I HAVE a confession: I’ve never done it. Apparently, everyone around me has and continues to, but I just can’t seem to crack it.
I’m something of a virgin. Despite decades in the news business, I’m yet to pop my “interview a serving PM” cherry.
A short, sharp “g’day” from Julia Gillard recently when our walking paths crossed beside Lake Burley Griffin is as close as I’ve come, but not close enough.
I’ve interviewed many Prime Ministers over the past 30 years, but as “has beens” – Whitlam, Fraser and Keating, and as “wannabes”– Hawke, Howard and Rudd. Plus a bunch of “would-be-if-they-could-bes” in Peacock, Hewson, Beasley and Latham. But I’m still to break my duck interviewing someone who is actually in The Lodge.
At Melbourne’s Southern Cross Hotel, early evening, on that “one day in September”, 1977, after a long and emotional day at the MCG watching North Melbourne and Collingwood draw the VFL Grand Final, I loitered into a lift heading for an “enforced” early night.
The lift contained a tall and broad-shouldered man who, in my “emotional” state, looked vaguely familiar. I told him as much, too.
He held out a huge hand and, with a booming but cultured voice, subtly suggested I’d obviously “had a good day at the football, comrade”.
He alighted at the next floor, no doubt smirking at the drunken bogan who failed to fully recognise the great E.G. Whitlam.
A trench-coated, cigar-puffing, Silver Bodgie came on my show for a chat during the 1980s campaign in support of a local candidate. But R.J.Hawke had to wait a little longer for the keys to The Lodge. The encounter didn’t count.
During the campaign of ’84, I interviewed John Howard and Andrew Peacock.
On Melbourne Cup day 1984, an agitated Peacock came in for an on-air chat with a dozen or so members of the press gallery in tow. I asked callers to be brief with the questions as Peacock had to fly back to Melbourne to the Flemington racecourse. The media pack had fun with that the next day. A quote in “The Australian” said: “Mr Welsh didn’t need to issue the brevity warning to callers… there were none.”
Malcolm Fraser has also been on my program many times since leaving The Lodge.
Despite all this, I remain a “maiden performer” when it comes to interviewing “serving” PMs. With time running out for Gillard to “do the deed” for me, it looks as though I’ll have to settle for Tony Abbott – and just lie back and think of Malcolm Turnbull!