While some of us might covet an Access All Areas pass at a rock concert, for Annabel Crabb there’s presumably nothing better than having free rein at Parliament House.
Her new series The House with Annabel Crabb was filmed over 10 months with camera access so privileged it had to be approved by Department of Parliamentary Services and the Australian Federal Police. Just in case anybody watching has any sneaky ideas.
“Making this program involved really lengthy negotiations about having the rules suspended enough to let us go in there with a roving crew. That was in some ways the hardest part of it. It’s completely unprecedented the access that we had to all of those areas of the building,” Crabb explains.
“Under our agreement we submit our episodes for security vetting to see if any of our angles or footage is compromising in any way. They don’t have an editorial veto on the work but they do have the right to ask us to remove things that would compromise security.
“They are not in the dark about what we’re putting to air.”
“People often get quite a narrow glimpse of what happens in that building.”
The 6 episode series has plenty of footage to draw upon, with over 100 hours of footage. It begins with the 45th Parliament opening, from apprehensive new MPs to its operational workload.
“It’s a building that we all pay for and are affected by, but people don’t normally see very much of that building. About 90 percent of it is off limits to the public and to cameras,” she continues.
“Our main aim was just to take people to parts of the building that they don’t normally get to go to, and see the operations of the parliament in a different light.
“So we’re looking for little stories that teach you a bit more about how things actually work in the 23 hours of the day you’re not watching people yelling at each other during Question Time. I think that people often get quite a narrow glimpse of what happens in that building.”
Crabb seeks out the characters who keep the building working, some of whom have an employment record that matches its 29 year history.
“None of the parliamentarians have been there for the whole time but there’s an attendant in the chamber, who has worked there the whole time the building has been opened. And before that he worked as a labourer on the building site!”
In typical Kitchen Cabinet style, Crabb chats informally and brings humour, with politicians to gardeners, art curators to the head of the cleaning operations, Maria Ljubic.
“She was there the day that the building opened. In fact she was briefly famous because she rushed out to hoover a spot off the carpet. People thought she was the Queen and gave her this big round of applause. She’s the head of the cleaning operations and she is a total legend,” she continues.
“Sandy McInerney, the woman who runs the underground and a great character in her own right, says that if she wanted to shut down democracy she would just stopped delivering dunny roll and coffee.”
“I’ve never seen anything like the aerial shots before”
Under the building it hums with a massive infrastructure all of its own.
“It’s like a mini city so it’s got kilometres of underground tunnels which are off limits really to everybody who doesn’t work down there.
“And there’s a huge area called the ‘Cathedral.’ It’s amazing, it’s this unfinished cavity deep in the bowels of Parliament House –and there’s nothing going on in there!”
Cameras go inside the cabinet room, the prime minister’s office, are roaming the corridors late at night, and are carried by drones to help capture the architectural achievements.
“It’s like a work of art. The place really is quite extraordinary,” Crabb reflects.
“We captured all of the angles of the beauty of this building, inside and out, day and night and I think that’s a really powerful theme running through the program.
“I’ve never seen anything like the aerial shots before they are absolutely beautiful. It gives you a bit of perspective about this building which is owned by us all and was an extraordinary piece of design when it was built.
“We were lucky to be able to film in the chambers which is not ever allowed. I mean they let us take a drone and fly around!”
“We’ve got a close look at some legislation… which I promise is less boring than it sounds!”
But it wouldn’t be complete without Crabb’s own penchant for the legislative process too, with episodes that focus on the curious relationship between the Senate and the House of Reps.
“We’ve got a close look at some legislation going through the Senate which I promise is less boring than it sounds!” she insists.
“Essentially it’s about a group of people and the pushing and pulling of political will and personal circumstances.
“The two chambers are on the same level as each other. They gaze at each other over a distance of about 400 metres across the water feature in the middle of parliament’s central hall. You could sprint from one chamber to the other in probably 10 seconds if you’re fast but it takes a very long time sometimes for legislation to bounce back and forward between them.
“One thing that I really love about Australian voters is we have this brilliantly subversive sense of humour where we elect one party as the government in the House of Reps and then in the Senate we just create this nightmare team of crossbenchers to really make the government’s life hell!”
The House with Annabel Crabb airs 8pm Tuesdays on ABC.