GQ&A

Ac­claimed jour­nal­ist Stan Grant on meet­ing the Tal­iban and mak­ing Mal­colm Turn­bull cry.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE -

Words are not deeds. You see this in Stan Grant’s eyes, hear it in his voice and sense it in his en­ergy. Af­ter three decades as one of Aus­tralia’s most prom­i­nent jour­nal­ists, half of that time spent overseas as a news an­chor or spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing the world’s big­gest news events, Grant came home to Aus­tralia in late 2012 in a ques­tion­ing – and quest­ing – frame of mind. Dur­ing his time abroad, he’d asked tough ques­tions of his in­ter­view sub­jects, but also of him­self. Who am I? What do I stand for? Where am I go­ing? How do I get there? Now, he wants to talk to his coun­try again – re­con­nect with its song­lines and mine its fault lines. At frst he did so un­der a familiar guise – journo crusader with Sky News, colum­nist with The Guardian, and cur­rent af­fairs host on SBS’ Awaken. Then things shifted. An elo­quent and im­pas­sioned col­umn about the vil­if­ca­tion of AFL hero Adam Goodes ex­ploded on­line, was hailed ‘a game-changer’ in In­dige­nous af­fairs com­men­tary and won Grant a 2015 Walk­ley Award. Then, Jan­uary 25 of this year, on the eve of Aus­tralia Day, Grant’s ex­plo­sive, off-the-cuff speech – given last Oc­to­ber to 100 peo­ple at the Ethics Cen­tre’s IQ2 Racism De­bate – was up­loaded. The glo­ri­ous rant went vi­ral – one well-known me­dia pun­dit even claimed it as “Aus­tralia’s Martin Luther King mo­ment”. Aus­tralia’s reck­on­ing had ar­rived and Stan Grant, proud Wi­rad­juri man, had de­liv­ered it. Today, he’s ev­ery bit the el­der states­man. Neat as a pin, fred up by new nightly show The Point and ready to talk. We’re in Glebe, an ur­ban In­dige­nous strong­hold in in­ner-west­ern Syd­ney. Grant lives nearby, with wife Tracey Holmes and their son Jesse, 14. His three older chil­dren with SBS host Karla Grant – Lowanna, 28, a psy­chol­ogy ma­jor, John, 22, a flm grad­u­ate and Dy­lan, 18, a gun foot­baller just start­ing univer­sity – are grown up but close to their fa­ther. Grant doesn’t look 53. Up close, in con­ver­sa­tion, he doesn’t hold your eyes. But he sure holds your at­ten­tion. As we talk, he gazes into the dis­tance as if he sees what he’s say­ing – not as a journo com­mits words to a page, more like a politi­cian carv­ing deeds into a con­sti­tu­tion. Still, words re­main his cur­rency – and they fow from him like a river in food.

GQ: Aside from be­ing an au­thor, Sky News in­ter­na­tional edi­tor and The Guardian’s In­dige­nous af­fairs edi­tor, you’ve just launched nightly news show The Point and made the Prime Min­is­ter cry in your first show. Stan Grant:

That was an ut­terly can­did, sin­cere, com­pletely un­ex­pected mo­ment. We were walk­ing around The Lodge and Mal­colm had shown us where he wrote the ‘Clos­ing the Gap’ speech and he started talk­ing about this lul­laby he’d heard in the Ngun­nawal lan­guage. He be­came som­bre. And as we were set­ting up, he said, ‘Look, I want to tell you more about this.’ And he started telling me about imag­in­ing a mother singing to her daugh­ter in a lan­guage un­der threat and how the daugh­ter her­self would have been un­der threat in life. And he just be­gan to cry. It was a re­ally hu­man, very touch­ing mo­ment.

GQ: But you’re a cyn­i­cal jour­nal­ist. When it hap­pened did you not think, ‘Elec­tion year equals crocodile tears?’ SG:

Any­one who thinks it was a cal­cu­lated po­lit­i­cal move to get votes doesn’t un­der­stand a) pol­i­tics and b) hu­man­ity. Peo­ple are cyn­i­cal about politi­cians and with good rea­son. There are a lot of words spo­ken about In­dige­nous peo­ple and a lot of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who talk about un­der­stand­ing the chal­lenges. But the fact is, when you’ve been told for much of your his­tory that you’re barely hu­man, that you don’t have the rights that other hu­man be­ings en­joy, that you’re not con­sid­ered good enough to be cit­i­zens, that your chil­dren can be taken off you, and that, es­sen­tially, your feel­ings don’t mat­ter… to have the Prime Min­is­ter very di­rectly

and very sin­cerely re­late to that, shed a tear, and say he felt the same way we felt and could imag­ine him­self in our lives was a pow­er­ful thing.

GQ: So is Mal­colm Turn­bull a prime min­is­ter for Abo­rig­i­nal af­fairs at last? SG:

I’m sick of prime min­is­ters leav­ing of­fce say­ing the great­est re­gret of their po­lit­i­cal life is they didn’t do more for In­dige­nous peo­ple. Bob Hawke promised a treaty and that didn’t hap­pen. Paul Keating ne­go­ti­ated na­tive ti­tle and gave the great Red­fern speech but left the job un­done. Kevin Rudd gave the apol­ogy but couldn’t close the gap. Tony Ab­bott said he’d sweat blood for Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and left us as far from eq­uity and equal­ity as we ever were. Mal­colm Turn­bull is a de­lib­er­a­tive guy. Any­one look­ing for snap judge­ments is go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed. First, he faces the chal­lenge of win­ning gov­ern­ment in his own right. Then he can show us if he’s go­ing to be the de­ci­sive leader all Aus­tralian peo­ple – black or white – want or need.

GQ: You’ve said Aus­tralia needs In­dige­nous politi­cians and it’s hap­pen­ing – Queens­land sen­a­tor Jo Lind­gren, great-niece of Neville Bon­ner, first Abo­rig­i­nal in Fed­eral Par­lia­ment, en­tered the Se­nate last year; NSW par­lia­men­tar­ian and Wi­rad­juri woman Linda Bur­ney now wants to be the first In­dige­nous woman in the Lower House. And Pat Dod­son, fa­ther of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, has be­come a La­bor sen­a­tor for WA. Stars are seem­ingly align­ing. SG:

It’s an in­di­ca­tion of the ma­tu­rity of the coun­try and the growth of the Abo­rig­i­nal po­lit­i­cal strug­gle. We’ve moved from the fringes to the cen­tre. There’s still the need for voices of protest – there al­ways will be – but there is also a need for peo­ple who can work within the sys­tem with prag­ma­tism. Now that we’re break­ing through, we need to take the next step and rise through the ranks to gen­uinely oc­cupy po­si­tions of merit based on our ca­pac­ity to speak to a broad range of is­sues. I’d like to see the trea­surer of Aus­tralia as an In­dige­nous per­son. The for­eign min­is­ter. The trade min­is­ter. Now we need to make that pres­ence felt in a mean­ing­ful way.

GQ: Pat Dod­son said, ‘See you in par­lia­ment, Stan.’ So, will you en­ter pol­i­tics? SG:

It’s some­thing I’d like to do and some­thing I be­lieve I can do. No one in that par­lia­ment has the broad range of ex­pe­ri­ences and ex­per­tise I do. I’ve lived in fve dif­fer­ent coun­tries and re­ported from more than 70. As a jour­nal­ist, I’ve cov­ered the great events of our time. I can speak about world af­fairs, global eco­nom­ics, in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics. Work­ing for CNN and trav­el­ling the world gave me a unique van­tage point on my own coun­try and deep­ened my per­spec­tive. I mean, how many fed­eral mem­bers have sat down to lunch with a mem­ber of the Tal­iban? Or stood in the blood of a ter­ror­ist bomb­ing in Afghanistan?

GQ: We know what you stand for. The rid­dle is who would you stand for? SG:

I know I’d be up to the cut and thrust of pol­i­tics. It’s a mat­ter of if I can see my­self in one place, one seat, one party. To cast my­self in with one lot on the ba­sis of some sort of ado­les­cent ide­ol­ogy is just ridicu­lous. Any­one with half a brain votes on the is­sues and the merit of the peo­ple at the time. To stand for a party, I have to ac­tu­ally ask my­self: whose team am I on? As a jour­nal­ist who’s been gen­uinely im­par­tial, that’s dif­fcult to de­cide. There’s a lot of un­der­whelm­ing peo­ple in Can­berra there to stick their hand up and keep their mouth shut. I’ve had ex­ploratory dis­cus­sions to say, ‘OK, you’re in­ter­ested?’ ‘Yeah.’ But I want to know what they think and care about. There are el­e­ments of all the par­ties I’m com­fort­able with, but where am I most com­fort­able? And what seat is avail­able – and winnable? These cal­cu­la­tions nar­row the fo­cus. The fact that it’s an elec­tion year makes it a more dif­fcult time­sen­si­tive de­ci­sion.

GQ: You’d be giv­ing up a boom­ing me­dia ca­reer to run. Is that a ma­jor fac­tor in your de­ci­sion? SG:

I wouldn’t go into pol­i­tics for an ego trip – god, I’ve had enough peo­ple blow­ing smoke up my arse of late. And I wouldn’t go into pol­i­tics for the money – I’d wipe two-thirds off my in­come. So there’s no fnan­cial in­cen­tive. And there’s no great yearn­ing for power for its own sake. What there is, is an ac­tual de­sire to be per­sua­sive, to en­gage with the me­dia, to say: I’ve seen all sides of the world and I be­lieve in the ca­pac­ity of Aus­tralia to come to­gether around what I con­sider to be the corner­stone, the most sig­nif­cant is­sue that sits at the heart of this coun­try, and that is the orig­i­nal griev­ance be­tween Euro­pean set­tlers and In­dige­nous peo­ple, the dis­pos­ses­sion of our land. I be­lieve I can shift that is­sue.

GQ: Does the level of scrutiny a politi­cian en­dures scare you? SG:

There’s no great skele­tons rat­tling around in my closet. I wouldn’t worry about the slings and the ar­rows.

GQ: And you’ve dealt with it be­fore – your very pub­lic stoush with Seven on start­ing a re­la­tion­ship with Tracey in 2000. SG:

Se­ri­ously, the way I grew up, the things I saw and dealt with, no-one, noth­ing, can touch me. Noth­ing. And add to that the real tough re­port­ing – go­ing out there, or­gan­is­ing an in­ter­view with the Tal­iban and al-qa’ida, en­ter­ing into their ter­ri­tory, you sit there and in­ter­view them. You don’t know if they’re gonna let you go. So what’s this? Some stupid ob­ses­sion with the me­dia… it didn’t change who we were. If you know who you are and you’re true to your­self and you’re an hon­est and good per­son, let the me­dia say what they like. I’m com­pletely de­tached from that stuff.

GQ: Fair enough. You of­ten men­tion what you’ve seen – the death and the de­struc­tion. Has such taken a toll? SG:

When you’re on the front­line, re­port­ing takes a toll. The hours are long. There’s con­stant anx­i­ety... For me it be­came a slow burn – the de­spair of child­hood col­lided with cur­rent af­fairs and con­tem­po­rary events. Refugees in Pak­istan looked like peo­ple I grew up with, re­moved from cer­tainty and hope but with the same de­sire to sur­vive. All those years abroad as a re­porter I was liv­ing my own his­tory in real time. And that con­nec­tion brought on a deep pe­riod of trauma. I was de­pressed. I lost the joy of life. I lost my verve. I wasn’t sleep­ing. It took a long time to un­ravel all that stuff. But now I have a real sense of pur­pose. When you have that, noth­ing can touch you. Big­ots can have a go at me but I’m im­per­vi­ous – I couldn’t give a damn. I’m just mov­ing on, do­ing what I want to do, talk­ing about the things I want to talk about.

GQ: You joined ABC TV in 1987 as fed­eral po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent. Is that where you fell in love with pol­i­tics? SG:

Those ex­tra­or­di­nary Hawke-keating years. La­bor was lost. Then Hawke comes in, leads them to gov­ern­ment and forms the sin­gle great­est cab­i­net in Aus­tralian his­tory, the best minds of a gen­er­a­tion. The pop­u­lar ap­peal of Hawke, the glad­i­a­to­rial Keating, bril­liance across the board in John But­ton, Kim Bea­z­ley,

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