In the first episode of the new series of Kitchen Cabinet, you visit Joe Hockey in his share house. How was he allowed on the show when he is such a poor cook?
Normally I do have a rule about barbecues – that it isn’t cooking. Applying heat to a chop isn’t necessarily going to be interesting to the viewer who’s looking forward to some insights into culinary brilliance, but in Joe’s case I was so desperate to get my sticky beak into that house that I would have eaten anything. The house is really the key to the story here. The whole point of the episode, really, was just to have a look at what politicians do when they’re playing away in Canberra because I think the general perception is they stay in high-end hotels and milk the travel allowance, but the truth is some of them stay in the weirdest accommodation, shack up in spare rooms and in some cases have these crazy share houses.
One advantage to interviewing politicians in their homes is that they’re more likely to answer unusual questions. But does it also mean you have to be more polite?
Yes it does. I approach talking to them very differently to how I would approach a normal interview. One of the things I do is canvass stuff that I’m going to cover in advance if I’m going to ask them about something very personal. Like in the last series I asked Tanya Plibersek whether I could ask her about her husband and his time in prison. I mean that’s very personal, it’s not the kind of thing I can barge into someone’s house and demand answers for … I’ve got to be a good guest. It’s kind of a trade-off. The series doesn’t pretend to be an in-your-face tough interview format. The hope is that you can get different sorts of revelations and understandings about people using this approach.
Has anyone ruled a particular area of their life out of bounds?
A couple of times and you’ve just got to live with that. I don’t think you necessarily need conflict to get a good story. I don’t think I need to catch people out all the time, and I think sometimes the response to journalists is a bit of a suspicion of that approach, too. In a sped-up news cycle where to get a particular headline you need to shout a bit louder or have a bit of a swing against someone, I think there’s room to do things a bit differently.
Is one side of politics better at self-mockery than the other?
My experience is there’s this incredibly rich vein of black humour that runs through politics on both sides. I suppose if I’m biased I’m drawn to politicians that have a sense of humour, that are drawn to the absurdities of what happens to them on a day-to-day basis and the madness of their working life. Christopher Pyne is a great example of that – screamingly funny. After the episode went to air in that first series … the next day he flew to Tasmania and all these people came up to him at the airport and said, ”You’re actually OK,” and he was thrilled. I had an enormous amount of email traffic and I’ll never forget someone whose name was ”cave lesbian” who was in a high state of conflict and anxiety because she said she’d never be able to forgive me for making her like Christopher Pyne.
Is there anybody who does not emerge from Kitchen Cabinet as a more endearing personality?
My view is that all of them benefit. I think this is a very friendly format for a politician because what I’m asking them to do is explain themselves and talk about their influences and their lives and so on, and of course it turns out to be reasonably positive most of the time, but views are incredibly diverse. People who were completely transfixed by one person are left completely cold by another.
ABC2, Wednesday, 9.30pm
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