Well, Laurie this is a very awkward habit for me because I did have a written speech and I have just cast it aside again and my staff have just become apoplectic, again. You are right, 15 times I have had the honour of addressing the National Press Club. As you said, the Treasurer’s traditional speech following the Budget, I chose as well not to use written notes for the first time and that is because the National Press Club is one of the rare opportunities to be able to speak from the heart and to do it in a rather fearless way. I want to begin by saying firstly how much I appreciate the effort Steve Lewis has put into the production of this marvelous book. It is a marvelous read.
For all and sundry in politics, the first thing you do is go to an index to see if you are in there, and I wasn’t despite having given 15 speeches to the National Press Club. So, you have to actually read the book then and I did, and it is a compelling read. It is not – which is exactly as Laurie said – an expectation of a series of speeches just repeated. It is actually a wonderful commentary and it gives you an incredible understanding of the depth of the role of the National Press Club, of politics, but also to better understand Australian life.
Now, Tony Eggleton, when you set this Club up 50 years ago, it obviously had a very different role in politics. The fact that it was a luncheon club, where, I understand martinis where more likely to be consumed than any food at the time, illustrates that it was also a debating forum of sorts. In politics it is hugely important that you engage with people and engage in forums that are as much a challenge as a soft interview might be in another way. You know, I personally relish challenging interviews, challenging forums because it ensures that you have to be at your best and to be at your most convincing. The hardest interviews, the hardest forums are, in a sense, when you are most relaxed, when you are not prepared for the rigors of a debate that you would expect at the National Press Club.
So, this book in fact, embodies a lot of the history of the National Press Club but it also embodies a lot of the history of politics here in Canberra. I too was looking at that rather famous photo in the middle of the book of the first debate between leaders .One of the things that struck me was, not only was Laurie Oakes looking a lot younger and you look at some of the famous names like Richard Carleton and of course Ken Randall, but also Peter Bowers. Here we have Peter Bower’s son Mike, right here and it illustrates the fact that there are many people, even through the generations, that have given much to ensure that we have a free and open press in Australia and we are all custodians of that. We all have a duty to protect the values that are so necessary to keep Australia what it is and to strengthen Australia for what it should be. The media plays a hugely important role in that.
One of the great challenges for the modern media is what are known colloquially as disruptive technologies. There are challenge as much for legislators as they are for media companies, as they are for journalists. A journalist can no longer file a story at three o’clock in the afternoon and then head off for an early dinner, or perhaps file an early story and then head off to a long lunch. Those days are over. Whether they were good days or not, the fact is that we need to adapt and we need to change but we cannot jettison our values as individuals, or the obligations of our profession along the way. That is a great challenge for modern journalists. There is a temptation to be an expert in the 140 characters of Twitter, as you would be in writing a book or writing a very lengthy opinion – considered opinion piece for the weekend paper. You are meant to, as a journalist, be as articulate on TV as you are as precise with your pen. Or you are expected to spend as much time investigating what the truth really is, as you are to spend as much time face to camera on 24 hour news services. Journalism I think is a much harder job today than it was 10 years ago and 10 years ago it was much harder than it was 20 years ago but we all have an obligation to find the truth and to test the principles and to test the words.
The Press Club can be a very challenging environment. Certainly, I have had some moments at the Press Club. I’ve had a few highs and some lows, but it is a unique opportunity to send a message directly to the Australian people. To present your values and your policies but importantly, to have them tested – to have them tested. Whether it be in a debating format; I debated Julia Gillard on Work Choices before the 2007 election – one of my highlights, or perhaps failing to provide enough information to back up my costings before 2010 – that was a lowlight but the fact is that you always and everyday seek to work with the press to try and build a better and more productive Australia.
I want to say a couple of words about Steve Lewis because I have known him for a very long time. It was, in fact, back in 1987, that Steve Lewis and I led a protest against university fees; there is some irony in that at this very moment. I think all this time later, people would never have thought, in 1987, that I would be Treasurer of Australia and they would have never have thought that Steve Lewis would be sober enough to write a book.
So, we have both come a very long way but I do remember and I am sure he doesn’t, in 1987, when we took our message on university fees to Canberra. We came down to Canberra to meet with the then Minister for Education, Susan Ryan, and also to meet with Peter Walsh, the Finance Minister. Peter Walsh was very tired when we met with him and very blunt. We walked out thinking it was a hugely unproductive discussion about university fees in the Old Parliament House, but even more so, we thought something else was occupying his mind. At that very moment, people came running through the Old Parliament House building saying, ‘Bob Hawke has just called an election’. We ran into Mungo MacCallum, who of course was a famous journalist, and I still see that he is occasionally writing, and he looked at us and said, ‘you guys need a beer’. We both agreed and he took us to the bar in the Old Parliament House and I thought you know, journalists aren’t such bad creatures. Expect he asked us to pay, which I thought was an early warning about how to treat journalists when it comes to (inaudible) alcohol and food. But also, it was the fact that you know, our Parliament and its engagement with the community must always be open, and the Press Club serves its purpose in ensuring that there is freedom of word, freedom of expression. We also need to protect freedom of movement, particularly in this environment here in Parliament House.
Most importantly, we need the Press Club to continue to be a forum for vigorous and active debate to ensure that we get the very best. Not just out of the politicians, but out of everyone that has a view and there is every person in Australia and beyond, who has the capacity to make a difference, not just to the wider debate about where the world is going and the challenges that we face. I think everyone has an obligation to ensure that we protect freedom and the National Press Club does that and I think this book illustrates that fact. Thank you very much.