It is an odd thing I know, but watching the behaviour of Leigh Sales in political interviews recently made me think of Nick Kyrgios. They are both:
Rather immature in outlook
Paid too much
Too full of themselves
Having tantrums when things don’t go their way
But then Kyrgios does actually have a bit of talent at tennis.
Sales’ efforts are sadly reflective of a dramatic decline in the quality of news and current affairs at ABC over the past half dozen years. She has been in this year’s election period merely the flag-ship presenter in an armada of one-eyed hacks delivering a slanted view on the ABC.
Australians need proper and objective analysis. We once could rely on that from the ABC. Interviews which probed and enlightened. Not the attempted gotchas. Not editorialising. You don’t have to be left-aligned to be worried about the unbridled partisanship we now have.
The stark contrast between Sales’ interview approach for the various Turnbull and Shorten interviews since Turnbull grabbed the Prime Ministership has been simply staggering.
It is not just the interruptions to Shorten and her general demeanour. There is her rudeness. Her ignorance of the issues. Her choice of questions. Her clear and obvious bias. The sneers and sniggers. It appears the job is beyond her. Objectivity is out of her reach.
The first interview with Turnbull after his ascension was sycophantic. It is said she went to dinner with him afterwards.
In the subsequent interview with Turnbull there was an exchange that went:
LEIGH SALES: … So then what was the point of knifing Tony Abbott?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, I don’t want to buy into that sort of – those sort of unpleasant metaphors. I mean, really, really …
LEIGH SALES: But it is that something people have been – no, no, it is something that people have been discussing in a policy sense?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: No, no, no, but – but we shouldn’t be using – can I just say we shouldn’t be using violent metaphors like that talking about – so there was a change – OK, there was …
LEIGH SALES: OK. I withdraw – replacing Tony Abbott.
Contrast that kindly response with Sales’ intro to the first interview she held with Shorten during the actual 2016 campaign (without Shorten being present to demand a withdrawal):
LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Today is six years to the day that the Labor Party took the extraordinary step of knifing a first-term prime minister, Kevin Rudd.
Today, one of the players centrally involved in that and then the removal of his successor Julia Gillard is the Labor Party’s leader.
Against expectations, Bill Shorten has managed to rapidly reunify the party …
In the interview with Bill Shorten following his Budget reply Sales whinged long and hard about the Labor proposal not to remove the temporary levy on incomes over $180,000 which was put in place to address the deficit – even though the deficit under the coalition has more than doubled in just three years. Surely if the levy was needed in 2014, it is needed more than ever now? Possibly even increased? But clearly the levy, more than anything else, irked Sales. Why? It affected her on her expansive salary package. But it would not, of course, affect the bulk of 7.30 viewers.
Was she interested in them? They now doubt were amazed by her “let them eat cake” approach:
LEIGH SALES: Let’s have a look also at your claim that Australians on lower incomes are getting nothing or are not getting enough. Overlooking the fact that they get health, education, roads, defence as a given every budget …
BILL SHORTEN: But is that something that people should be grateful for? That’s why they pay their taxes.
LEIGH SALES: Well that is why they pay their taxes, but they do get something in return for their taxes. They’re not getting nothing.
Note from the language she used, Sales is quite unable to identify with those of lower means.
Then there were some appalling Sales’ questions like:
LEIGH SALES: Just before you go, every poll shows that voters like Malcolm Turnbull more than they like you. Why do you think that Australians should vote for somebody that they don’t like as much as the other guy?
On that rationale, perhaps we should just have a beauty contest for PM.
And often Sales’ questions ramble on for longer than she allows Shorten to answer:
LEIGH SALES: The – let’s finish with a leadership question. The latest polls have you at 14 per cent as preferred prime minister with the two-party preferred figure being 53 to 47 in the Coalition’s favour. You took the unusual step of directly addressing that to point out that it’s the two-party preferred figure that matters because that’s where the election’s won and that Labor is still competitive in that. But isn’t it fair to say that when your personal numbers are low, as they are, that that would have to be acting as a drag on Labor’s two-party preferred figure?
BILL SHORTEN: Well I think that there’s an extended honeymoon for Malcolm Turnbull because he’s not Tony Abbott. I actually think every time Tony Abbott raises his head on one of his more extreme statements, he reminds everyone how happy we are that he’s no longer the Prime Minister. So there is an extended honeymoon.
LEIGH SALES: But you’ve got to be concerned about your own number and you didn’t address my point that it’s got to be a drag on your party’s vote.
BILL SHORTEN: Well what I’m saying is there’s an extended honeymoon, but all honeymoons eventually come to end. Malcolm Turnbull and his team are still yet to face any serious economic tests.
LEIGH SALES: In your speech in April, 2014 that I referred to a little bit earlier, you said that unless Labor reforms itself, it will remain in opposition and that if Labor were to remain in opposition that it would let the Liberals undo everything that modern Australia has going for it.
BILL SHORTEN: Yes.
LEIGH SALES: Given that view, under what circumstances would you stand aside for the good of the nation?
BILL SHORTEN: What is important for the nation is that we don’t have the policies which attack families and wage earners.
LEIGH SALES: Well that means that you gotta get Labor re-elected.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, look after the policies and the polls look after themselves. And I think what people want to see from Labor is us standing up and making clear where we stand.
LEIGH SALES: Well why do you … ?
BILL SHORTEN: Let me make it clear.
LEIGH SALES: I no doubt think that you think you’re doing a good job of doing that, so then why do you think you’re at the 14 per cent?
Only then after 234 words and six interruptions from Sales, she finally allows Shorten clear air to respond. And as history has shown, once again Shorten was spot on and Sales was way off beam.
In Sales interview with Turnbull back in December 2015 we had this exchange, amazingly with Sales herself promoting the idea of the, subsequently adopted by the Coalition, Company Tax cuts:
LEIGH SALES: You mentioned that people had been calling for that for years. Something else that business has been calling for for years is a cut in the company tax rate. Wouldn’t that be the best way to encourage businesses to spend money on innovation or collaboration with universities?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it is – it would be a way, but I think the – of course the problem is affordability. You know, we don’t – a cut in five per cent or 10 per cent in the corporate tax rate would be an enormous charge on the budget at the present time.
LEIGH SALES: But this government has previously told us though that doing that would stimulate growth and so it would actually deliver money.
MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, it would stimulate growth, but it would have a cost to the budget, Leigh. There’s no question about that, but – so affordability is – is very important.
Wouldn’t it have been good if we had an interviewer prepared to follow up with Turnbull how those massive tax cuts to big companies were now affordable?
Sadly no such luck with questions like that from Sales.
This exchange also features one of Sales’ favourite techniques when interviewing Turnbull used just once with Shorten. Beginning a question with “You mentioned …”. This phrase suggests that the interviewer was actually listening to the response. It also often allows the interviewee to expand on an earlier point.
Sales does not handle criticism well. She is an ideologue rather than an interviewer. I have now watched the 30 June 2016 interview which I had not done before writing the above. Despite her repeated interruptions, and her radiant right-wing bias and smirks, Bill Shorten shone. But he did not get a chance to fully answer many of her provocations.
There is a slim hope that Sales will soon be redeployed into something more suited to her talents – whatever they may be – and the money saved could be redirected perhaps to fund three experienced teachers in our schools! That would deliver much better value for Australia.