City Recital Hall, Sydney
25 November 2015
We all know Annabel Crabb as the much-loved writer and television personality who delights us all with her witty writings and her ABCTV series Kitchen Cabinet.
We’ve enjoyed watching current and former politicians such as our new PM Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop, Bob Hawke and Bill Shorten cook her a meal while her engaging and deceptively gentle questioning gets them really talking.
Annabel’s new book, Special Delivery, a spinoff from the show, has recipes for dishes – and not just the desserts she brings along to the politicians – that travel well and are ideal for parties, picnics and ever time you are asked to bring a plate.
Annabel is a thoroughly modern woman, who in addition to having a huge and very public job – and three kids – still manages to find time for cooking!
Our Conversation tackled the big question – what’s with the cooking, Annabel? – and the very reasonable point raised in her previous book, The Wife Drought, that everyone needs a wife. But we also spoke about politics and politicians.
City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney
Wednesday 25 November 2015
Anne Summers: Good evening, everybody, and welcome to tonight’s conversation with the fantastic Annabel Crabb. This is the fifth and the final of the conversation events that I’ve held this year, and I’m so glad that you can be here for it. Some of you will know that my previous guests this year have been, on this stage also, General David Morrison, footballer Adam Goodes, former Sex Discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, and, at Sydney University, Nimco Ali, who was our first international guest, a British Somalian campaigner against female genital mutilation, and tonight, our final guest, Annabel Crabb.
Those of you who have been before will know that there are three criteria that I use to select the guests. The first is, of course, that the person must have something to say. Secondly, what they have to say is not overexposed, we’re not sick to death of listening to them. While we might feel with Annabel that we see a lot of her on television, it’s worth remembering that she’s usually the one asking the questions, so we don’t really know a lot about what she herself thinks,.So tonight we’re turning the tables on Ms. Crabb, and we’ll be asking her what she thinks about various things. Finally, the final criteria, and in some ways the most important, is that in talking to the person, that we learn not just about them, but we learn something about ourselves, that they add something to the Australian story. We’ll end tonight knowing a little bit more about ourselves, I hope.
Before I welcome Annabel to stage, I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present. This is, was, and always will be Aboriginal land, and I thank the custodians for allowing us to meet.
Now I’d like to welcome Annabel. There are many things about Annabel of course that I’m sure you’re very familiar with but there are two things that I want to mention as I invite her on stage. These are two things that she has said about herself, that she clearly considers to be important, because she mentions them in her Twitter bio, on her Twitter handle. Those of you who follow her on Twitter know that she has almost 300,000 followers, so this is what she wants people to know about her.
The first thing is that she is a Kohlrabi fancier, always a good thing in a girl, I think. The second thing, and the thing that really attracts me much more, because I think this is admirable and there should be a lot more of it, is that I would like us to welcome Annabel Crabb – apostrophe law-abider – to the stage.
Annabel Crabb: Lovely, thank you.
Anne Summers: I do like a bit of law abiding when it comes to apostrophes.
Annabel Crabb: There should be capital punishment involved.
Anne Summers: Today, of course, is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, also known as White Ribbon Day in Australia, and I’d like to acknowledge that. I’m very relieved that our banner is orange, which is the colour of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I’m sure Annabel won’t mind my mentioning her ABC colleague, Sarah Ferguson’s, wonderful program, Hitting Home, which began on television last night and will be on again tonight. It’ll start probably before any of us manage to get home, but I would encourage you, if you haven’t already taped it, to catch up with it on IView. They are very, very important programs.
I don’t really expect that we’ll be speaking so much about violence per se tonight, we have many other subjects we’re going to touch upon, but I think it is worth remembering some comments that were made on this stage on 7 May this year by Elizabeth Broderick, when she said that violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. I think we will be talking quite a bit about, whether we call it feminism, women’s equality, gender equity, or whatever we want to call it, it’s the same thing, and we will certainly be talking about it tonight.
One other thing I wanted to ask you first, Annabel, one of the things that really fascinated me when looking at your biography, was something I didn’t know about you, was that when you were a student at Adelaide University in the mid-’90s. You were actually a Women’s Officer at the Students Association. I was very interested to read this – for a couple of reasons. One is because you are the generation that was entitled to assume in the mid-’90s that all these issues had been fixed and life would just be wonderful, so I’m wondering why you wanted to be a Women’s Officer.
I was also very pleased to read about it because I too went to Adelaide University, and that’s in fact where I discovered feminism, or women’s liberation, as we used to call it back then. I’m glad to see that my Alma Mater maintains its reputation for female insurrection. Perhaps you could tell us why you decided, why you wanted to be a Women’s Officer, and what did it involve?
Annabel Crabb: I was looking at that picture that we took together before just backstage, and I was thinking that I really wish I could send that picture of us to my university self, it would’ve been incredibly thrilled to see it. Samantha Maiden, my friend at Adelaide Uni, who is a political journalist too now, we used to prance around the campus holding Damned Whores and God’s Police. It was a very seminal text for us.
I don’t know, I grew up in the country, and I wasn’t really especially radicalized as a feminist on the Adelaide Plains, but I guess as I read a lot and I read a couple of texts, quite disparate ones, I suppose, that I found quite inspirational. I read A Room of One’s Own, I read The Female Eunuch, and I read Damned Whores and God’s Police. I don’t know, I got very interested in the issue of gender equality. I was into student politics a bit when I was at university, but I wasn’t very attracted to joining the Labor Party or the Liberal Party, and I never did, but I was very interested in feminist issues. I ran for the office of Women’s Officer. I can’t recall if it was a contested election.
Anne Summers: You can’t remember your campaign slogan?
Annabel Crabb: I can’t, no. They’re usually bad puns on surnames. God knows what I came up with for Crabb, but I think it’s probably best left buried in the time capsule of the 1990s. There were lots of issues on campus about conduct, representation, sexual harassment. There was a massive issue, I remember, while I was Women’s Officer, that was to do with the residential colleges, one in particular at the University of Adelaide, where there were some quite serious behavioural issues. That was probably one of the most hard-fought issues, I suppose, that I recall.
I was also there with lots of people who wound up in federal politics. Penny Wong was the doyenne at the Labor Club on campus. Christopher Pyne was there. I used to debate against him, university debating, because I was quite a nerd. Andrew Southcott, Mark Butler, Nick Xenophon was not long gone from that campus. Yeah, I met all the people who wound up being quite significant in my later career, which I was not anticipating at that point.
Anne Summers: It raises another question, and that is, what is it about Adelaide?
Annabel Crabb: You tell me, Anne.
Anne Summers: As somebody who’s also from Adelaide, I feel quite qualified to speak about this. I was just very taken the other day when there was all this brouhaha about your Kitchen Cabinet interview with Scott Morrison, which we’ll come to later.
Annabel Crabb: My sideline in humanizing monsters.
Anne Summers: Yes, that one. Of the many articles that were written about the subject, there was one by John Birmingham in which he described you as, and I couldn’t believe all these things that were being said about you, because he said because you were “nice”. The reason he said you were nice is because you come from Adelaide. I thought, “Only somebody from Brisbane could say this.”
Annabel Crabb: That’s true.
Anne Summers: Adelaide is, as I’m sure Annabel … No, she might not remember, because this was said in 1984, but when Salman Rushdie attended the very first Adelaide Writers Week, he made the comment that Adelaide is like Amityville or Salem and things here go bump in the night. He said it would be a great place to set a Stephen King novel.
Annabel Crabb: That’s so kind, these visiting writers. It reminds me of that great thing that, I think it was Clement Freud once said about New Zealand, where he said, I think it was Clement Freud, he said, “I went to New Zealand, but it appeared to be shut.”
Anne Summers: Whereas in Adelaide, and you told me backstage that your parents who have a farm, is it still at Two Wells?
Annabel Crabb: It’s currently ablaze of course.
Anne Summers: Two Wells?
Annabel Crabb: No no, my parents’ farm is not ablaze, I’ve checked.
Anne Summers: Under siege by bush fire as we speak. You mentioned to me that your parents’ farm is very close to where serial killers liked to dump their bodies.
Annabel Crabb: We did have a few when I was growing up. Look, it’s really just because I think-
Anne Summers: Is this Snowtown or another one?
Annabel Crabb: No, although there was a Snowtown-related person who was very sadly discovered nearby. I think it’s really just because, I’m not one of the group of people who thinks that this is the most interesting thing about Adelaide, so I’m answering this because you asked me, but because where I grew up, it’s on the Adelaide Plains. You drive north from Adelaide and you go through the industrial suburbs and then the tractor sales areas, where there’s 20 tractors in a car park and you can go and buy one there if that’s what takes your fancy. Then there’s a drag-way and then there’s some semi-rural bits and then there’s lots of market gardens and then there’s Two Wells, the town where I went to school, and then after that, it gets very flat and featureless and it looks very isolated.
How can I say this? If you are a person with a rapidly coolling body in the backseat and you’re driving and thinking you’re not experienced in this area, when you get to the bit where it all looks really, really isolated and it looks like nobody lives there, that is where you make your little … That’s all I’m saying.
Anne Summers: This is the thing about Adelaide, it happens there a lot. A lot.
Annabel Crabb: In Adelaide?
Anne Summers: In Adelaide.
Annabel Crabb: Oh, that’s over-reported. We just have interesting murders, that’s all. There are not more of them, they’re just more imaginative.
Anne Summers: When I was a kid growing up there, the Beaumont children went missing. What other city where three children just disappear?
Annabel Crabb: Wow, you’ve got to bring them up again, Anne. That’s the thing, and you remember them because that’s an awful story, and I think you would struggle to find a child who grew up in South Australia who wasn’t haunted to some extent by that story. It’s all part of what makes up your-
Anne Summers: Or at times, jealous.
Annabel Crabb: What?
Anne Summers: Those kids got to get away.
Annabel Crabb: I’m not sure that’s how it really wound up actually.
Anne Summers: Maybe that was in retrospect.
Annabel Crabb: That’s just so dreadful.
Anne Summers: Nevertheless, both of us made our escape from Adelaide and both of us used journalism.
Annabel Crabb: That’s true, as we scramble back to a vaguely supportable grounds for this conversation, yes, although you bolted when you were 17 or something, right?
Anne Summers: I could not wait.
Annabel Crabb: You went off to work in a bank, that’s how desperate you were. I’ve read all about you! I’d stayed and I went to university in Adelaide and that was excellent. I loved university. I studied Law. I, towards the end of my Law degree, just applied all my efforts to thinking of a way to not be a lawyer. In the end, that turned out-
Anne Summers: We’re very grateful, we’re very glad.
Annabel Crabb: My joke about my Law degree is it’s like a car with one lady driver that’s never left the garage. One day it might be useful. I applied for a cadetship at The Advertiser and then started working there as a journo and really just loved it from day one. I think I was in Adelaide until I was about 26, maybe 27. I worked at The ‘Tiser for a couple of years and they transferred me to Canberra
Anne Summers: Which is where, is it fair to say, that your love affair, ongoing love affair with politics really not so much began, but crystallized and became-
Annabel Crabb: Yeah, it definitely crystallized.
Anne Summers: … became the thing that you most enjoyed.
Annabel Crabb: Yeah, I was already there. I wasn’t obsessed with politics before I became a journalist, but I was interested, certainly. Once I started working as a journalist, I begged to be put onto state rounds. The State Parliament House in South Australia is right on North Terrace there, and it’s a small Parliament House, you know everybody, it’s a fabulous old building with nooks and crannies.
I was assigned to cover the Upper House, which is where you go if you’re mad, drunk, or actually dead. It’s quite the thing, the South Australia Upper House. I’d sit there, and I’d sit until, God, 2.o’clock in the morning sometimes, because they had lots of Democrats who were very keen to fine-tune things. Then after a while they had Nick Xenophon too, and he was the guy who stymied, at one point, the State’s privatization of the power assets, and that’s where he really got good at balance of power management.
Anyway, why did I say that? Oh yes, interested in politics, definitely, but arriving in Parliament House in Canberra is just something I will never forget. Just arriving there to work, because really, it’s an unusual place, internationally as well. Comparable democracies do not tend to have buildings that are purpose- built to accommodate politicians and journalists all at the same time. To have a press gallery that’s actually in the legislative building is very rare. It means, it makes for a very hothouse sort of an atmosphere.
There’s 4,000-odd people who work in Parliament House, and if you’re a journalist, you’re not only cheek by jowl with a lot of people that you admire, you’re a political journalist, you’re also cheek by jowl with your direct competitors and with the people that you’re writing about. Whoever you’re writing about or whomever you’re beating on the story or been beaten by, you will run into them in the lift, and that adds a little frisson to the whole enterprise, I find.
Annabel Crabb: Can I tell you a funny story about Bronwyn Bishop?
Anne Summers: No.
Annabel Crabb: Let’s put it to the crowd, yeah! Just there was this one, the most egregious instance of running into someone you’ve just written something dreadful about, apart from the day that I called Tony Abbott a suicide bomber, “a political suicide bomber”, this was during the 2007 campaign, and I was a bit, “Should I do that?” The next morning at about 7.00 am, my daughter, who was about one and a half at the time, got hold of my phone. I was making her breakfast or whatever and I could hear this disembodied voice coming from the phone saying, “Hello? Hello?” I looked at it, she’d called Tony Abbott on my phone, and it was just the worst possible day for that to happen. The one with Bronwyn was when … I’m not running down the clock here, I promise.
Anne Summers: What did he say?
Annabel Crabb: He was incredibly gracious about the whole thing, like they often are. With Bronwyn Bishop, it was the first Question Time after Malcolm Turnbull had gently relieved Brendan Nelson of the Liberal leadership and promptly relieved Bronwyn of her front bench duties, and she looked so cross. She was in Question Time sitting right up the back with this glowering expression, and she was wearing quite a loud jacket, it was a brocade-y affair. No, this is relevant.
Annabel Crabb: I described her in the paper as resembling a small, malevolent occasional chair, which I thought was very funny, right up to the point that I ran into her the next morning, and she was also very charming. Everybody’s got to get along.
Anne Summers: They do. We have to move along.
Annabel Crabb: I know. Sorry.
Anne Summers: We’re not going to spend the whole night analyzing your career, but I just wanted to set up a few markers, because it makes sense of the things you’ve done since.
Annabel Crabb: When are we going to talk about cooking?
Anne Summers: We’re going to talk about cooking, don’t worry, don’t worry, and there will be treats, don’t worry, having been bullied into them on Twitter by a certain person.
Annabel Crabb: That’s so good.
Anne Summers: I’m interested in the career that you have created for yourself. You started off not being a lawyer. You studied Law, but you decided not to be a lawyer, then you became a journalist, print journalist, you worked in Canberra, Adelaide, and London, back to Sydney, back to Canberra, I think. You made an incredible reputation as a political sketch writer in writing, calling people things like chairs and suicide bombers. You do have a turn of phrase.
Then, to everybody’s astonishment, well not yours, obviously, but to the astonishment of many of us, in 2009, after 12 years working in print, you made this huge leap. Someone called it a courageous, in a Sir Humphrey sense, leap from print to digital. I remember around my kitchen table thinking, “What the hell has Annabel done now? Why is she doing that?” To go from the prestige and the, in those days, apparent security of print to this great unknown digital world.
In doing so, you have not only invented a new career for yourself, which we’re going to talk about, but you’ve also become an incredible role model to a lot of other young journalists, because we know that they try to follow you in having this multi-platform approach to journalism, which is a really interesting thing I think. Why did you make that move? What were you thinking of when you did it?
Annabel Crabb: It wasn’t an especially easy decision at the time, but I was enthusiastic about digital platforms, I suppose. It seemed like a point of possibility and opportunity in a media landscape in which … in the more old-school regions of which there seem to be some fairly serious thunderclouds gathering. I had been really enjoying learning about how to interact with people online and use these new social media platforms to do different things, certainly around politics.
Something really important happened towards the end of the time that I was in the gallery, which is that the bods who control the chamber allowed us, for the first time, to take devices into Question Time. This is quite extraordinary. There’s quite a conservative policing, I guess, of what you can do in the press gallery in Parliament House. You can’t just walk in there without a proper pass. You’re supposed to wear a tie. For a long time, you had to leave everything except your notebook behind. But once you could take a laptop in there or a phone, all of a sudden, you could be on social media.
I’d been introduced to Twitter and I liked that immediately as a platform because it had the gnomic quality of headline writing, to the challenge of saying something pithy in 140 characters, something that really appealed to me. The idea of being able to put out some sort of live update of Question Time was something that I thought was a real challenge, and helpful in some way. It was immediately obvious that there was an audience of sorts for that sort of thing.
I’ve always thought with political reporting or political coverage, that you should use every opportunity that you have to reach every audience that you can. If you’re serious about being a political journalist, you’re, to some extent, in the service of democracy, which means that you try to unite as many people as possible, particularly people who aren’t necessarily already watching, with as many access points to the political process as you can.
Anne Summers: Did you realize when you made that leap that you would be going into television, you’d be doing all these other things?
Annabel Crabb: I already was doing quite a bit of television. I started doing Insiders in 2001. Increasingly, if you work for a newspaper, you’re always being phoned by radio stations, and people want you to come on television and talk about politics or whatever. That was happening anyway, and as there were more electronic platforms, you do that more and more. It already was the case at the end of my time at the (Sydney Morning) Herald that I was doing a lot of that stuff.
To be frank, what appealed to me about the ABC is I thought that the managing director [Mark Scott] was very, very, very interested in digital platforms, and his enthusiasm for what I was already doing was very infectious. He was a big part of my decision to head over there. I suspected, and this has turned out to be true of the ABC, is that it’s a great place to be able to experiment and do different things. There’s lots of people making all sorts of different programming. If you’re an enthusiast, you can go and get involved.
One thing I will mention though, which was actually highly, highly significant in my decision was that I had two children. Newspaper deadlines and small children are just really, really hard to juggle with each other. They go to bed at the same time, newspapers and children, and they have the same tendency to get a bit scratchy and emotionally needy at the end of the day. I thought the idea of working online and not being commanded by that hard deadline at the end of the day was a very appealing element in my need to start rearranging my work patterns to suit my other responsibilities.
That’s just been an incredibly great part of my career for the last 10 years. I thank my lucky stars that I am working in this day and age, because I think even if I had kids 10 years earlier, there’s no way that I could’ve done all this stuff at the same time as having a family. That is so central to my thinking, and very influential in that decision that I made.
Anne Summers: I think if we look at what you do, and then we’ll come on to your books and some of the things we’re going to be talking about there. One of the things though, I made a list of what, I called it, “All of Annabel’s Jobs,” because there are quite a few of them when you look at it. I’m sure you’re fully aware of this. You do TV, you do Kitchen Cabinet, you do this fabulous new thing called Canberra Al Desko, which if you haven’t seen that, it’s on IView, and instead of al fresco, it’s politicians eating at their desks, Al Desko. Some of them are only six minutes long, and all of them are hilarious. The one with Sam Dastyari cooking you prawns in his office without deactivating the smoke alarm was really, really ….
Annabel Crabb: He’s got a George Foreman grill in his office.
Anne Summers: That was pretty interesting. Apart from the TV, also you do regular appearances on The Drum, and you do election coverage and what have you, so that’s the TV. Then there’s the writing. You write The Drum online, you write a regular column for The Sun-Herald, you write books, we’ll come to them, then you do a lot of public appearances, a lot of interviews. You interviewed Arianna Huffington recently when she was here. You’re going to be interviewing Nigella Lawson next month.
Annabel Crabb: I know.
Anne Summers: Wow, that’ll be something. You do a lot of stuff at writers’ festivals and what have you. Then of course you do this regular podcast, you and Leigh Sales do this thing called Chat 10 Looks 3, whatever, I’m not quite sure what that is.
Annabel Crabb: You ought to come on it some time, Anne.
Anne Summers: Okay, okay. Then in addition, you are interviewed by other peoples’ podcasts, Wil Anderson. Then you’re very active on social media. There’s all these things happening. It’s not just that you’re working full-time, you’re working across so many different activities, and in addition to that, in the past decade, you’ve written five books and had three kids. I know you can’t ask a woman, “How do you do it?” I wouldn’t dream of asking her that. Instead I’m going to ask you, what is the modus operandi in your household that enables such widespread and high-quality output by you and other household members?
Annabel Crabb: Do you know what the trick is of doing a bunch of different jobs, and particularly working in multi-platforms? I hate to blow the secret, but if you do TV some of the time and you do writing some of the time and you do radio some of the time, then people see you on one of those things and they assume you do that thing all of the time. There’s an effect where you look busier than you necessarily are. I harness that, it’s good. So there’s that.
Anne Summers: You had described your life as being like that of an Italian pig farmer.
Annabel Crabb: Yes, that I use every bit of the day like an Italian farmer uses every bit of the pig, it’s true. That will come as no mystery to anyone who’s busy and does a few different things, you just make sure that you organize yourself. Anyone who knows me will just go, “Pfft,” at that point. You size up and triage every bit of time, and you think, “What’s this time going to be useful for?” You don’t waste time. If I can be with my children, I’ll be with my children, and I’ll fit my work around where everywhere I can, basically.
If you can work flexibly, which is one of, at the same time, life’s most crazy-making activities, and also most rewarding, then you can do things like I do, like go back to work when the kids are in bed, and I get up pretty early. Every single day is composed differently. That’s not an organized way to live, but I thrive on being a little bit over-busy. If I’m honest with myself, I’m often a bit stressed, but I think that’s possibly when I’m the most productive.
Anne Summers: You do have support systems as well.
Annabel Crabb: Oh God, yeah.
Of course, yeah, absolutely, I do. My partner works, he works a half-day from home on Mondays. Mondays are my excellent day because he does the morning drop-off and pickup of kids. We have an au pair who lives in our house for much of the time. That gives us a flexibility that otherwise we wouldn’t have. If you are fortunate enough, like I am, to be paid well for what you do, then you do have the capacity to get help where you need it. My nearly three-year-old child is in day care two days a week as well at the ABC, so it’s manageable. You have to get help. Otherwise you can’t do it all yourself. That’s not a trick of the light. That’s a raw mathematical equation.
I always am careful to explain that I have all that help, just, so A that I can continue to be yelled at on Twitter by people saying, “Oh, she got an au pair” I could do without the attentions. There’s one guy who contacts me about five times a day on this point and says that I’m a slave driver and that I hire slave labour rather than being a decent mother, etc. etc. etc. If you’re not upfront about that stuff, then I think you’re being grotesquely unfair, particularly to other women. If you try to pretend that you can do it all because you’re just so fabulous and well organized, well that’s bullshit. You should never pretend that, because it’s very rarely true, in my experience.
Anne Summers: Can I ask you a more personal question?
Annabel Crabb: Go, do it.
Anne Summers: Somebody from my generation looks at women from your generation, and that’s something that I’ve noticed, and you encapsulate it, and that is that so many of you have three kids, not two, not four, not six, but three, three seems to be the number, and you all bake.
Annabel Crabb: We all bake?
Anne Summers: My limited case study, one of whom, of course, is Tanya Plibersek, and I won’t name the others-
Annabel Crabb: Three kids, bakes?
Anne Summers: Three kids, bakes.
Annabel Crabb: That’s the whole nation covered then.
Anne Summers: It’s not a bad sample, but I know people of my generation, they invented freezers, and takeaway, gourmet takeaway to deal with the situation, so I’m just wondering why these … I’ve read, Wendy Sharpe says in your new book, your co-writer says in Special Delivery that you bake to relax. I’d wonder how you’d get time to relax, but leaving that aside-
Annabel Crabb: I do bake to relax.
Anne Summers: … what’s with the baking? What’s with the baking?
Annabel Crabb: I learned to cook from my mum. I really identify cooking as a source of quite deep happiness. I used to love helping my mum cook when I was a kid. Look, I don’t know what makes it relaxing for me. Everybody’s different. Some people would find the prospect of baking a cake or whatever intensely stressful, or baking for other people or cooking for other people stressful. I don’t. I find it, I don’t know, it’s like having something different to do with my brain.
I like quite detail heavy cooking, like I like to make pasta and then make tortellini or something like that. If I ever get heaps of time, which is not that often, I love doing that stuff. It’s because I think I can think at the same time, my hands are doing something quite rhythmic, and I can listen to podcasts or music or something. I think it’s just doing something different with my brain. It’s like yoga or something. I hate yoga, can’t stand yoga, just, oh my God, I can’t sit there.
Anne Summers: I’m with you.
Annabel Crabb: I just think, “What’s that clock going around way too slow?” I like that bit at the end where you get to lie down, but that’s about it. I just think, “Oh, I’ve been sitting half lotus for three minutes, lady, let’s crack along with this.” I think, “I could’ve got all this stuff done in this time.” I think the multitasking aspect of cooking really works for me too, because in my house, the kitchen’s the place where we all hang out, so if I get home from work, and I will cook at least twice a day-
Anne Summers: A day?
Annabel Crabb: Yeah. Yeah, because it’s something I can do with my children. They like helping and we’re all in the one place. Then at the end of it, there’s dinner, or there’s a by-product to this leisure activity, which you don’t get so much with yoga, right? It’s a win-win.
Anne Summers: True, true. Also, sticking with the personal question, I do have to ask you about the outfits that you so often wear, you look like a 1950s housewife, and I’m wondering whether this is-
Annabel Crabb: Significant?
Anne Summers: … homage, or is it parody? I’m wondering what-
Annabel Crabb: Sometimes, Anne-
Anne Summers: I’m wondering what Betty Friedan would think.
Annabel Crabb: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. No, I went and did a radio interview in Adelaide the other day, and the presenter, when I walked in, said, “Oh, Annabel Crabb, wearing what appears to be a curtain, as per usual.” Then he said, “What is this thing with you and the ’50s anyway? What is this fascination with the ’50s?” Look, I don’t have a deep fascination with the ’50s, I disapprove of much of the 1950s. I just approve of the tailoring. I also approve of the kitchen ware of the time. I find that a lot of the kitchen ware of the 1950s was built for real style, I love that. I collect a lot of that stuff. It’s not a homage to the ’50s at all, it’s more of an aesthetic thing, I suppose. When we made the first … We had a lot of questions.
Anne Summers: It’s not a parody?
Annabel Crabb: No. No, not at all. Genuinely, that’s the clothes that I like to wear. When I was at university, I was a big op shop kind of customer and I’ve never really stopped that. I love vintage things. I like old books, I like old furniture, I like going to auction houses, I like things that have been used and loved. I don’t like wasting things. Ikea depresses me. I like things that have a story. Half the stuff in my kitchen is my granny’s stuff.
I guess I like old things, but I don’t have any illusions about the 1950s one way or another, I just like the dresses. When we made our first series of Kitchen Cabinet, a lot of people say, “Who styled it?” and, “Who styled you?” or whatever. We shot it in my kitchen because we’re too cheap to hire a location. Oddly enough, even though it’s become more successful, we are still doing that. They were my clothes, largely, so that’s the inside skinny.
Anne Summers: Moving on to the-
Annabel Crabb: Do you disapprove, Anne, as a-
Anne Summers: No, I don’t. It’s-
Annabel Crabb: … feminist who frightens me, do you disapprove? You said you don’t think Betty Friedan would like it.
Anne Summers: I just wonder how you would feel if your daughter starts wearing clothes from the 1990s.
Annabel Crabb: That’s actually a really horrifying prospect, and thank you for …
Anne Summers: Because I grew up on the ’50s, that’s why.
Annabel Crabb: Yeah, right. I think that generations have got to let go of each other I suppose, don’t we?
Anne Summers: Probably, yes. Moving on to The Wife Drought, which was a excellent book you published last year, which I’m sure everybody’s familiar with. The basic proposition of that is that the Australian workplace is built around the assumption that every worker has a human, and usually female, support system at home. One of the great quotes from your book is: “60% of families with kids under 15 have a dad who works full-time and a mom who either works part-time or not at all. 60%! So who gets wives? Dads do.” This is the basic inequality in most Australian households where there are kids. I’m wondering how optimistic you are that this is going to change?
Annabel Crabb: I am an optimist by nature, so that’s my slant. I think that for one reason or another, and this is in the main, very valid reasons, this transformative force of feminism that has changed the way Australian women inhabit the earth has been an extraordinary journey. Women now work and function in very different ways from the way they did 50 years ago. It’s only 50 years since you had to quit the Commonwealth Public Service when you got married, as a woman. It just sounds so ancient, but that wasn’t very long ago.
During that time, there’s been, thank God, an enormous amount of focus on women’s experience in the workplace and how to dismantle the serious barriers that were there, and to some extent, still exist, blocking or frustrating women’s access to the workplace. We’ve had, ourselves, we’ve had lobby groups, we’ve had increasing awareness and great, great campaigners, such as yourself, talking about that and telling the stories and explaining the realities of trying to break into that system.
I think one thing that we have probably spent less time considering is the other side of the equation. If you see the big changes that have happened in women’s lives in Australia over the last half-century, it’s about a flood into work, mainly part-time work though, that’s where the big movement has been, not into full-time work, because of the other side of the equation, which is domestic work. The truth is that Australian women, on the whole, have held on to most of that domestic work and have taken on the part-time paid work in addition to what they’re still doing. The actual split of domestic labour between men and women is unbelievably unchanged over that period of time.
Now, that to me suggests that one thing that it might be fruitful to look at is the reasons why men don’t leave the workplace. I’m not saying that a certain proportion should just be shown the door, compulsorily, but I think there are a whole heap of structural and also invisible, more cultural, reasons why men still feel weird about asking for access to some of the features of the workplace that women want and assume that they all have access to: access to part-time work, leave, and so on.
I’m not suggesting that that always works out fine for women, I don’t think that’s all sorted out either, but I think that there are barriers and cultural reasons why men don’t take up those opportunities, even when they’re available to them, that it’s really worth looking into, because if you are primarily responsible for running a home, as well as working part-time or full-time, you will be more stressed than the person who you share a house with whose job that isn’t.
The stat in The Wife Drought that really … I went into writing that book because I knew in my heart that that was what was happening, just from just observing the bleeding obvious I guess, but I went to look for, became obsessed with this “who has a wife” thing. I use the term “wife” a bit ironically because it’s an old-fashioned sort of a word.
But when I looked at politicians and I looked at the differing experiences of men and women in politics and I hear that conversation that we have, shrilly, every couple of years about, “Oh my God, why are there no more women in politics, in federal politics? Why aren’t there more?” and we go through the whole thing about, “Well, is it the pre-selection processes? Is it that Question Time, they’re so shouty?” and blah blah blah, and I always think, well, I reckon it’s because men in politics are able to have families and prosper because they usually have these incredible spouses who are like the invisible suspension bridge under democracy, right?
Anne Summers: Backup system, yeah.
Annabel Crabb: Whereas the women just historically don’t get the same sorts of spouses. I think increasingly, like I can think of a couple of examples now of women with babies in Parliament House who have their husbands who have taken time, leave from work to be the supporting primary carer, and that’s great.
I think about Anna Burke, who in the year 2000 became only the second woman since Federation to give birth while serving as a member of the House of Representatives, 2000. Her husband was working for the ambulance service in Melbourne, and he said, “Look, I’m going to need to take some parental leave, because someone’s got to be there to hold the baby.” They said, “Well that’s only for women.” He said, “What do you mean? It says parental leave.” They went, “No. No. No.” He had to have a bit of an argument. In the end, they gave way, because just because no one had done it before didn’t mean that it wasn’t accessible to men. Anyway, that’s a-
Anne Summers: Now we have a breastfeeding Cabinet Minister, which I think might be first. Kelly O’Dwyer.
Annabel Crabb: Right, yeah.
Annabel Crabb: The first woman to serve in the Cabinet whilst raising a preschool-age child was Nicola Roxon in 2007, whereas men have been breeding like marmots in the Cabinet room for generations and nobody ever cares. Seriously, Christopher Pyne’s had four kids during his time in politics, Joe Hockey, three. No one ever asks them if they’re okay.
Anne Summers: Exactly, or how do they do it. You’ve described Kitchen Cabinet, which began in 2012, as your accidental second career. It seems to me that it’s a perfect synergy between your various skills. It brings together the politics and the baking and the niceness.
Annabel Crabb: Thank you, yes. The politics and the baking and the niceness.
Anne Summers: The niceness.
Annabel Crabb: You are excellent.
Anne Summers: You described in the introduction to Special Delivery, which is your new book, that the reason you cook dessert for the politicians is because dessert translates to, “I come in peace.” I’m wondering if that’s been the experience with everybody you’ve interviewed. I’m particularly remembering the  election interviews sessions you did with Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. Remember them?
Annabel Crabb: Yes, fairly clearly.
Anne Summers: I don’t know if you want to talk about this one.
Annabel Crabb: Sure.
Anne Summers: I didn’t run any of this past you in advance.
Annabel Crabb: Nor should you. Fire away.
Anne Summers: I do remember for that election special of Kitchen Cabinet, you made two desserts, one of which required egg yolks for, I think, Kevin, and egg whites for Tony, or have I got it the wrong way around?
Annabel Crabb: It was other way around. I thought it was genius. Egg-based diplomacy.
Anne Summers: I thought so too. Kevin didn’t see it that way.
Annabel Crabb: He didn’t see it that way, no. We casually, offhand, or I just asked, “Don’t suppose you people would like to do a Kitchen Cabinet during the election campaign?” They both said Yes! but then there was this, it was a series of complications, one of them being that rather than going and hanging out at this person’s house for six hours minimum, which is what we normally do, they really only each had a couple of hours to give. We did a lot of Camp David style negotiations of like, “What’s he cooking? What’s he cooking? Is he cooking something harder than me? I don’t want to cook anything harder than him.” Then we had to deal with the rather awkward issue that neither of them could cook at all, which was also a bit awkward.
Anne Summers: Speaking of wives …
Annabel Crabb: Right, yeah. We eventually decided that they could each have a daughter or daughters, that would get us through the cooking bit… because I didn’t want to watch either of them boil an egg for three hours or something . I just get through it. That was fine, and that was all equal treatment, so everyone was happy with that.
After these negotiations back and forth, I thought, “I’ll bring them together with eggs.” I took four eggs and I separated them, and then out of the yolks, I made custard for Tony Abbott’s Nutty Quince Crumble. We made him a kind of British nursery food type of thing, because he’s a real Anglophile and just, “I don’t care what it is, as long as I can ride a bike for 80ks on it.” Then for Kevin, I used the whites to make little Pavlovas with passion fruit curd and stuff.
Anyway, we filmed the Tony Abbott one first. I put down the dessert and explained what it was, and it was so funny, because I was saying, “Anyway, I made the custard, and the egg yolks for the custard, I used from these four eggs that I separated, and the other half, I’m going to make this thing for … ” I just lost him at about word four of that narrative. It reminded me of that cartoon about what dogs hear, and you’re kind of, “Now, Rover, you bad dog, don’t get on there,” and all that Rover can hear is, “Blah blah blah, Rover, blah blah blah.” He wasn’t with me on the custard technique at all. By the end of my explanation, he said such a look of just polite incomprehension on his face that I thought, “This is not a man who has ever questioned what is in custard.” It really went through to the keeper. With Kevin, I handed over the dessert and I explained what I’d done, and he fixed me with this steely gaze and said-
Anne Summers: We were all watching, we saw it.
Annabel Crabb: “Do you mean to tell me that you’ve given me Tony Abbott’s leftovers?”
Anne Summers: He wouldn’t accept them.
Annabel Crabb: He didn’t eat them, no.
Anne Summers: He wouldn’t accept them.
Annabel Crabb: I don’t know, I asked him if he’d like one, he said, “No thank you, they look too good.” Maybe he thought that there’d been some Abbott poison. No, I don’t know. I think maybe he just wasn’t hungry, I don’t know. He was solving the Syrian crisis at the time, remember?
Anne Summers: That went well, yeah. The Scott Morrison fatwa, which we just have to mention briefly, were you surprised at the vehemence and the hostility that you received over there?
Annabel Crabb: I was surprised by the length of time it persisted. We knew that when we put the Scott Morrison program first, that it would be highly divisive, and that some people would really respond in a really hostile way to it.
Anne Summers: You weren’t tempted to put it further back in the program?
Annabel Crabb: No, actually, no, because the show is what it is. We’re the same way with everybody. It’s not like a normal news political interview. It is designed to be a different approach. I stand by it. I think that when you talk to somebody in circumstances where they’re not under pressure, you allow them to talk about things that they wouldn’t if they were under pressure, which is what politicians normally are in the media environment. You see them, usually the interview situations are neutral to hostile, and that’s quite right, and I would never argue that what we do on our show would ever replace that. But this is the great thing about this broad media landscape we now inhabit, there’s room to do that stuff.
I think that when I ever meet a person or a politician, I want to see a few different sides of them, because we size each other up as human beings, and we do so by triangulating, I suppose, seeing them from a few different angles. I reckon that interview with Scott Morrison, you find out a whole lot of stuff about his previous life that explains a lot about who he is and the way he responds, both to policy challenges and to attacks. Of all the politicians I’ve ever interviewed, I reckon he’s the one who cares least what people think of him. I find that fascinating, because, I don’t think I could be like that if I was in politics. I’m fascinated by people who are like that, but that guy is sleeping like a baby at night, as far as I can tell, and it interested me.
Anne Summers: I guess that’s what upset people.
Annabel Crabb: Fine, sure, but isn’t that better to know that stuff? I don’t know. These people are like, they’re switching off, “I can’t watch.” If you really despise that person … There’s no doubt that there are plenty of people in Australia who feel very strongly about him and have done about a range of Immigration Ministers in the past. That’s a bloody horrible portfolio. It’s one that I would never, ever be prepared to do, because I think it’s a diabolical one to handle. Just ask anyone in the Labor Party who started out their period in government taking an extremely humane angle, and ended up doing exactly what they despised at the beginning of the term. It’s a tricky portfolio. I think that that program told me a lot about Scott Morrison. If you can’t bear to watch someone you despise being treated civilly, I don’t know, I think that’s a bit of a problem.
Anne Summers: We’re running out of time, I just want to finish up by asking you about another person who was a guest on Kitchen Cabinet, and he’s now our Prime Minister. By the way, he sent his apologies tonight for not being able to come.
Annabel Crabb: That’s kind of him.
Anne Summers: Very nice. You were pretty tough on him in your Quarterly Essay “Stop At Nothing” back in 2009. You actually won a Walkley Award for this. It’s a terrific essay. I reread it this week. You said a couple of things about him. For example, you described his winning the seat of Wentworth as a hostile takeover of the seat of Wentworth. You described him as somebody who’s not just prepared to play hardball, he prefers to play hardball. You also reached the conclusion, drawing on a very famous quote from John Howard, that the times do not suit Malcolm Turnbull. As it turned out, they didn’t then. I’m wondering what you think now. Do you think the times suit Malcolm Turnbull now?
Annabel Crabb: Without a doubt. I think they suit him much better now than they did then. Political parties are like cultures in an agar jelly sense I think. They are always, leaders are a product of and a reaction to their predecessors. You see that all the time, particularly when government changes hands. There’s that saying about Australian voters never electing opposition leaders, they sack governments. There is something to that. There’s something very organic about politics I think. People respond to the circumstances in which they find themselves.
I do think there was a structural problem with the Liberal Party post-2007, and I talk about it in the essay. It’s partly to do with the class of 1996, who were bourne in great numbers to power and into office, with John Howard, who then assumed and accumulated further, over the course of his time in government, this reputation for political genius. Matt Price used to call him “the evil genius”, which I think he secretly always quite enjoyed. They didn’t know when to let him go either. I don’t think he knew when to let it go either, and that was a really big problem for them. Then post-2007, you had this party that had become suddenly spineless. It was a invertebrate in some way because it had lost this defining person.
I think there was a suspicion of Malcolm Turnbull, and there is still, in some segments of the Liberal Party, that he was not of the Liberal Party. It didn’t help that he was constantly talking about, he’s a man who’d been friends with more Labor leaders than is probably strictly prudent for a Liberal person. He’d been in business with Neville Wran, he’s great mates with Bob Carr and periodically in touch with Paul Keating. This is the stuff that makes the-
Anne Summers: Sat at the feet of Jack Lang.
Annabel Crabb: Yes, yes, absolutely, sat at the feet of Jack Lang. They found him unnerving in that way. Also, don’t forget that when Malcolm Turnbull came into federal politics, he had this incredible aura of menace about him, partly because of the way he took the seat of Wentworth, which was like a hostile takeover. It was circumstances of absolutely sickening political violence. When somebody like that turns up in Canberra wearing the freshly flayed skin of their predecessor, people just get a bit freaked out by that. Some of the things that happened when he was Opposition Leader bore out those reservations, I suppose.
There’s no doubt that when Brendan Nelson was the leader of the Liberal Party, a result that I think Malcolm Turnbull found gob-smacking, that they would go for Brendan Nelson over him, and he used to make that clear by periodically ringing up Brendan and saying, “You’re hopeless, you should resign.” [Malcolm saying:] “Thank you very much. Kind of you.” You could sense his ambition just in the atmosphere.
Anne Summers: Do you think it’s going to work out better this time?
Annabel Crabb: I think that, look, the behaviour, it wasn’t that way over the time of the Abbott leadership. It is obvious that Turnbull was very frustrated during that time, but there wasn’t this impatience that you saw the time before. I do think he learned a lot from that experience. I also think, to be honest, some people are well-suited to being an Opposition Leader and some people are well-suited to being Prime Minister, they have different skill sets. I would never say that this as an absolute observation, but I think there is some evidence so far to suggest that Tony Abbott was an extremely effective Opposition Leader, less effective in office, and that the reverse might be true of Malcolm Turnbull.
Anne Summers: Just finally, do you remember what you cooked for him-
Annabel Crabb: Yes.
Anne Summers: … what dessert you cooked? I couldn’t find it.
Annabel Crabb: I made a Chocolate Mousse. I had a very young baby at the time and she hated going in cars, so we went through a phase of choosing guests for Kitchen Cabinet on the basis of whether we could get there by train. We caught the train to Scone to the Turnbull country home, and I took some jars with Chocolate Mousse, and then a raspberry-streaked cream and then shards of honeycomb on top. I said something highly insolent in my introduction. It was something like, “Like my guest, this dessert is smooth – something or other, -And exactly as rich as you think it is.”
Anne Summers: On that note, we’re going to move to audience questions in a moment. If you would like to ask Annabel a question, I’d ask you to move to the microphone. While you’re doing that, I’m going to come in peace to Annabel and present her with-
Annabel Crabb: I saw you sneaking this bag. What is it?
Anne Summers: … present her with my offering, having been goaded by her mercilessly on Twitter all week to cook something.
Annabel Crabb: I just thought that you bringing a plate would freak a few people out in exactly the right way.
Anne Summers: I hope so. I hope it’s been worth it. I’m the sort of person who’s quite happy to walk onto the stage of the Opera House and interview Julia Gillard, and without getting too nervous, but the thought of having to whip cream into soft peaks brings about sheer panic.
Annabel Crabb: This is so good.
Anne Summers: What I’ve done, don’t know if it’s going to work or not, this is the German Summer Pudding from Annabel’s new book, Special Delivery, big promo, available in the foyer afterwards.
Annabel Crabb: I cannot believe you’ve …
Anne Summers: I can’t either. I can’t either.
Annabel Crabb: I teased Anne during the week, I said, “Come on, make me an Anne Summers pudding.” Go on.
Anne Summers: Here we are.
Annabel Crabb: Here it is.
Anne Summers: The big thing is we’ve got to be able to get it out.
Annabel Crabb: That’s always the question with the Summer Pudding, Anne.
Anne Summers: Yes, I’d expected you to help me.
Annabel Crabb: I’ll be pleased to see how you make out. [puts arms behind her head]
Anne Summers: I knew, I knew. I knew.
Annabel Crabb: “Are we going to be able to get this out?” says Anne Summers.
Anne Summers: I brought tea towels and napkins because I knew it would be messy. I knew it would be messy.
Annabel Crabb: You see, the transformative power of food.
Anne Summers: Yeah, and here’s the vanilla sauce.
Annabel Crabb: God, you really have nailed it. Look at you.
Anne Summers: Complete with vanilla beans.
Annabel Crabb: Oh my God, it’s delicious. Well done. Hey, can I just, for a second, while you’re just bustling about in the kitchen, this is like a really weird dream that I had after too much cheese once, can I mention my co-author for this book-
Anne Summers: Please.
Annabel Crabb: … because she’s my oldest friend-
Anne Summers: Just talk amongst yourselves.
Annabel Crabb: … from the Adelaide Plains. We went to primary school together. She’s the recipe consultant on Kitchen Cabinet. The book has got a bunch of the recipes from Kitchen Cabinet in it as well, but also it’s a book, I don’t know, there’s lots of stuff that’s ended up in here about our friendship and our great Australian culture of taking food to each other’s houses. Here’s what I would do, I’d put that over first.
Anne Summers: See. Whoops! [Annabel intervened to help Anne turn the Summer Pudding out onto a plate]
Annabel Crabb: Yay.
Anne Summers: Just keep on talking.
Annabel Crabb: My friend Wendy is a scientist. She lives in London now, which is why she’s not here. You’ve done it!
Anne Summers: Sorry, slightly sticky fingers.
Annabel Crabb: That is brilliant! Here we are, do you want more tea towel? Look at that. Look.
Anne Summers: I’m sorry there’s no little flowers to sprinkle over it.
Annabel Crabb: Don’t apologize for one thing. That is superb.
Anne Summers: This is our Summer Pudding. We’re going to have a little piece of this while you answer questions.
Annabel Crabb: I just want to have this moment mounted and stuffed and put on my mantelpiece. I feel like I have lived a happy life now.
Anne Summers: Also, this is the Summers part of it. It was impractical to bring, the crab part of it was a bit too challenging, so what I’ve done is I’ve-
Annabel Crabb: You’ve got a crab in there?
Anne Summers: Crab dip.
Annabel Crabb: Oh!
Anne Summers: This is Chilli Crab Dip, you can take that home with you.
Annabel Crabb: You have covered every base.
Anne Summers: I’ve got to find my … Yes. [produces spatula]
Annabel Crabb: I once had one of those removed from me at Perth Airport because it was suggested that it was a weapon.
Anne Summers: Is that right?
Annabel Crabb: I will say this for you, Anne Summers, you put on a lovely spread. That looks perfect.
Anne Summers: You would say that.
Annabel Crabb: No.
Anne Summers: Audience members can come up and nibble at this later. There you are, Annabel.
Annabel Crabb: Thank you.
Anne Summers: Now can we have the lights up, please? I’m about to go to questions.
Annabel Crabb: I’m going to have a bit of that fabulous sauce as well.
Anne Summers: Oh yeah, sorry. This napkin’s rather stained.
Annabel Crabb: Can’t take the Adelaide out of the girl, can you?
Anne Summers: No.
Annabel Crabb: Thank you.
Anne Summers: There we go. Brilliant. Very Nigella. First question.
Lauren: Hi, Annabel. I’m Lauren from New South Wales. Just wondering which one of the people you’ve interviewed on Kitchen Cabinet surprised you the most when you met them in person? Who is the most different from what you expected?
Annabel Crabb: Some of them I know reasonably well already, but because of our revolving door of leadership, which works not very well for the polity more generally, but works really well for our show, because it’s constantly kicking up these interesting new people you’ve never heard of who are now suddenly the minister for whatever. I reckon in this season, probably Ricky Muir. We put that to air a couple of weeks ago. Like everybody else, I suppose, when he was all of a sudden a Senator, having joined the Motoring Party three weeks earlier, and there wasn’t even a picture of him to be seen, apart from this rather unfortunate YouTube video of him throwing kangaroo excrement around, just not confidence inspiring, I think it would be fair to say.
That day that I spent with him filming that program was really the first serious time I’d spent with him at all. I was really pleased with that interview. I changed my mind about him quite a bit. I think one of the things that actually he is really good at talking about is the process of changing your mind in politics, because it’s a bit taboo really, mind changing in politics, and yet he does it very happily, and I think responds like most normal people do, which is, “Oh! I buggered that up slightly, I’ll change my mind.” Hearing his account of politics, as a person, not a person who has spent their whole life trying to get there, but as somebody who wound up there rather unpredictably, I think it’s quite a valuable account.
Anne Summers: I should add that it’s very generous of Annabel to have agreed to do this event tonight, because we are clashing with her episode with Richard Di Natale, so we’ll have to catch up with that on Iview tonight.
Annabel Crabb: Please do.
Anne Summers: Tonight at 8:00.
Annabel Crabb: Otherwise you’ll get in trouble.
Anne Summers: Yes. Any other questions?
Annabel Crabb: I think it’s your turn on your mic, isn’t it? Oh no, you’re not a questioner, you’re a wrangler. Thank you so much. Anything on your mind? No. I’ll just leave this to you, Anne. Thank you for your service.
Anne Summers: [inaudible].
Belinda: Hello, my name’s Belinda. I’m from the Central Coast. My friend Heather and I are both very excited to be here tonight, as big fans of your work, and also avid listeners of the podcast. Yeah, woo. I was just wondering … I’ve read both your books. In The Wife Drought, and similarly, in The Misogyny Factor, you both discuss the issues of structural inequality that women face in the workforce. As a young woman, I’m currently halfway through my Law Degree and I’ll be beginning my professional life in a few years. I was just wondering what advice you’d give to young women who are beginning their time in the workforce, particularly with any experiences you’ve had with sexism or gender-based assumptions as women?
Anne Summers: Do you want to go first?
Annabel Crabb: I guess my advice is different for the professional and personal spheres. In the personal sphere, I always just think it’s, you should never assume anything, particularly if you’re planning to at some point combine work and family. I talk about this a lot because I’ve got three children. I know that lots of people don’t have children. Forgive me, this is my kind of thing, because I get up at 5.30 in the morning because there’s a two-year-old in my face, so I’m often thinking about work and family. You’ve got to never assume that someone else is on the same page as you necessarily. I think that sometimes people have expectations of how work is going to be divided equally and so on, and then when it starts happening, all of a sudden, a lot of very deeply established assumptions and traditions kick in.
I always remember when I was a baby journalist, Pru Goward used to run around the press gallery, and she’d come and bellow at us 20-something journos and say, “Your eggs are going funny, girls! Get organized!” She’d say, “Make sure you choose the right fellow, don’t mess up!” I thought, “Oh my God, crazy,” at the time, but quite right, I think, in the end. That’s not bad advice.
At work, you keep your eyes open at all times, not just for yourself, but for other people as well, because I think often people are living in their own little experiences at work and things are happening that maybe other people don’t know about. Keep your eyes open and always support other women in your workplace is the most basic thing, I think, that I’ve been just a huge beneficiary of in my career. People talk about journalism being, or media being, a male-dominated realm. I’ve always been very fortunate to have extraordinary female colleagues, with whom I’ve had really deep friendships and very productive professional relationships. It’s one of the greatest joys of my work in life. And good luck.
Heather: Hi, I’m Heather, also from the Central Coast. I was just wondering … Since you graduated university, the media landscape has changed so much. What advice or tips would you give to young students that hope to have such an interesting and diverse career as yourself?
Annabel Crabb: It’s more exciting and also more terrifying, I think, the media landscape now. I started by getting a cadetship at a newspaper. There’s a structure to that. I don’t think that my career has been massively structured, but the beginning part was, I learned shorthand, I got a cadetship. There’s an organization that will pay you for working for them. That’s much more rarely the case now. That’s the scary part. The exciting part is that you don’t have to wait for permission from an established structure to start producing material either.
I think that the greatest piece of advice that I would give if you’re wanting to be a journalist is, find out what you want to write about first, because you can be the funniest, most talented writer, but if you don’t have something that you’re passionate about or that you know slightly more about than the average person, or are in a position to find out more about and then use that, then you don’t have the guts of the content that you’re going to need.
The best thing I think is to either look around and see if there is a something that’s not being covered well by other outlets, or a gap, or something that you are personally intensely passionate about, then those are the kind of things that will help you in this sort of environment. It’ll help you write or produce material that people will want to read. That audience thing is such a crucial part of surviving in this media landscape.
Anne Summers: Yes?
Erin: Hi, Anne and Annabel. My name’s Erin, and my question, Annabel, is, what intimidates you with regards to your professional life, and what things are there that scare you? Do you look for those opportunities, and how do you deal with them?
Annabel Crabb: Every single time I write something, it’s … A blank page is what intimidates me. I don’t know, when you write something, particularly if you’re writing opinion and commentary and stuff like that, or you’re trying to write something that galvanizes in some way, I don’t know, sometimes you can get so deeply into it that you don’t know if it’s any good. I think constant self-doubt, it’s actually quite a productive thing, I think, because it keeps you critical of your own work.
In an environment where there’s just such a demand for content sometimes, you know that if you write something, you could probably get it published somewhere or whatever. You’ve got to be your own editor, in a sense, although I’ve benefited from great editors and still do in my career. It’s that fear of messing it up I think is the most intimidating thing that I encounter, and I encounter it every day.
Anne Summers: Were you ever nervous or intimidated or apprehensive about any of the politicians that you’ve interviewed on Kitchen Cabinet?
Annabel Crabb: Yeah, heaps of them. Sometimes when you’re discussing stuff that’s quite intimate and a bit dicey, because, again, it’s not a very conventional interview, sometimes I will, if I’m approaching something really difficult, I’ll usually talk to them about it beforehand, because I don’t want them to feel ambushed in their own home. There’s a certain chemistry about being in somebody’s home, and there are some really deep codes of courtesy that are at work.
I think even though obviously some people are critical of that technique, and I understand that absolutely, and I think that’s a perfectly valid point of view, I also think that viewers have a really strong sense of how you’re being with somebody. In a program like that, if you are rude or needlessly insolent or you cheapen their experience in some ways, it can make viewers feel uncomfortable about that. I guess some of my anxiety before we make the show is about managing that properly, and also about asking the right questions and not blathering on.
My great weakness as an interviewer is I know I’ve got hours and hours, so I just go on and on. Sometimes I watch myself in the long edit and I just think, “I am the greatest idiot in the world.” I just can’t even get a straight question out. I look at Leigh Sales and she’s just, “[fast talking]. Huh? What? What? What?” I’m like, “Well,” I take a giant run up, I’m like a fast bowler going slowly. There’s nothing more agonizing than watching yourself do that and not being able to go back and change it, because that’s the thing about television, if you don’t say it on camera when you’re there, you can’t backfill. That’s the beauty of print, you can go back and just, “I meant to say that.”
Anne Summers: Especially digital.
Annabel Crabb: Yeah, digital. Never wrong for long.
Anne Summers: Yes?
Speaker 7: Hi, Annabel.
Annabel Crabb: Hello.
Speaker 7: I wondered what you would most like the public to know about politicians and what happens in Canberra?
Annabel Crabb: That’s a really good question. It’s a really big part of why I wanted to make this show and had wanted to make it for years before we actually did. I suppose I want people to understand more about the human building blocks of what happens in Canberra, because I think our tendency with politics is to … From the outside, it looks ruled, it looks governed by rules. There’s Standing Orders and there’s cabinet processes and there’s party rooms and caucus rules and then there’s this vast public service that’s incredibly regulated. You look at it and you think, “It works to a system.” That’s true to an extent, but the truth is that it’s also deeply subjective. Every single day, any politician with any influence, or minister or whatever, will make a thousand large and small decisions that are directed, to some extent, by their own subjective experience of life. We’re all like that.
What fascinated me as soon as I got to Canberra was understanding more about why things happen when they do. Sometimes it’s about two people who work together well having an opportunity to work together. Sometimes whole things fall over because minister A and minister B can’t stand each other for some totally unconnected reason. That does happen. I think the more you understand about a political decision maker and what they’re doing there, what sort of thing fires their imagination, what sort of calls they’ll take from lobbyists or interest groups or community groups or whatever …
Why do we have a National Disability Insurance Scheme after so many years of disabled people in Australia being politically irrelevant? That was because of a couple of people who decided that they were going to make a big deal out of it. That’s a subjective decision, because they could quite as easily have gone for some other policy issue that needed attention. That’s what I want people to understand a bit more, just about this seething microcosm of choices that are made by people with life stories that have sent them in the direction that they have taken.
Speaker 7: Thanks.
Anne Summers: Can I just follow that up with another question about, I know, we’ll come to you in a second, the role of food in politics? The role of Chinese restaurants in Labor Party politics of course is legendary. That’s where all the Senators are chosen, down in Dixon Street. Even amongst the coalition, increasingly, restaurants are playing a key role in plotting.
Annabel Crabb: I know, a whiff of soy sauce makes them all a bit nervous.
Anne Summers: Indeed. In fact, I think one of the Al Deskos that you did … I can’t remember his name, is it John McGrath, is that his name?
Annabel Crabb: Oh, James McGrath.
Anne Summers: James McGrath.
Annabel Crabb: That’s the best one. This is Malcolm Turnbull’s numbers man. He’s a Queensland Senator, not very widely known of outside Queensland. He used to work for Boris Johnson. He’s got a touch of the Borises about him.
Anne Summers: I definitely recommend watching this one. It’s only six minutes long and it’s amazing.
Annabel Crabb: He self-comforts with Milo in times of great political stress. I dropped in to see him one night, and it was about two nights after the overthrow of Tony Abbott, and he greeted me, he’s still in this quite hyper state. He sat me down and grabbed out two kids’ plates, filled them with ice cream, Milo, and then this huge amount of Bundaberg rum on top. Anyway, you were saying something about that particular episode that struck you.
Anne Summers: The three points, that Milo ice cream and Bundaberg rum sustain this coup apparently, that was one thing, secondly that the plotters celebrated their coup that night by going to a McDonald’s drive-thru. What happened to fine dining?
Annabel Crabb: I know.
Anne Summers: Particularly the Coalition.
Annabel Crabb: It’s the Liberal Party. Seriously, you can tell, you can actually, there are patterns of where you are in the political spectrum. People on the Labor left are always Gourmet Traveller subscribers, they eat really, really nice food. They do. Then if you’re in the Greens or in the Democrats, you’re much more likely to have a macrobiotic approach, in my experience. If you’re in the Libs, I don’t know, I think they like cheap food.
Anne Summers: My point is, what are we to make of the thing that was apparently a lunch on Tuesday, it’s Tuesday Club Lunch, convened by Peter Dutton, and it’s the people who are-
Annabel Crabb: The monkey pod table.
Anne Summers: … the people who aren’t happy with what happened when Abbott was removed, so they have this Tuesday lunch to plot the return. Apparently at the lunch this Tuesday, the person, deposee, or deposed one, Mr Abbott, turned up with a cake baked by Ms. Credlin, so what are we to make of this?
Annabel Crabb: I am completely intrigued by all of this.
Anne Summers: That’s a very diplomatic word, Annabel.
Annabel Crabb: A couple of things. One, Peta Credlin is a mad baker, she is a really seriously good baker. I’ve got a picture of a cake she once made that is a reproduction of the AFP [Australian Federal Police] badge, but it’s all made in fondant and gold dust. She really can bake and she’s a bit obsessive about it too. I’ve asked her before if I can come to her house and get a sponge making lesson, but she hasn’t so far succumbed to my very tempting offer. There is this idea of gathering together, and all these plots, at some point, involve dinner. There are things that you can talk about over dinner that you can’t talk about at a formal meeting, because you’ve got an excuse for being there, you see, that’s your cover, “We were hungry.”
Anne Summers: Hungry for what is the question.
Annabel Crabb: In the early days of Tony Abbott’s time in Parliament, he and a bunch of other new Parliamentarians set up very briefly in the Parliament, in the Members Dining Room, something called the … What was it called? It was a table. As soon as I’ve finished talking to you, I’ll remember what it was called.
Anne Summers: Was it the monkey table?
Annabel Crabb: No, it wasn’t the monkey table. It was in the Parliament. It was called the, no, the something zone, the non-hostile zone or something. What would that word be? I don’t know. It was where, because normally in Parliament, in the Members Dining Room, if you’re in one party, you sit at that side, and the other party, the other side, and this was the … There is a phrase that I’ve just forgotten, isn’t there?
Speaker 8: Demilitarized.
Annabel Crabb: Demilitarized zone, thank you.
Anne Summers: Demilitarized, thank you.
Annabel Crabb: Thank God, thank you so much, whoever that was, all of you. Sometimes you just turn the key and nothing happens. The demilitarized zone is exactly what it was called. Apparently it got called off after not very many evenings because Kevin Rudd was the only Labor guy who would turn up.
Anne Summers: Your question?
Erin: Hi, Anne and Annabel, I’m Erin, I’m from Newcastle. I was just wondering, Annabel, as a journalist who works in many different media, what you see the role of print being and changing into being in a increasingly digitized environment?
Annabel Crabb: I think it’ll remain significant. I don’t think that print will ever return to being the automatic choice for the majority of readers. I think it’ll become a boutique and important part of the consumer experience. Just look at books, they were all going to be gone by now too because of e-readers and stuff, but there is a quantifiable quality of holding something in your hand and being able to flip directly to a page and scribble things on it and lend it and be seen ostentatiously reading it on the train, which of course you can’t do with your e-readers.
We always have had many panic attacks about every new wave of media. Remember how everyone was freaked out that television was going to kill radio, and everyone before that was freaked out that radio was going to kill print, and so on and so forth, all the way back to when they were executing people for translating the King James Bible into English? We are always twitchy about liberating sources of information. I think that print is part of the equation. It’s just that in this huge explosion of alternatives, it will never again be the main thing.
Erin: Thank you, Annabel.
Anne Summers: Thank you.
Annabel Crabb: This pudding is delicious, by the way, Anne.
Anne Summers: I’m wondering how we’re going to do the loaves and fishes.
Annabel Crabb: Don’t be anxious, it’ll happen.
Anne Summers: The other thing, both of us forgot to bring cameras on stage, so if anyone could take a picture of this, I’d be very grateful, because otherwise, no one will believe it.
Annabel Crabb: Come on, come on.
Anne Summers: Thanks, Marian.
Marian: My God, I’ve run out of room.
Annabel Crabb: What? Aw!
Anne Summers: Aw!
Annabel Crabb: That would never happen with a sketchpad.
Anne Summers: We’re going to have to leave it here and come back later. Maybe Dave can capture it, photographer. I think we’ve come to the end of our event, our conversation. I think it’s been fun. I hope you’ve all enjoyed it.
Annabel Crabb: It’s been delicious.
Anne Summers: I’d like to thank our sponsors, EY, we’re very grateful for their ongoing support, particularly from their partner, Lynnn Krauss. I want to thank our microphone wenches, Zaina Ahmed and her friend, Rachel Hughes, and to Justine Merroney and Christine Howard for making the event happen and for their excellent disaster prevention work, and lastly, to Annabel Crabb, for her generosity in appearing here tonight at the end of her, apparently it wasn’t that exhausting, national book tour, but nevertheless, it could’ve been.
As I mentioned before, Annabel’s going to be signing books in the foyer if anyone would like to buy a book and get her autograph, and I would like to close this evening’s events by thanking you all so much for your support during the year, and look forward to seeing you in 2016 with the next series of conversation events. Thank you very much.
Annabel Crabb: Thank you.
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