Legendary political reporter Laurie Oakes, 73, has announced his retirement, ending a 52 year media career.
Oakes, who has been with Nine since 1980, is officially retiring on August 18.
“To pinch an election slogan – it’s time,” Oakes said today.
“I’ve been reporting politics since 1965. I’ve been in the Canberra Press Gallery for 48 and a half years.
“I’ve been the Nine Network’s political editor since December the 1st, 1984 – the day of that year’s federal election. And I’m about to turn 74.”
Oakes graduated from Sydney University in 1964 with a Bachelor of Arts, joined the Daily Mirror and took over their state rounds in 1965. He joined Channel TEN in 1975 and five years joined the Nine Network.
Over the decades he has covered 13 prime ministers, 20 federal elections, 51 budgets and one dismissal.
The list of his exclusive stories includes: the Kirribilli leadership pact between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating; staring down Julia Gillard at the Press Club over the Kevin Rudd coup; the leak of the entire 1980 Federal Budget; the travel rorts scandal of 1997 which cost three ministers their jobs; and the Gair Affair, where Gough Whitlam tried to use a diplomatic appointment to shore up his numbers in parliament.
“The story that caused the biggest stink, I suppose, was in 1980 when the entire Budget was leaked to me two days before then Treasurer John Howard was due to deliver it,” Oakes said today.
“I met a contact in a hotel carpark on the Sunday morning.
“He handed over the Budget speech and gave me 15 minutes to read it.
“So I gabbled the whole lot into a tape recorder while he went in and had a quick drink, and then I transcribed it back at the office.
“That evening Mr Howard was at home with toddler daughter Melanie on his lap watching cartoons on TV.
“Then the news started and I came up blowing every detail of his Budget speech.”
Oakes said another story that garnered attention was the travel rorts scandal in 1997.
“I got hold of documents showing a minister had claimed expenses for staying overnight in Canberra at times when he’d actually been at home, and that he’d been allowed to repay the money secretly,” the veteran journalist said.
“Three ministers lost their jobs over that, and the prime minister’s chief of staff resigned.
“And there was the Iraqi money story after the 1975 election, when I found out that the Labor Party had arranged to get half a million dollars -an enormous sum in those days – from the Iraqi government to fund its election campaign.
“It involved Gough Whitlam attending secret meetings with shady Iraqi emissaries. A tremendous scandal.”
Most recently he caused a ruckus when he reported on Malcolm Turnbull mocking Donald Trump at the press gallery’s Mid-Winter ball – traditionally an “off the record” affair.
Nine News Network Director of News & Current Affairs Darren Wick wrote to colleagues, saying “It’s with a touch of sadness that this day has finally come. However, it’s also with immense pride, admiration and gratitude that we thank Laurie for his contribution to Nine.
“And that contribution goes far beyond what you see on-air.
“Laurie has been a leader and mentor to generations of young journalists, cameramen and editors throughout his career as Nine’’s Political Editor, in Canberra.
“He’s a perfectionist who sets the highest standards for himself. And, by way of his actions, he passes those ideals and a tremendous work ethic onto his colleagues. He has always led by example. No-one has been a better master at breaking news.
“He’s a father figure to the Canberra Bureau team and a ferocious defender whenever they’ve come under attack. Many a politician and their minder have been sent from the Bureau with tails between legs after foolishly daring to challenge the veracity of a report on Nine News. Occasionally sent packing with colourful language about sex and travel that we couldn’t actually bring you on Nine News.”
Wick described Oakes as a living legend.
“Yet above all else, Laurie is a terrific bloke. And a very humble man,” he said.
“I personally owe him a huge debt for the countless conversations where I’ve sought his advice on all areas of TV News and Current Affairs. I can never thank him enough for sharing his experience and offering guidance.
“We’ve built the revival of the Nine News brand around the powerful reporting of Laurie Oakes and the Canberra Bureau. He’s been our strength and our source of inspiration. Laurie showed us how to win the ratings again by focussing on just doing good journalism. No shortcuts, no cheap shots, no bias. Just honest, independent reporting, hard work and urgency. Get it right every time and the audience will always trust and support us.
“That’s the legacy Laurie is leaving with us and that’s the legacy Nine News will honour.”
Oakes, who was inducted into the Logie Hall of Fame in 2011, says politics will remain an addiction.
“But now I’ll be able to devote more time to reading crime fiction,” he added.
“That will be my equivalent of a methadone program.”
Source: Nine News