Growing up with two parents who’d both escaped authoritarian regimes meant that for a long time I was quite afraid of authority figures.
Even though I’m now an adult with hundreds of hours of therapy under my belt, I still get a little wobbly when I approach a big security desk like the one you find downstairs at Gladys Berejiklian’s office. Sensing my apprehension at stepping forward, my Executive Producer Rachel Barrett strode towards the desk and announced with a commanding posture “We’re here to see the Premier”.
“Here’s your passes” was the stern response from the burly gatekeeper, and before you know it we were in the lift to visit the Premier of NSW and Member for Willoughby, Gladys Berejiklian.
A few weeks ago, her staff had reached out to us with the idea that she would make a great guest on the podcast with higher and higher profile people reaching out to us – I guess it’s a testament to not only the size of the audience we’ve built but also the authenticity of conversations that we’ve achieved.
Our first meeting was unable to happen when the Premier rightly needed to take time to visit the disaster zones during the horrific bushfires of the summer, so Rachel and I were full of anticipation for the conversation.
Nothing was off limits, everything was up for discussion.
So with an open brief like that – what do you do with the precious time you have with her?
Considering that I only had an hour with the Premier, I felt that to explore things relating to pill-testing would not be a clever use of time. I’m not about to change her mind on this, nor is she going to say anything that’s not been heard before.
So what do you talk about when you have an audience with the most powerful person in the state?
I thought long and hard about this – and concluded that the best thing I could do was to demonstrate that two people from different places on the political spectrum could find some common ideological ground during a conversation.
To try to have a connection with someone that I don’t particularly see eye to eye with on a number of issues – such as pill testing – but to connect with her on a human level in the hope that we could show how reactionary online political discourse, cancel culture and comment trolling is not what the real world is.
It might feel like the real world because you see it in the same place as you see all the reporting of the real world – but the truth is, it’s not the real world.
In truth nothing of what you see online is a reflection of the real world. It’s an approximation, a simulation if you will.
When you see a report on a sports game, you don’t smell the pies, hear the cheers, feel the pressure of other people up against your body as you push through the gates, see the sweat on the faces of the players or wince when you see a hard tackle up close. You hear a few lines about which team won by how many points and you have to fill in the blanks based on your own experience of similar situations.
Similarly, if you see a report about a war – if you live in Australia chances are you’ve never had to be in a war zone – so the confusion, the dust, the blood, the fear, the chaos, the lack of clear direction about who’s doing the right thing – you don’t know any of that. You just see pictures of people who look like they’re from another country holding weapons we don’t see on our streets, shouting in a language that’s not English – it may as well be a Cut Scene from a video game. It’s not real to you if you’ve no experience of any of those things. It’s not the full story – nor can it ever be.
When you react to it, or any news story – you’re not reacting to what’s happened – you’re reacting to the blanks you’ve filled in based on your own experience.
So when we see a false meme that claims toilet paper is going to run out, or a You Tube video that makes baseless claims about how this is either the worst thing to happen to humanity or nothing to worry about – understand that those things aren’t real either.
There’s probably tiny grains of truth in things like that – however the creator of those memes or those videos has inserted their own personalised reactionary fear into it, and is putting it across as actual news.
In crisis times people look to leaders to let them know what to do.
So let’s talk to a person who’s an elected leader.
A person like any other leader that we rarely hear from outside of an eight or ten second soundbite on the news if that.
So all cards on the table so you know where I come from before we get into this chat.
One thing people tend to get quite wrong about me, is their assumptions about my place on the political spectrum.
To be clear – I am not a conservative, I disagree with a number of policies of Australian conservative parties, particularly around Climate Adaption policy and treatment of refugees – but I’m grateful for things that the Liberal party has done for this country – in particular getting guns off the streets after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996.
Also, I don’t particularly like everything that the Labor party stands for. We need to be at 50% reduction of carbon emissions by 2030, we need to stop exporting coal both from a climate and an economics standpoint, that’s not a personal preference that what the science projects and what the best economic projections show. Yet I’m still grateful for things like universal health care, abolishing the White Australia Policy, and outlawing execution in this country.
I feel like most people, there’s some things I’m conservative about and some things I’m more progressive about. That’s human. That’s where Australia is. I am not an anomaly.
I might err on wanting my tax dollars to help those in our community that are on hard times – but I won’t lie to you, it makes for an overall safer, more cohesive, more stable and more prosperous society when everyone feels included and looked after. I’m not some bleeding heart, I just feel that when everyone in a community has the basics of a place to live, healthcare and education it makes the community better across the board.
Clearly you can see when people feel threatened as they do now – they react in panic.
And I personally feel that when people don’t feel that someone’s got the wheel, that’s where they end up.
We spoke of her background, the pros and cons of our current democratic system, and what it’s like to have strangers come up to her on the street with hand-drawn plans for saving Sydney from rising sea levels.
Yeah we talked a lot about Climate Change.
Let’s dig in.
We recorded this in mid-January, but I left all the talk of bush fires in because I felt it was important to have a timestamp of where we are in the world.
Enjoy the show.