The past few months have been a turbulent time for the Federal Government as it deals with the fallout of multiple allegations of sexual assault and misconduct. What began as one story from a brave former Liberal staffer snowballed into multiple women coming forward with their stories, shining a light on a far bigger issue taking place in our nation’s capital and sparking a national conversation on the way women are treated.
As more allegations surfaced, the pressure on the PM to respond intensified as Australians became angry over the lack of accountability.
The PM held a number of press conferences, but safe to say none managed to strike a chord with Australians. With each appearance seemingly making matters worse, the PM had one last attempt at redemption. In this notorious media address, the PM appeared distressed, choking back tears as he apologised and admitted that he could have responded differently to the issues.
While this address had the potential to show a more human side of the PM, it was quickly shattered when he lost his temper at a journalist who challenged him on whether he had control of his ministerial staff. In lashing back at this journalist, he outed a vulnerable sexual assault victim in the process – which ended up being false information – but sparked an unholy war with the media outlets involved. Needless to say, the PM needed to do more.
In his first sit down media appearance since serious allegations were made public, the PM sidestepped 7.30’s repeated (more than 13 times to be exact) requests for an interview and chose to speak to the women of Australia via an exclusive interview with veteran journalist Tracy Grimshaw on A Current Affair.
When news was announced of the ACA interview, Twitter was quick to erupt with claims that it would be a free pass for the PM and a ‘softball segment’. But it was quite the opposite. What viewers instead witnessed was a ballsy and uncompromised interview which earnt Grimshaw a collective round of applause.
Signalling to the PM that this would be anything but a soft interview, Grimshaw kicked off by challenging him on why, after hearing of the sexual assault allegations from former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, he did not personally speak with her, or even reach out to her.
With the interview ‘power pendulum’ well and truly swinging Grimshaw’s way, she then went on to ask the PM why no one else had paid a price for what happened to Brittany Higgins, except Brittany Higgins?
Attempting to dodge the question, the PM blamed ‘poor processes’ for why colleagues did not support her correctly.
“She told people within days of it happening – why was she on her own? You don’t need processes to know how to act humanly and with humanity to what is a very human problem?” Grimshaw asked.
In a bid to get the veteran host back on side, the PM said: “Clearly the people that did know, did not do enough – I’m not disputing that.” Showing her experience and tenacity, Grimshaw shot back: “So why do they still have their jobs?”.
In another key moment of this gripping interview, Grimshaw asked the PM if he understood why this issue had dogged the government and hadn’t just blown over.
The PM replied that the allegations had taken him “deeper” into this issue than he had appreciated ever before. “Where have you been?”, Grimshaw exclaimed. “You are not on an island, or maybe you are in a bubble…”
The PM went on to say the incidents had been a “wakeup call”, to which Grimshaw replied, “It hasn’t been a wake-up call to 52 per cent of Australians.”
It would be safe to say that this interview was not what the PM’s media team had in mind when they chose the sit-down interview with Grimshaw. Having seemingly failed to connect with Australians in the lead up, this interview was an opportunity for the PM to share his opinions on what was happening on his turf and ease the rising tension from Australians demanding answers. While the PM did answer Grimshaw’s hard-hitting questions, it seemed to still fall short.
It’s interesting to note that while Grimshaw’s interview made headlines – it wasn’t the highest rating program of the evening, with the AFL and even Gogglebox rating higher. This in itself has some interesting insights. Either an exclusive interview with the PM couldn’t move ACA out of its regular ratings position, or we just couldn’t be bothered watching the highly anticipated ‘soft ball’ interview.
Regardless, it’s important to note that Grimshaw’s interview was significant. Not only did it receive a round of applause by Australian viewers who did tune in, but also very public praise by other networks – specifically, the ABC. 7.30 Executive Producer Justin Stevens tweeted that it was a “great interview” and ABC news boss Gaven Morris also congratulated her.
In what is even more unprecedented, 7.30 ran interview excerpts at the end of their program. With the PM choosing only to appear on ACA, this is an amazing example of the media landscape putting rules aside to ensure all Australians had the opportunity to hear the PM probed for answers. While he may not have been grilled as hard as he would have from the likes of 7.30’s Leigh Sales or Laura Tingle, Grimshaw still put him through his paces.
Grimshaw’s interview was also significant as it exemplified to Australians what an integral role journalists play in our society. While they’re quite often demonised by the public, journalists are the voice of the community. They are the middleman that consistently strive to find us answers. Amidst the horrifying revelations that have emerged out of our political heartland this year, their role has never been more important. Grimshaw showed us the power of journalism and what all good journalists can do – hold the government of the day to account.