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Kerry O'Brien: veteran truthteller gives a speech to remember

At the Logies, Kerry O'Brien defends the ABC, is honest about journalism, names climate change and calls for Reconciliation.
Kerry O'Brien: veteran truthteller gives a speech to remember

Yothu Yindi CEO Denise Bowden signing the Uluru statement. Image: Australian Human Rights Commission on Flickr.

The Logie Hall of Fame has a fondness for huge audiences and the power behind commercial TV and a marked distaste for women and non-Anglo names. This year the Logies honoured legendary journalist and interrogator Kerry O'Brien. Like John Clarke, Ruth Cracknell, Ken G. Hall, Hector Crawford and Four Corners, his name sings with quality. 

Kerry O'Brien started in television in 1962, to work in all the commercial networks before finding his home in the ABC. He used the power of the national broadcaster to tangle the great and the good in triple barrelled questions that forced them to consider their own folly and failure. 

Here's just one example, noticed by Mumbrella in 2010. Stop before you go insane. 

'The ABC is still forging its way through strong headwinds,' he said, 'probably never threatened more than it is today, by a combination of forces, cash-strapped in a totally disrupted digitally driven industry, and still confronting the same sad ideological prejudice. And now, even the Federal Police, some of whom have themselves leaked to us in the past, have seen fit to raid the place. 

'And yet as I sat here tonight, and watched nomination after nomination after nomination for the ABC including for Most Popular Categories which rely on a public vote, I felt so much better about the place.' 

The audience cheered. 

He spoke of journalism as an idealistic vocation, and its fortress at the ABC, and its profound role at the heart of our society. But he acknowledged the failures of the place and the profession. He remembered the appointment of Jonathan Shier as CEO by the Howard government, which destroyed people and provoked an existential crisis. He did not say that it ever ended. Auntie does not preside over some mystic High Castle of Truth; it can be warped by politics and perverted by enemies.

'Mostly I have been proud to call myself a journalist yet we the journalists have to share the responsibility for the great failures of our time. A time of enormous ferment and challenge, failures of politics, failures of journalism. Failures of society in the end. For instance, forty years after powerful evidence first kicked in that human-caused climate change threatened the world with an existential disaster, we are still stuck in the mire of drab, dishonest arguments that will come at great cost to future generations. And we the journalists have not cut through the fake news effectively. We have not properly held politicians to account.'

He went on to remind the room of the idealism behind good journalism, and admitted the profession's failure to confront the liars and crooks who deny the gathering nightmare of climate change. 

He climaxed the speech with a sustained call to 'reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia' by enacting the  Uluru Statement 'From The Heart'. It opens with this:

'We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

'Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago...'

He ended on a personal note, bringing the audience back to a comfortable night in Brisbane and his beloved wife picked out on camera.

'The truth is, I have been so lucky and so privileged to be able to call on Sue's impeccable judgement, instinctive wisdom and good humour throughout our years together. She also told me to avoid using the word journey tonight, so I close simply by saying this has been a wonderful road to be allowed to travel. [Laughter and cheers]. Thanks to all of you, especially in the living rooms of Australia, who have travelled that road with me. Thank you.'


Monday 1 July, 2019

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