Edition 281 – Four, Almost Five

Bob Hawke was the second. It was in my university days and being politically active, I was invited into the audience for the Nine Network’s Midday Show, where he appeared during the 1987 Election campaign. Of the four or so questions that were asked by the audience, the host, Ray Martin chose me for one of them. You’re on national television and you have the opportunity to put a question to a sitting Prime Minister. That was a lot of fun.

The first was actually John Howard, not long beforehand. I was granted a private tour behind the scenes of the old Parliament House in Canberra. A beautiful building that these days every citizen can now tour, it was a rabbit’s warren and the facilities were less than sub-par. As we walked by the Opposition Leader’s office, there’s the future Prime Minister, doing his own photocopying prior to Question Time.  We exchanged a nod and a hello.

An interest in politics has endured through my life and at a political fundraiser, a former business partner of mine, Peter Johnson and I bid for and won dinner with Tony Abbott in Parliament House in Canberra. At the time,  Abbott was Health Minister in John Howard’s Government. Another behind the scenes tour, this time of the big house on the hill, was fascinating.

Dinner was in the Parliamentary dining room, just the three of us. Over 90 minutes we talked through a lot of issues. Tony Abbott struck me as driven, determined and full of self belief. However, I distinctly remember saying to Peter, as we exited the building, that I hoped he would never lead the Liberal Party. He eventually would become Australia’s 28th Prime Minister, though I always felt he never stopped being Opposition Leader.

The fourth was a chance meeting on a pedestrian crossing outside Brisbane Airport. Another former business partner, Trent White and I were heading into the terminal after attending a conference when who should appear right in front of us but Kevin Rudd, our 26th Prime Minister. It was at the time of Julia Gillard’s reign, so he was cooling his heels as a backbencher in between PM gigs. What struck me was that he was surrounded not by a bevy of security personnel, but a lone advisor. It was at that moment I realised we live in a fantastic country where you can run into a former Prime Minister in the street.

The almost fifth, was number 29, Malcolm Turnbull. On a cool Sunday morning in June 2015, my youngest son, Fraser and I ventured into Rushcutters Bay to test drive a BMW 3 Series. Oddly, or at least I thought it was, they took down my details, threw me the keys and said “see you in half an hour”.  We took off through Darling Point, Double Bay and Point Piper, only to spot the future Prime Minister, who was then Communications Minister in the Abbott Government, walking his dogs near Rose Bay. Almost number five!

I’ve always believed that most politicians are in the profession for the right reason – to make a difference. I also believe that, in this day and age, there is more “politics” in politics and less policy, which is a shame. The conversation appears to be around personalities and point scoring, rather than a robust exchange of ideas.

The two that have most inspired me as leaders were the first two I met. Between them, they served a combined almost 20 years as our Prime Ministers. They each led governments that changed the face of our nation, as reforming and dynamic as each government was. Sure, they made mistakes. But for each to endure as long as they did, they clearly got more right than wrong. They were leaders that led by example


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