Fran Kelly has announced that she will finish up at the end of the year hosting Radio National Breakfast, one of the most influential journalistic roles in the country. I spoke to her on Friday morning.
Fitz: Fran, congrats on your sterling stint! What prompted you to call it a day?
Fran Kelly: I was on air earlier this year and my partner sent me a link to a scientific article about the damage done on your brain by long-term lack of sleep, and her text had two words. “Stop now.” I read the article, and it frightened me to be honest. That was the beginning of getting out.
Fran Kelly is leaving the Radio National breakfast gig after 17 years. Credit:Andrew Meares
Fitz: As one married to someone who did a breakfast show for well over a decade, I know the strains. How did your partner cope with you doing this for 17 years?
Fran: She’s a journalist, and she was always respectful of the space, and saddled up for the ride. But I must say when I was offered the job, we were in Europe, and she couldn’t believe I would come home early for it. All up though, she and the whole household – with kids moving in and out over those years – could not have been more supportive.
Fitz: What are you looking forward to in your new life?
Fran Kelly: I want to have more time with my family and friends. I’ve got many grandchildren now. I want to spend time with them. A lot of my friends have texted to say “Great, now you don’t have to leave dinner early every time!” And I want to be able to sit through both acts of a play, and not have to go home early. It is the small pleasures, which I’m looking forward to.
Fitz: What was your toughest ever interview?
Fran Kelly: Around the same-sex marriage debate. That was very tough on a personal basis because I was interviewing people as respectfully as I could and as fairly as I could, who were basically criticising me, my lifestyle, my parenting values, the impact of my lifestyle on my children, on our children …
Fitz: Did you never burst out with, “How DARE you? I live that way, and what you’re saying is just wrong!”
Fran Kelly: I never did. And I never would because they’re entitled to their opinions. But I must say on a personal level, that was a challenge to keep my equilibrium. I will also say that since same-sex marriage was passed it has been wonderful for us all to feel we have the approval of the nation, that we have counted for more since that vote.
Fitz: Who was the trickiest politician to interview?
Fran Kelly: “Trickiest” is such a loaded word. I will say the most difficult to penetrate was John Howard. He could give a long answer without drawing breath … And I would say interviewing many energy ministers over the years has been hard – there’s so many deep facts to be contested in that space – and I have had to marshall my intellectual powers to retain the facts and be quick enough to bring them back into the ring. So I found those always very challenging.
Fitz: What do you make of the criticism that’s levelled at the ABC by those who say it has a left-wing bias.
Fran Kelly: I don’t think it has. Now, of course, we all bring our values to our work. But you know, all of us learn the basic rules of journalism, which is objectivity and balance, and that’s what I try to bring to the table every single morning. I’ve been dubbed “Climate Change Kelly”, and we’ve been accused of having too many Indigenous stories on our program. But that’s not a left wing bias. That is determination to make sure that we are covering the concerns and the policy impacts on all Australians, including the most vulnerable Australians. I think sometimes that’s where people get confused calling it left wing. In terms of politics, I can show you my text line every single morning, where I get accused variously of being “a left-wing stooge”, to being “the extra member of Scott Morrison’s cabinet”, so a lot of my audience are not seeing me as a left-wing journalist, that’s for sure.
Fitz: You used to be in a punk band, doing gig after gig. What’s your next gig now?
Fran Kelly: I wish it was a punk band! You never know. Journalistically, I’m still working that out. There is an election coming, I will have a role within the ABC around that.
Fitz: How has politics changed in the 17 years you’ve been in the chair? Is it harder to get an honest answer?
Fran Kelly: Yeah, I think it is. And I think it’s partly because of social media and the capacity for pile-ons. The politicians are scared of a loose word. And that’s why we are lamenting leaders with big visions, prepared to take the time to bring the nation along to a big decision. When John Howard was trying to sell GST to the nation, he didn’t take weeks, or month, he took a year to get people understanding the intricate detail. And it’s hard to see now, how they can get the time and space for that in the news cycle. Scare campaigns are so easy to mount.
Fitz: If this is your Academy Award speech, is there anybody you’d like to think apart from God?
Fran Kelly: I’d like to thank the Breakfast team in its many iterations because I’m just behind the mic as the front person. But what I do every day is a sum of all the parts of the hard work and the commitment of a band of journalists over the years that have a truly, truly wonderful commitment to the program.
Fitz: Did you watch Morning Wars?
Fran Kelly: Yes, but I enjoyed more The Loudest Voice, with Russell Crowe playing Roger Ailes. Oh my god. It was an explanation, a revealer, of how we get got to where we are with the Trump years. You could see the seeds being planted and how they grew and spread, and all the stuff that’s brewing that is so dangerous for democracy.
Fitz: To finish, I want to throw a few names at you, so you can give me your instant response.
Fran Kelly: “OK . . .”
Fitz: Malcolm Turnbull.
Fran Kelly: Big thinker.
Fitz: Kevin Rudd.
Fran Kelly: The apology.
Fitz: Penny Wong.
Fran Kelly: Grace under pressure.
Fran Kelly: Relentless.
Fitz: Scott Morrison.
Fran Kelly: Pragmatic.
Fitz: Fran Kelly.
Fran Kelly: Tired.
Famous one day, forgotten the next
My book on Sir Hubert Wilkins is launched this week. The extraordinary thing about this bloke is that despite now being the most unheard of Australian anyone has never heard of, he was so famous in his day. He made the front page of The New York Times on three days running! You can read The Sun-Herald extract here.
Joke of the Week
At brekky time, Baby Bear looks into his small bowl. It is empty. “Who’s been eating my porridge?” he squeaks. Papa Bear notes the same. “Who’s been eating my porridge?” he roars.
Mumma Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells, “For goodness sake, how many times do we have to go through this? It was Mumma Bear who got up first; it was Mumma Bear who woke everyone in the house; it was Mumma Bear who made the coffee; it was Mumma Bear who unloaded the dishwasher and put everything away; it was Mumma Bear who set the damn table; it was Mumma Bear who put the friggin’ cat out, cleaned the litter box and filled the cat’s water and food dish; and, now that you’ve decided to drag your sorry bear arses downstairs and grace Mumma Bear’s kitchen with your grumpy presence, listen good, ’cause I’m only going to say this one more time … I haven’t made the goddam porridge yet!”
Tweet of the Week
“Letting Barnaby Joyce decide climate policy is like letting anti-vaxxers decide health policy.” @tanya_plibersek
Quotes of the Week
“Australia currently, make no mistake, is a tyrannical police state. Its citizens are quite literally being imprisoned against their will. So when do we deploy?” – American conservative commentator Candace Owens arguing for an invasion of Australia.
“She wasn’t the kind of person who would chop off her foot and go AWOL.” – Melissa Caddick’s husband Anthony Koletti to Channel Seven’s Michael Usher.
“We don’t know what the ambition of the government is. I think what we’ve seen [is] eight years, three prime ministers, 21 energy policies, and now we’ve got the Prime Minister trying to wrangle a last-minute deal with the National party about what they actually stand for.” – Shadow Finance Minister Katy Gallagher on Insiders.
“I love the Aussies. Their history of rugged independence is legendary; I’ve always said Australia is the Texas of the Pacific. The COVID tyranny of their current government is disgraceful & sad. Individual liberty matters. I stand with the people of #Australia.” – US Senator for Texas, Ted Cruz, targeting the Northern Territory vaccine mandate.
“Nearly 70,000 Texans have tragically died from COVID. There have been zero deaths in the Territory. Did you know that . . ? We don’t need your lectures, mate. You know nothing about us. And if you stand against a life-saving vaccine, then you sure as hell don’t stand with Australia.” – NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner replies to Ted Cruz on Twitter.
“I’m suggesting they go green – Faceplant.” – ABC finance reporter Alan Kohler with his suggestion for a new name for Facebook.
“Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such the Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept and hopes you find a more worthy recipient.” – A letter from Tom Laing-Baker, the Queen’s assistant private secretary, turning down the offer of the title “Oldie of the Year” for her. Her Majesty is 95.
“I went to the boys, and they said ‘We are not playing you. We’re not taking you because you’re a girl, and you’ll be hurt by the ball if it gets you’. I came home angry and after that, I went to my father and said I want to cut my hair. So, I cut my hair and went back on another day, and they didn’t recognise me.” – Teenage cricketer and Sydney Sixers recruit Shafali Verma with the story of her sporting life, starting at 14 when she cut off her hair and posed as a boy for her dreams of playing for India.
“Don’t overplay your time in the limelight. It is time to allow your electors a choice. Denying them a choice between a green future, as opposed to an old, polluting one, will be seen for what it is: grandstanding.” – Andrew Forrest to Nationals MPs opposed to a package of climate measures being debated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet.
“I literally spat my water out. These are two people I’ve known quite well and the fact that I had no knowledge of it, like, yeah, it was quite shocking.” – Zach Bentley, who worked for Gladys Berejiklian when she was NSW transport minister, treasurer and later premier, telling the ICAC his reaction to finding out that Berejiklian and Daryl Maguire were in a romantic relationship.
“I’m sorry to say I think Australia is an outlier at the moment in its scale of ambition, and I say that as I know cities and states of the federal system in Australia are trying to step up and civil society is trying to step up.” – Former Irish President Mary Robinson criticising Scott Morrison’s rejection of a more ambitious 2030 emission reduction target. Ms Robinson and former United Nations general secretary Ban Ki-moon were speaking during an online forum of a group of former international leaders founded by Nelson Mandela called The Elders.
“Things being as they are, I still don’t know if I will go to Melbourne. I will not reveal my status whether I have been vaccinated or not, it is a private matter and an inappropriate inquiry. People go too far these days in taking the liberty to ask questions and judge a person. Whatever you say ‘yes, no, maybe, I am thinking about it’, they will take advantage.” – World No.1 Novak Djokovic once again being a prat and declining to reveal whether he has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I am so grateful to the fans and I have received so many messages this morning which I didn’t realise would happen. I am incredibly grateful for [sic] the Wiggles for giving me an opportunity.” – “Yellow Wiggle” Emma Watkins announcing that she is retiring from the group after 11 years.
“I would have expressed my concerns through the executive structure and into the minister’s office … Why were we pushing an allocation of funds to a local member with such scant information? I can’t see how this is anything but a conflict of interest.” – NSW Office of Sport director Michael Toohey to ICAC on what he would have done had he known Gladys Berejiklian was in a relationship with fellow MP Daryl Maguire when the latter was pushing hard for $5.5 million of taxpayer money for a clay shooting club with her support.
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