FULL INTERVIEW & TRANSCRIPT: Campbell Newman on regrets as Premier, his failed senate bid & more
It's the first time there's been a sit-down interview aired on Uncensored.
Campbell Newman has sat down with award-winning 6 News Chief Reporter Connor Alforque to discuss whether he has any regrets from his time as Queensland Premier, his failed senate bid with the Liberal Democrats & much more.
Click here to watch the full interview & see below for the full transcript.
Connor Alforque: So Campbell Newman, welcome to 6 News.
Campbell Newman: Yeah thank you for having me.
CA: Now you stormed to power with what was the biggest parliamentary majority in Australia’s political history. But after just three years, you lost that. What do you think was the biggest contributing factor: the media or yourself?
CN: Oh look I think there’s a variety of factors there. There’s decisions we took that in combination with… hurt us. And so of course you know I take responsibility for that. And by the way… there’s a whole heap of them. Just one fewer controversy would’ve got us across the line but also yeah I think there was really - I suppose - difficult relationship with the media and I compare that to the way the current state government is treated and it is chalk and cheese. I think that had quite a deal to do with the outcome of the election at the end of the day.
CA: Do you stand by your comment that the media is a pack of bastards?
CN: Oh back in that period yes they were and they all now were for the Premier almost to a man and woman they’ve been recruited by the current government. And I’ve contrast the way they dealt with the issues of the day during my period with the failure right now to prosecute the real issues of integrity and governance in Queensland. I mean, they’re letting Queenslanders down people that are there now. In contrast the people who actually work for Palaczszquk who were the media pack back between 2012 and 2015, they weren’t about presenting a government in a reasonable way; they were about trying to bring down a government. That’s quite clear by the way that they operated.
CA: So it doesn’t matter Labor or LNP they just want to bring down the incumbent government or?
CN: No no they were of a left wing persuasion and they had an agenda to bring down the government because on election night one of the people who now works for the Premier actually admitted to my senior media advisor that they had an agenda. Quite unashamed. Mind you, that individual was quite surprised by the result that they’d help achieve.
CA: Was this a personal agenda or one that was instituted from top down in that institution… that media organisation?
CN: Oh look I’m not sure I think it’s a collective thing amongst the journalists concerned. I mean let me explain. It’s like… I watch media interviews these days with Annastacia Palaszczuk when she won’t answer the question. They put the question to her, she doesn’t answer it or she’ll give an answer that really demands professionally a follow-up question. And Palaszczuk doesn’t get it. In contrast with me, they will keep asking the same question again and again - they would show three or four iterations of a similar answer that I might’ve given. That’s something I was entitled to do if I had to answer it a certain way and they didn’t like the answer. That’s fine but why do they then deliberately show four runs around the richtops. And there’s a whole lot of that stuff. Another typical way a story was presented around our time in government is that we would make a hard decision and we would go out and say why we were making it and the way it was then packaged on the news would’ve been Premier or Minister says this… But here’s the opposition saying it’s a bad idea. And here’s someone from a union saying it’s a bad idea. And here’s Fred from Queen Street Mall - he says it’s a bad idea. And here’s Sally from Chermside - she says it’s a bad idea. Here’s the opposition again saying it’s a bad idea. And then we have the Premier saying this is why we’re doing it. That is not fair or reasonable packaging. And again we don’t see that today. I’m pretty indignant at the way that my government was treated by the electronic media. In contrast, The Courier Mail, The Australian Financial Review and The Australian all editorialised and said that my government was a really competent, high performing government. Before you go today, I’ll give you a copy of one of the articles, an editorial that was published by The Courier Mail only three or four weeks prior to the election. So you know, that’s the considered assessment of what we were doing as opposed to the quite deliberate negative way it was presented on TV.
CA: Yeah but then there are also examples of The Courier Mail somewhat going rogue and sort of slashing your government when you were Lord Mayor in particular. There was one reporter that said “don’t expect decent coverage of the budget if we don’t get a drop.” Your own media advisor described their reporting as “vindictive”. Why do you think that suddenly changed when you became premier and why was it like that when you were Lord Mayor in the first place?
CN: Well I think one of the problems was when I was Lord Mayor is that there was a combination of personalities between the media advisor or two in my office and The Courier Mail at the time. And it wasn’t so much me in terms of the Courier but it was the personalities you know literally relating to one another. So the actual quote you gave me is literally what happened at the time between the personalities jostling and it got out of control.
CA: So if you had to pick a favourite media outlet it would be ones owned by Murdoch?
CN: Ohhhh no no no oh look it’s like this: if you asked me who in the electronic media coverage gave me the best and fairest run - probably the word is fairest actually, Connor, the fairest run that I ever got was with ABC TV. They’re not the Murdoch media. And the reason I say that is while they may have jumped on the bandwagon with a particular slant to the story in the way it was presented, they actually always presented the actual substantive announcement we were making. I’ll give you another example of the way that we were treated. I think it was basically in late 2013 on one occasion I went out with the Health Minister Lawrence Springborg to announce that by the following year I think it was only within about six months we were going to clear the surgery backlog for glaucoma and cataract treatments. And that affects older people in the community. There was a waiting list and we had an initiative we were going to clear it totally and we were prepared to say - by this date, it will be done. So we went and did the press conference at the PA Hospital but that was the day Clive Palmer had said some stuff about me and made a fairly defamatory suggestion that I had a mental health problem but I didn’t take medication. And so what did they all ask me? After we made the announcement I stopped and said “Any questions?” There were not any questions on the substantive announcement. The first question was “Mr Premier, Clive Palmer says you have a mental health problem. Ya know, ya know, and you don’t take your medication. Is that true?” Just ponder that for a second. For a start it was defamatory anyway and outrageous but that’s all they wanted to cover. So that’s the point I’m making. That night on the news - 7 and 9 and 10 simply covered what Clive Palmer had to say, not the fact that it was important information for the health and wellbeing of older Queenslanders. In contrast the ABC did cover the substantive story. Even though they covered the Clive Palmer stuff, they actually covered the substantive story. That’s a long answer but I think that’s a bit of evidence for you - the ABC were I think quite fair compared to 7, 9 and 10.
CA: Don’t you think the character of our leaders - our political leaders - is important and in the public interest?
CN: Oh absolutely. Couldn’t agree more. That’s why I am dismayed by the way that we see reporting these days generally in that the states-sphere here, the only people who are holding the government to account in the media as far as I’m concerned relentlessly are The Courier Mail and The Australian. Occasionally, individual journalists at 7 and 9 do. I don’t think the ABC at all. The ABC by the way these days are running you know essentially it’s like Pravda on the airwaves - they’re just running the government line with little questioning and little hard questioning. We’ve seen terrible things in the last 6 months with this state Labor government - things that if that happened during my time as Premier, Ministers would’ve gone - they would’ve lost their jobs. And for the record, I did fire I think three ministers for not meeting the standard. This Premier’s never fired anybody for meeting the standard. So you know, there is a difference between the way these things are being covered.
CA: Yep. Now in 2013, Rupert Murdoch met with some… with the then-editorial director of The Courier Mail, made it clear he wasn’t happy with how The Courier Mail was covering your government. Did Murdoch seek fair coverage or did he seek favourable coverage.
CN: I wasn’t there but I’ll give you a copy of the biography by journalist Gavin King former state member of parliament and he talks about that issue. So I wasn’t there - we can only go on what was reported to Gavin when he put the biography on myself.
CA: So why are you so indignant at the media then if the Murdoch press was favourable towards your government.
CN: Well they weren’t
CA: They weren’t?
CN: There’s a trail of quite negative stories and very hard reporting from The Courier Mail and The Australian. I mean you can go and… through the 2011… for example during the 2011-2012 election campaign The Australian newspaper and indeed The Courier Mail went after me relentlessly. Relentlessly. Suggesting all manner of malfeasance on my part. Made it sound like I was only one step away from going to the Crime and Corruption Commission, the CMC then. I’ve never been into the CMC. Okay? But that was the suggestion in the reporting. That I’d done the wrong thing as Mayor of Brisbane. So look they went in very very hard for a long period of time.
CA: So why do you think the media hated you so much then?
CN: Well you’re telling me they do. I don’t know if they do. I’ve got good relations with quite a few journalists. I think there’s a problem though with the media where they seem to be more interested in what I call the froth and bubble, the gotchas and all that stuff. They’re not interested in the fundamentals of what is good government. For me, good government is a stable, prosperous society where people can live their lives, can bring up their families and their kids get a great education and have every opportunity to run their own business without government getting in the way. And that’s what I was delivering in contrast to the government now which in the last two weeks has created massive uncertainty in the futures of the mining industry by massively increasing royalties. And that’s what they called sovereign risk which means people won’t necessarily invest in mines in the future because they can’t trust the government. So that’s what journalists should be interested in - not about whether some opponent has said the Premier’s got a mental health problem. I mean, how would you feel if someone professionally came up to you and accused you in a public forum of having a mental health problem. I mean, mental health is meant to be a serious issue today. Why didn’t they condemn the person who made such a thing about it, you know? Another example is when the Katter Australia Party ran homophobic campaign ads against me because I backed gay marriage. You know, that’s… there’s a issue that needs to be dealt with here and it’s about we need journalists to be looking out… what we really need out of government - which is a government that takes the community forward as honest and upright and tells the truth. And we don’t have much of that in Australia at all at the moment.
CA: Do you think society would be better off without the Fourth Estate as it currently exists?
CN: Of course not! I guess that’s what I am complaining about, Connor. We need the media to do a better job. So let’s be crystal clear: in an era of misinformation and fake news, we need the government -- sorry not the government… we need the media to be the people we can trust. You know it’s vitally important. And the trouble with where the country is going at the moment… you’ve got the woke media and you’ve got the Murdoch media as you said and they’re so partisan - it really just divides. The country just separates. And rather than just tell us the facts, let us make our own minds up. We’re getting editorialised sort of content injected into supposed news stories. Our- it’s killing us. It really is killing us! We need the media to be trusted because I don’t wanna trust some galah on YouTube or something like that or some blogger. I wanna know that the report - whether it be on The Australian or on the Fairfax/Nine media - some report on their website - I want to know I can trust it. And that, by the way, is the value proposition for journalism in 2022. And you’re aware - newsrooms are being downsized and there’s been a lot of pressure on the media - the unique selling proposition or value proposition for the media is “Hey, we’re professionals - you can trust us.” And people will pay for that. So I’ve got a subscription to The Courier Mail and The Australian because at least I find factual information on there as opposed to nonsense on YouTube.
CA: Is it factual information or facts that you would side with on those sort of outlets because they…
CN: That’s a fair question when it comes to editorial positions and that. And I guess often with The Australian I would support that position.
CA: Now moving on towards just looking at your time as Premier… is there anything you’d like to tell us about Annastacia Palaszczuk and how she’s currently governing the state? There’s been integrity scandal after integrity scandal. You’ve sat at her desk. You can see through the spin. So what sort of things is she doing right now that the public doesn’t currently know about?
CN: The first thing is Queensland should be going ahead far better. This should be the lead state in terms of economic performance. We’ve been held back by a government that doesn’t set a set of rules and have a long term plan for the state and then allows the private sector to go forward. So when I was Premier, we created I think it was a 30 year plan for the state. We did that with a huge amount of community consultation. The MPs were all involved - Labor, LNP, etc. And we brought people from around the state to create that plan. And sadly she’s thrown that away. So I don’t know what the plan is. It was bipartisan essentially in its creation. But she’s thrown it out the door. So what is the plan for Queensland? I want Queensland to be the prosperous, forward-thinking state in the nation. We’ve got incredible natural resources and incredible natural environment. I used to talk about the forward pillars of property, the mining industry, tourism and also student education and the like as being these important things for the state. And they all could be going forward so much better but they’re not. Then there’s the issue about integrity in government, where if they won’t play by the rules, if they won’t be open and transparent about what they’re doing, then what trust can you have in government? And you know I said this earlier on in the interview, they’ve never dealt with a minister who’s done the wrong thing. Minister’s have used private email accounts for their actual work. I mean, that’s not on. It’s just not permitted. We’ve got a Premier who made a threat in Parliament to withdraw resources from the Katter Party. The Minister of the CCC found she may have broken the law. But then left it to the Parliament to actually decide what to do with it. I mean it goes on and on and on. And I guess the final thing is the financial position of this state. I mean we continue to see runaway spending, no break or sensible look at how money is being deployed. At the end of the day, the chickens will come home to roost one day. So out of desperation, they’ve put these coal royalties up, which, you know, fine. Must be great to be able to milk the system but think about this - this is a party who’s been very anti-coal the whole time they’ve been in office who say they want to get away from coal but further increase the state’s dependence on a fossil fuel that’s supposedly going to be phased out. I mean, there’s been a lot of commentary over the last two weeks about this royalty increase but no one seems to get that bit of hypocrisy. You can’t say you’re against this or say you want to transition from something but then further increase your financial dependence. In other words, the ambulances that are running around today, the hospitals providing vital services, the police responding to crime, they’re more and more reliant on getting money from the coal industry. I could go on! We could’ve done an hour on the government and critique but they’ve got plenty of other critics.
CA: Yep. And having been in the top job and now with a bit of distance from that role, how easy is it to be corrupt as Queensland Premier?
CN: I’m not saying that the Premier is corrupt at all. I mean I think that’s a big leap and it’d be defamatory for someone to say that about her. But you know it is a government that is not run to the required standards of 2022. It’s not open. It’s not transparent. When people don’t follow the rules, they don’t get sin-binned. And that’s the problem here. So I think that’s the way I’d put it.
CA: Now you fielded offers from UAP and One Nation when you left the Liberal Party exactly a year ago now. Why did you decide to choose the Liberal Democrats and why re-enter politics after famously declaring that
CN: It was over, yeah
CN: That’s a good point. Well it was really 18 months of Covid was probably the prompt in that we have seen in the last 2.5 years that freedoms being taken away from Australia, an increase in the size of bureaucracy reaching into our lives in a way that I could not have believed back in 2019 and I felt I had to take a stand. This country’s a lot less free. We’re a lot more controlled and bossed around. Public servants don’t seem to remember public SERVANT and we’re seeing government think it can really push people around, the citizenry around. And you know we were locked up in this country for the best part of two years. The Australian passport was useless. I became incredibly disappointed with the Morrison government and also the state LNP. Of course I was disappointed with the Palaszczuk government and the way they handled Covid. And so I thought I had to take a stand. I tried to help initially from within the LNP. It was made very clear to me and this is a matter for the public record that a number of key players didn’t want me around. So I looked around. I left and I did field an offer from the UAP and from One Nation. I decided to join the LibDems because their libertarian philosophy suits me. So they’re for free enterprise, small government, low taxes. We want governments out of people’s lives. We think governments don’t make good decisions about the future of people and their families. We believe individuals themselves are the best place to actually run their own lives and take responsibility for their decisions. So that’s why I joined.
CA: Would you be prepared to name those in the Liberal party who didn’t want you there anymore?
CN: Oh yeah absolutely! I had been asked by the Liberal National Party then-President to actually come on and be a member of the executive. So there’s a role which is known as a trustee. There are three trustees in the LNP and the President asked me to come on and be one of those. Trustees look after the assets in the party. So I allowed my name to go forward whereupon the Federal President John Olson who’d been sitting in on the meeting voted or spoken voted against me. So did Peter Dutton - the now leader of the Opposition, David Littleproud the Deputy, as he is now, voted against it. And so did Jarrod Blay and Tim Mander. So those were the politicians. The volunteers - the actual hard-working men the women, the footsoldiers of the LNP, they voted for me so I got up. I was actually endorsed. I think it was a narrow vote but it was in the low 50s for me, the remainder against. But you think about this for a sec, after that, when the people who I was volunteering to help, the elected members, had said they didn’t want me around who then went and were negative about the whole appointment with the media. So they went out and briefed the media, background the media and made it clear they didn’t want me there - why would I stay around to help people like that? So I left.
CA: And now the LDP was banking on your familiar name for Senate votes in Queensland. But that didn’t turn out to be very successful did it. The Legalise Cannabis Party, they
CN: Yeah, unexpected result
CA: Was it a bit embarrassing then that they had more votes than your party?
CN: I think they had a really good position on the Senate ballot paper for starters. And I guess it’d be interesting to see some research on why people did give them a vote. I actually think the reason for not doing as well as we’d expected - I mean I expected around 7% and we were just under 3%. I think the reason for that I really put it down to crowded space - so Hanson and Palmer. I think the people who didn’t want to vote for the LNP had two choices, two main choices - one was Hanson and those who didn’t want Hanson we could’ve normally picked up but they went to Palmer. I think the other problem - back to the questions you’ve been asking about the media - how is it that we never got coverage in South East Queensland? So that’s a big issue. So when I went regional to places like Cairns or Roma or Gladstone, Rocky, you name it - the local media always wanted to talk to us. In South East Queensland, try this in nine months apart from the day I announced that I was running, I was never interviewed by 9 or 7 in nine months. In a nine month period I was never interviewed by ABC TV; they covered it - I acknowledge that - but they didn’t interview me. In nine months I was on ABC Radio twice if memory serves me correct and three times on 4BC. So if you can’t get coverage despite your best efforts - and you’ll get this complaint from Palmer's people and from One Nation as well, I’m confident of that - if you can’t get coverage, how do you punch through? The bottom line Connor is I think on election day, there were a majority of Queenslanders who didn’t even know I was running. So that was the big problem.
CA: We’re running out of time here but I’ve just got a few more questions just on state politics as well. So 6 News has seen correspondence from you when you were Lord Mayor where you say at an LNP State Convention that support was given in principle for an upper house re-introduction. In 2013, when you were Premier, you then rejected calls for it to return, saying “the last thing Queenslanders wanted was more politicians”. Why did you change your position?
CN: Well I would like to see that letter from back in my Lord Mayoral days because I honestly can’t remember that. But I guess my position was to be against more politicians in Queensland when I was there.
CA: But you did change?
CN: But if you ask me what the correct position is, I have to say the passage of time I think the position is that we do need an upper house in Queensland. So what I said as Premier… well as leader of the opposition then as Premier… was wrong. But you know for the record remember who got rid of the Upper House in Queensland. You do know which political party it was don’t you?
CA: Not off the top of my head, no.
CN: It was the Australian Labor Party in the 1920s who engineered the whole thing. So you know that’s the background to it. Now I thought at the time when I said about not supporting it, I felt that we had enough politicians but I think there’s a serious problem with checks and balances I’m afraid in Queensland. So I guess that was…
CA: And we’ve spoken about Clive Palmer a fair bit. He’s described you as a Nazi, a criminal, less popular than Hitler.
CN: He’s apologised for all that.
CA: Because you guys are now working together.
CN: Well no no no no
CA: Preferencing yes
CN: We’re competitors. He gave me that hat over there and he gave me that as well.
CA: Yes. Okay.
CN: But we’re on good terms I suppose is the way to put it.
CA: And how did you sweep that under the carpet?
CN: What do you mean?
CA: Like all these things he’s said, and now you’re working together but not working together…
CN: You’ve just gotta be tough in politics and you’ve gotta be robust…
CA: Forgive and forget?
CN: I’ll work with anybody for the better future of Queensland or the nation okay. So there’s lots people who I’ve had big battles with during my time in politics who I’m now on very good terms with. For example my former opponent in Brisbane City Council David Hinchliffe from the Labor party. He was the guy who ended up being commissioned to paint my official portrait as premier. Life’s too short to just have enemies. And if the battles have gone on or moved on or the game is different, it’s changed, then they’ll be flexible enough to change.
CA: And I think that’s all we have time for. Campbell Newman, thanks so much for your time.
CN: Thanks Connor
Watch the full interview on Uncensored here.
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