25 years in the gallery for Paul Bongiorno

Paul Bongiorno TEN 27526 lo resIf a week is a long time in politics, 25 years in the Canberra Press Gallery must feel like a lifetime.

But that’s just what TEN’s Paul Bongiorno will be celebrating tomorrow night when he is joined by PM Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, politicians and media at a special function in Canberra.

During his 2.5 decades in the centre of power, Bongiorno has seen them come and go -an analogy one could even apply to his years under various network television executives.

As he looks back on his time, he told TV Tonight some politicians remained memorable.

“There’s no doubt that people like Hawke and Keating stand out, or people like Peacock. The leaders do stand out. You can’t take it away from Howard or Costello, just in terms of Parliamentary performers that had impact,” he said.

“There have been colourful characters along the way. You can’t deny Wilson Tuckey in terms of his ability to make news, often for being a bit too critical of his own side. He played an enormous role in destabilising and bringing down Malcolm Turnbull. And in my time there was the emergence of Pauline Hanson which was quite a remarkable event.

“We had a very big win when we managed to convince her that the first Sunday programme she should do was Meet the Press.”

Bongiorno made the move from Brisbane to Canberra in 1988, working at what is now known as Old Parliament House. He remembers those days fondly.

“Because they were expanding News and Current Affairs at the time basically your office was your brief case and you sat down wherever you could find a space,” he says.

“Just across the corridor was the old Sydney Sun office, a Fairfax newspaper, and the spillover in that office was Alan Ramsey and the famous and late Peter Bowers. Ramsey is a particularly passionate guy, but with the shouting matches they would have we’d have to go and close their door and ours!

“By the time I got there in ’88 there was 4 ½ years left of the Hawke years and by that time Keating, as Treasurer, had decided it was his turn. I was there about 4 months when I got a call from the Keating office saying the Treasurer was about to go down to Melbourne and would I like to accompany him? In those days Ministers could take free of charge guests on the VIP flight, so I said ‘Yes, sure!’

“That was when Paul was waging his campaign wherever he could, particularly with new members of the Press Gallery, to tell me that he was carrying the government and the country on his back, and Bob Hawke was a waste of space. I’m paraphrasing of course. I’ve take out some of the expletives, but that was the message I got.

“But it took him until the end of 1991 to realise his ambition.”

Amongst those he nominates as helpful to his early days in Canberra were Con Sciacca, Don Cameron,  John Black, Michael Baume and John Kerin. He also had roles on the Parliamentary Press Gallery Committee and the Governing Council for Old Parliament House which was charged with re-purposing the building.

Bongiorno hosted Meet the Press for an amazing 16 years, following from David Johnston and Barrie Cassidy but now continues in a part-time capacity for TEN News as well as a mentoring role within the network.

“I handed over to Hugh Riminton 2 years ago as Bureau Chief and Political Editor. We’ve outsourced Meet the Press to News Limited but I will be a regular on the panel there and I back up Hugh in the 5:00 News and the Late News occasionally,” he says.

“Obviously I have scaled back my presence on TEN. But I have a pretty flexible arrangement which is 2-3 days a week.

“It allows me to do other things. I’m now a regular on RN Breakfast (ABC Radio) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I do other radio and I’ve accepted more speaking engagements. When you’re the daily news hack you just haven’t got the time to do it.

“I’m grateful that TEN sees a mentoring role for me, and is happy to have me continue playing a role both on and off the screen.”

I can’t help but seek some insight into the current political climate. Bongiorno draws parallels with the past.

“The first two years of this minority government have been the most power-toxic and divisive politics I’ve seen since 1975. I think it can be explained in terms of the last election being a dead heat,” he says.

“People forget Labor won more of a two-party preferred vote but there’s no doubt Gillard out-negotiated Abbott and Liberal took a note out of Reg Withers’ (book), the toe-cutter as the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who single-handedly destroyed the Whitlam Labor government. The difference of course this time is except for the first 6 months of the Rudd government they didn’t have the numbers in the Senate to destroy Labor. No doubt if they had they would have done the same.

“Tony Abbott is trying to effect a gentler, more persuasive Tony Abbott. Certainly you’d have to say Labor is a rank outsider to win this year’s election. One of their problems is they’re suffering from the same disease that the Liberals suffered from in the 80s of Howard and Peacock.

“People always said, ‘If we had Peacock we’d be better off, if we had Howard we’d be better off.’ So while Rudd is there he’s a lightning rod.”

Hopefully for his sake there will be no leadership spills before tomorrow night, so that the pollies can attend his bash in Canberra.

“It’s a surprise to me that the network wanted to do that for me, which I was quite chuffed about. The network heavyweights are coming down, so I’m grateful for that,” he admits.

“The fact that they want to celebrate 25 years while I’m still alive is a bonus.

“I understand the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition said they would be there, so that’s indeed an honour, along with a number of other pollies and colleagues from TEN and the gallery.

“I do enjoy Federal Politics. My good friend, Peter Harvey, used to say to me, ‘We’re paid to play.’

“If you like what you’re doing then your job isn’t work.”


  1. Secret Squirrel

    Thanks for the i/v, David. Bongiorno’s def one of the good guys. Stark contrast with the likes of David Eccleston and Jonathan Marshall who both got a proper serve on Media Watch last night.

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