selves show.