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A way through: a forum for Rick Farley

Susan Boden, Penny Spoelder, John Kerin, Mick Dodson, Phillip Toyne, Nicholas Brown and Alex Sloan, 23 August 2012

ALEX SLOAN: Welcome to the National Museum of Australia and this forum dedicated to the late Rick Farley. It is wonderful to see so many people here. I want to make a special welcome - and they will probably kill me - to Rick’s son and daughter Jeremy and Cailin. It is so beautiful to have you here and back in the city where you were born. It’s great to have you here too. [applause]

The National Museum of Australia has generously supported this event, and a recording of it will be available on the Museum’s website. When it comes to question time your question will form part of the recording of tonight, so your participation is taken as your consent for the recording to be made publicly available. I hope everyone is understanding of that.

Tonight we will hear a range of perspectives about Rick’s contribution and continuing relevance to Australia. You will have the chance to comment and ask questions before joining the panel for light refreshments. The ideas that we will talk about tonight are drawn from the Australia Day speech that Rick gave in 2003, so it seems right to begin tonight with the welcome to country that Rick wrote for that occasion:

I wish to acknowledge the Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the place where we come together today and thank them for their welcome. I pay respect to their elders and to their culture - the oldest living culture in the world. [Rick Farley’s 2003 Australia Day speech broadcast on Radio National, Bush Telegraph, 4 April 2007, http://www.abc.net.au/rural/telegraph/speeches/farley2.htm]

Tonight, along with the authors of the recent biography of Rick Farley, Susan Boden and Nick Brown, we have a panel of distinguished Australians speaking about their work with Rick. They will be reflecting not only on his contribution but on their own work and how as a nation we can find a better way through our tough environmental and social issues. Penny Spoelder, Phillip Toyne, John Kerin and Mick Dodson were colleagues of Rick and also friends. I also share that experience of work and friendship with Rick. It’s an honour though of course tinged with sadness to be with you tonight. Before this evening begins I would like to ask Andrew Sayers, the Director of the National Museum, to speak.

ANDREW SAYERS: Thanks very much, Alex. Welcome everybody to the National Museum of Australia. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the country on which we meet.

This is a highly appropriate event for the National Museum of Australia because just over ten years ago when the National Museum opened it opened with a commitment to explore the synthesis between the land, the nation and the people of Australia. I think that commitment has been reflected in the way in which the stories of Australia have been told in an interconnected way, interconnecting Indigenous histories and cultures, European settlement and our interaction with the environment in Australia. These interconnections are still at the heart of who we are as a nation. They are interconnections which frame the questions that we need to keep asking, and I think the National Museum of Australia has a real role in presenting those issues and in creating a conversation around them.

It is impossible to think of a figure who probed these issues more deeply and for a long period of time than Rick Farley over 30 years. His death in 2006 didn’t end the capacity of his story to continue to offer perspective on these issues. That has been demonstrated in the publication and the reception earlier this year of Farley’s biography A Way Through: The Life of Rick Farley written by Dr Susan Boden and Dr Nicholas Brown, who is a member of the National Museum of Australia’s Centre for Historical Research. While we are talking books, I want to point out that this evening our bookshop will be open at the end of tonight’s proceedings. That is something we try to do for visitors to the Museum when we have special occasions such as this evening.

As Alex mentioned, joining Susan and Nick this evening are four speakers Penny Spoelder, Mick Dodson, John Kerin and Phillip Toyne who worked closely with Rick Farley in their respective fields and will probe these questions of land, nation and people. I am convinced that their reflections this evening on that work, on where we are now and where we need to be will stimulate and challenge us all. One of the great aspirations for the National Museum is to discuss, to converse about and to stimulate these questions which are important to the future of our nation. Once again, welcome to the National Museum of Australia and to this forum. I will pass back over to Alex. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks so much, Andrew. It’s really heartening to see this theatre so full on a cold Thursday night in Canberra, but I think you are here for very good reasons.

While researching Rick’s life, Susan and Nicholas spoke with over 250 people with whom he had worked. At the end of almost every interview people would lament Rick’s absence from the great national debate over reconciliation and sustainability. They wondered if he had lived past 2006 what contribution he would have made and they often searched to name his equal in public life today. Someone put it this way, ‘People say that everyone is replaceable. I don’t think that’s true. Rick isn’t.’ Susan and Nicholas describe themselves as reluctant biographers. Inevitably research into a complex life and a recent and tragic death is difficult but their sense of Rick’s capacity and contribution well before they realised the extent of it encouraged them to continue. Their biography provides an account of a man whose life ranged over all states and a number of organisations at national, regional and local scales.

As university teachers, Susan and Nicholas also realised that there is a new generation who might learn and be cautioned and inspired by Rick’s practical, fair and intelligent approach. Susan Boden, co-author of Rick’s biography, met Rick Farley for a matter of seconds and only once. Before that she knew him as a voice on radio calmly and patiently unravelling complex issues. Please welcome Susan but before she speaks let’s hear Rick’s voice again taken from the Australia Day speech:

My perspective has been shaped over a long time by a very diverse group of Australians - cattlemen, farmers, conservationists and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as, of course, my family. I thank them all for the education they have provided me. It also has been shaped by over 25 years in the political and public policy arena, which represents both the best and worst of our national endeavour.

SUSAN BODEN: Thanks very much, Alex. It’s a real pleasure to be here this evening and I thank you all very much for attending. To write a biography is a curious process. When you start to do it, you suddenly realise that you have to get from the edge of the running track right through to the centre and that there are people - hundreds of them in this case - who knew Rick better than we ever could, loved him better and were closer to him than we ever could be. So I guess you need to find a way through. The way through in a way that Nicholas and I used was to use the model of the love of strangers. One of the things as teachers we both understand is the very important role that you can play for your students and, in turn, someone has played in your life.

Before I actually develop that theme a little bit, I wanted to make a comment to in a way pass on a personal teaching, and that is to Rick’s children Cailin and Jeremy. It is obviously very hard to be the child of such a prominent person, a person who travels so much, is away so much and preoccupied so much. But the thing that became so clear to me in that book in the over 350 interviews I did along with Nicholas is that I rarely had an interview where people didn’t talk about Rick’s speaking with so much love and devotion to his children. Like all children – all of us are children and most of us are parents - I guess we realise that sometimes we don’t tell that enough to our own children but I think it’s important to pass that message through to his children.

Rick had a great phrase, ‘I tend to steer clear of emotion,’ and that’s what I am going to do. But it’s important to understand that what Rick meant was saccharin emotion. He did not mean feeling. It’s probably harder to imagine a person who had deeper reservoirs of feeling that very often found it very hard to find their way to the surface.

I want to talk tonight very briefly, and though I doubt I will be the best speaker I might be your favourite one because my speech is nice and short, is what I learned. When I started this book with Nick, people said to me, ‘Where are the people he mentored?’ When Rick left Canberra he became a consultant but a consultant who worked by himself. People wanted to know, ‘Where is that legacy? Where are those people?’ It occurred to me very early on in the book that I kept looking for these people. So I thought, ‘Susan you need to turn yourself into a student of this person,’ and so that’s what I tried to do.

I have tried to condense four things that Rick has taught me. The first thing that Rick has taught me incidentally is the value of history: the value that, in other cultures that understand the value of elders and respect the contribution of elders, people with experience are really worth listening to. So he taught the value of history and one thing I learned was the great value of my personal historian Nicholas Brown with whom I wrote this book.

Can I also say that through this work I learned much more about Aboriginal people. One of the most wonderful things I learned might seem a very small thing but it was very big to me. I learned it in the southern states and I learned it in sitting on Namco chairs in the front of housing commission houses with huge bottlebrush-like trees, sitting and talking to Aboriginal men and women, most of whom were my age and none of whom had any of the opportunities that I had had. What I came to understand about Aboriginal people is that, if they work out you’re 51 per cent good, they turn you into 100 per cent good. Unlike what we often do which is see someone getting towards 50 per cent and try to knock them back. I learnt that, when I listened to those Aboriginal people, they weren’t going to tell me a lot. I remember one Aboriginal man saying to me when I asked him, ‘How good was Rick?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘Well he was a ten.’ I came back and wanted to clarify that. He looked at me and he said, ‘I didn’t say he was nine and three-quarters, I said he was a ten.’ I knew what that meant. That didn’t mean perfect; that didn’t mean without his flaws; but that meant absolutely straight, absolutely on the right path and absolutely with them. I came to understand that.

I also came to learn a very neat formula for how to engage yourself with tough issues in a useful way, and Rick laid that out in some of his writings. It had these very simple elements: find yourself a problem that is not going to go away. And he certainly did that. He attached himself to the two tough issues - sustainability and reconciliation - in this country. His second approach was to get everyone who is involved to the table and don’t talk until you do. His third approach was, I think, remarkable for a public figure to state these days and that was: start to admit what you don’t know so become a listener. Those qualities of his are useful in big national issues; they are useful in small issues; they are remarkably useful in domestic issues – and I learnt those very strongly.

But I guess personally what I learnt was what one old Aboriginal lady told me. Her eyes were full of tears and she just looked at me and said, ‘He was a wonderful boy.’ He absolutely was. He was a wonderful boy to this country; he was a wonderful boy to Aboriginal people; and in many ways and through some very dark times in my own life, and I know Rick’s as well, he was a wonderful and irreplaceable boy to us. Thank you. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks so much, Susan. Penny Spoelder is a senior manager with the New South Wales Parks Service and worked with Rick on a plan of management for Kosciuszko National Park. Rick chaired the community forum to consult on the plan and worked closely with Penny on ways to encourage Indigenous participation. Please welcome Penny.

PENNY SPOELDER: Thanks very much, Alex, and good evening everybody. Firstly I would like to acknowledge the Aboriginal traditional owners of this region and pay my respects to their country and their culture. In the late 1980s and 1990s when Rick was speaking out about the bedrock of our nation and laying the foundation for change, I was just stepping into adulthood having just finished school and university. Questions were being asked about the cost of Australia’s agricultural industry, biodiversity loss, and land and water degradation; Indigenous land rights were forging ahead; talk of global warming and climate change had just started; and membership of environmental advocacy groups were at their highest.

I watched Landcare and the conservation movement carve out change in the psyche of land managers, industry, government and the community. Little did I know that decades later I would be meeting the man that was central to much of this change in a café in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner west. I had a tricky job to do down south in Kosciuszko and I needed someone talented to help me. I was there to determine if Rick was a suitable candidate for the job. I guess it was an interview if you like. He introduced himself and expanded on the details of his life that he thought I needed to know. He asked me a few questions. He was direct and to the point. I didn’t need to explain my brief to him; he knew what I needed to be done. This guy had some kind of inbuilt duty of care for country and a perverse desire to sort out the hornets nest that I had found myself in. He made it very clear what his priorities were: he would work with people regardless of who they were and where they were from in order to get the best possible outcome for country. Aboriginal people must achieve greater economic independence and protect their culture and their identity. My challenge, he said, was to create the framework and to make these things happen. It became increasingly obvious who was interviewing who, and by the end of the meeting Rick gave me the job.

Most of you will be familiar with Kosciuszko and with Kosciuszko National Park. It is one of Australia’s largest and most complex protected areas. The park has a rich Aboriginal and European history and, for the most part, the mountains, their people and their exploits have helped shape our national identity. Decades of tension existed between conservationists, resort operators, hydro-engineers, cattlemen, anglers and government. The natural, social and political landscape of the park had been altered by fire, flood and landslide as well as human tragedy over the decades. Dialogue with the Aboriginal community did not exist and their aspirations were unknown to us. Tensions around climate change, the future expansion of ski resorts, renewable energy, water conservation, water catchment protection, wild fire management, grazing and Aboriginal land rights were now at fever pitch. It was time to enter the anguish and commence the conversation about how we should best manage the park for the foreseeable future.

Rick helped me establish, and he chaired, a number of forums made up of people with a diverse interest in the park. Over the course of the next couple of years these forums met frequently, often for two or three days at a time, debating the many complex issues facing Australia’s most important park. Rick defined the real issues quickly and he cultivated a strong spirit of cooperation and built consensus. He had an aptitude for listening to everyone with an opinion or knowledge that needed to be heard and expressed. He secured a better future for Kosciuszko and its people.

Over the few years that we worked together we travelled extensively often spending up to four hours in the car on any one day, and the same on the return journey. Having talked through the day’s agenda, Rick was quick to move to other conversations and to something a little more interesting. Our banter lurched between politics, relationships and fishing, and there was a little bit of Jeremy and Cailin in there as well. One thing that struck me is that he never disclosed the details of his discussions with any of the individuals, their views or agendas on matters that we were both addressing as part of our work. That was something that he contemplated alone.

Whilst his advice on politics and relationships has served me well over the years, I have taken much more from the time that I did spend with Rick. These are difficult to describe but they are sentiments I carry with me every day to tackle other difficult public policy issues and to continue the search for a sustainable future. Put simply and this is the best way I can describe them to you: keep caring for country and put it at the heart of everything that you do; involve the people who care for country no matter who or what or where they are from. Don’t stress about the constant tension between them, it will bring a solution eventually. It’s our relationship with each other that will determine how successful we are in caring for our country. We all have a role to play. Listen, be fair and work together to define the problem rather than continue to compete for rights and resources. Even when it appears to be lost, trust and cooperation can be developed again. Decades can pass, generations come and go, but the issues will continue to evolve. Do whatever it takes to allow Aboriginal communities to sort their business out. Work with them to establish themselves in frameworks that allow them to achieve economic independence and to protect their culture and their identity.

The biography of Rick is on our coffee table at home, thanks to Susan and Nicholas. My nine-year-old son has asked what the book is about and who that man on the cover is. I explain to him about Rick’s achievements and the way he approached issues. Each night we struggle like most parents to encourage our son to complete his homework. The foundation of resource economics are laid over the dinner table every night, with mathematics, science and geography homework being the order of proceedings. Together we try to discuss environmental issues, sustainability and our role in doing our bit to make the world a better place. These are difficult problems for a nine-year-old boy. He understands that we need to care for country and search for a sustainable future but he just can’t figure out how to do it all just yet. He knows that we are doing something about it but he also knows that there is more to be done. He tells me: ‘If we just listen and learn from that man in the book,’ we know as Rick, ‘together we should be able to find a way through.’ And somehow I think he’s on to something. Thank you. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks so much, Penny. Phillip Toyne has had a long and celebrated career as an advocate for sustainability and Aboriginal rights. Phillip and Rick are most publicly known for their joint negotiation of the National Landcare Program with the Hawke government. Their initial unlikely intellectual companionship – Rick, executive director of the National Farmers Federation [NFF], and Phillip, head of the Australian Conservation Foundation [ACF] – saw two sharp minds tease away at the great national challenges that arise from the meeting of Australia’s national climate and its history. Please welcome Phillip Toyne.

So I perceive my country now to be a bit lost; still not managing change equitably; searching for its place in the world; looking sometimes for simple truths and solutions which no longer exist. …

PHILLIP TOYNE: The quote that is on your screen reminded me of an experience I had with Rick, and it remains very prominent in my mind. In about 2002 we were a double act at a landcare conference in Ballina. We left early and we had a whole afternoon before our flights would take us home. We had the rare luxury of being able to hole up in a pub and we watched the rugby game between the Wallabies and All Blacks in which Australia got flogged. But despite that it was a great afternoon. We spent several hours talking and talking in a way that we had never been able to do before.

Much has been said about the unlikely nature of our relationship. The media saw it as a radical greenie inexplicably teamed up with a radical conservative farm representative. They didn’t understand the politics of that, although the politics clearly drove the acceptance of Landcare as a national program, and they certainly didn’t understand the friendship that was forged by that very experience. But it wasn’t just a case of big dogs finding a rapport. See if you can identify the deep similarities in our background. This is Rick’s working life: hippy actor, Labor minister staffer, cattlemen’s union director, head of the NFF, and consultant to Aboriginal people and the mining industry and many others. Then there’s mine: I was a compensation lawyer; I was a school teacher to Aboriginal kids; I was a land rights lawyer; I was the head of the ACF; I was an academic; I was a deputy secretary in the Department of the Environment, a company consultant and so on. The similarity isn’t meant to indicate that neither of us could hold down a job. We actually shared a deep commitment to the issues that we represented and we were never hired guns because whoever wanted our services had to earn our interest and our commitment. That was always lost on those people who sought to attack our involvement.

Rick and I didn’t see eye to eye on absolutely every aspect of our lives but we really did respect each other’s points of view and our experience. We influenced each other’s thinking and outcomes in a way. For instance, I encouraged Robert Tickner, who was then the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, to appoint Rick to the Reconciliation Council, which transformed his life and the direction that it took thereafter.

For my part, I am constantly reminded by things that Rick said to me, a number of those aphorisms we hear about constantly in terms of his wisdom on things and I ponder them even today. That afternoon in the pub Rick told me for the first time about his meeting with Ian McLachlan and Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the Windsor hotel. That was meant to be a secret meeting to discuss McLachlan’s joining the ‘Joh for Canberra’ move. I was absolutely appalled by that and fascinated in equal parts by the theatre of it all. It was just such a bizarre experience where the meeting took place and to avoid the waiting media Rick and McLachlan had to go out through the Windsor hotel kitchens and loading dock. We had a really good laugh about that, and again such a rare opportunity to do it. We talked about many other things that day, families featured prominently, politics. There was always politics. We never got away from that. And we ruefully agreed that things seemed to have been going backwards.

We only recently had come out of the initial decade of Landcare, the product of our earlier successfully collaboration. Despite what was achieved with the great local projects and the huge numbers of Landcare groups springing up around the country, you couldn’t ignore the fact that the natural resource use around the country was nowhere near on a sustainable trajectory at the end of it all. Soil health continued to deteriorate with massive applications of synthetic fertilisers; water quality seemed in decline; and in the Murray-Darling Basin in particular there was fierce objection to the scientific messages about the need to increase environmental flows. Perhaps we concluded sustainable resource use was a journey and not a destination.

On Indigenous issues, a comparatively new passion of Rick’s, we concluded that, despite land rights and Native Title, Aboriginal people seemed to be more not less dysfunctional. On just about any measure - health, education and economic independence - Aboriginal people were disadvantaged. We concluded that despite the best efforts of some of the best thinkers in Australia, both black and white, we had failed to ignite the one thing that would transform the country and its citizens - and that was the capacity to empathise with each other and to see things from each other’s point of view. That still eludes us today. I am sure we came up with incisive answers to all of those problems but, like so many solutions and insights found in pubs, we forgot to write them down and we couldn’t remember them the next day.

Rick was a rare character. He was hard to know but he was impossible to forget. There weren’t many who devoted most of their thought and energy on how to make Australia a better place. One thing is clear to me: if Rick was still with us, he would still be in play. He would still be coming out with strategies; he would still be trying to forge deals between Aboriginal people and those in conflict with them; he would have loved the carbon farming initiative of the Gillard government and he would have seen its possibilities, especially for Aboriginal people, for an economic opportunity for them. He would still hate Australia losing to the All Blacks and he would still be my good mate. I would like to commend and thank Susan Boden and Nick Brown for so ably recording his life and work in an outstanding biography that captures so much of what Rick was about. Thank you. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks so much to Phillip Toyne. John Kerin is a former politician of a rare kind having both practical experience and academic training in the area we know him best for - primary industries. John knew Rick professionally, didn’t always agree with him but always recognised Rick’s smart political tactics and genuine commitment. Please welcome John Kerin.

Too often, views are displaced because of where they are thought to come from on the political spectrum. In too much, positions are shaped by opinion polls and spin jockeys at the expense of candour and honesty.

JOHN KERIN: Alex, Cathy, Jeremy and Kailin and particularly Susan and Nick, ladies and gentlemen: I must tell you I am now a grumpy old man and what I am going to say is both very serious and very political. Rick’s statement which is up there on the screen reflected his growing awareness of the role being played by opinion polls in shaping short-term policy positions and an electorate’s predilection to categorise and put public figures and opinions into stereotyped boxes. In 2003 Rick was concerned that this trend served the polity, the broad mass of voters, from having to think about issues when they could settle for superficial opinions. To make policy one relies on analysis. Analysis is not news.

My central thesis is that things have got worse but that there are still discernible differences between what potential and real policy makers say and what they do. The tragedy is that the gap between words and action has not only become wider but the tail (spin) increasingly, inexorably, wags the dog (policy). To quote the great Middle East expert Robert Fisk, we now suffer from the infantalisation of debate and the triumph of the bogans. The tragedy is also that we have become used to this. I am here to tell you, in an absolutely non-partisan way, that it was not always the case and that one of the great lessons to be learnt, even from so short a time as between when Rick led the NFF and engaged with the department which I was minister of, Primary Industry, is that we can see the decline unfolding and understand its costs.

Government and policy making is complex. It’s easier to grab onto a stereotype. Despite the Howard government’s endeavour to degrade the intellectual capacity of the Australian Public Service, it still exists and is actually needed for policy delivery. The current Australian government is a classic example of one actually achieving a lot. We are the envy of the world in terms of macro-economic management but I doubt that the current government has a hope in hell of winning the next election. It is perceived to be prisoner to the Greens and some show pony Independents in a hung parliament. Well hello, Britain, Germany and other parliaments in Australia are hung - whatever that means. Obama doesn’t have the numbers in the House of Representatives of the Congress, and partisanship on any issue has gone, but he still gets a few things through.

Here, however, the story is different. How have we got there? Facts are ignored by the populace, perhaps because the government does not explain them or that spokespersons have already been locked into preconceived boxes. People don’t vote on the basis of fact and reason but perception and sentiment.

I believe in politics, as it is practised, discussion on policy options has changed markedly since when Rick Farley was working and writing through the 1970s to the 2000s - and even more since my time as a minister, now since 19 years ago, back in the Dream Time when I actually knew something about what the hell was happening.

At the time Rick would have found plenty of evidence for the view he expressed in 2003 due to the onslaught of public relations practitioners bolstering the growing lobby industry and no doubt the then practices of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition, my old mob. He had, after all, had a good deal to do with such an onslaught. Yet the fact remains Labor is never as good at raising fear as is the Liberal Party.

But more fundamentally, we increasingly live in a conformist conservative society where political decision making is seen more in transactional terms than in terms of radical modernising or new solutions to policy challenges. Rick might have been good at the transactions but they were never more important than policy outcomes, the basis for innovation in policy. Times have changed.

We have a legalistic, adversarial system of government, which runs on the basis of competition within and between political parties. In Rick’s time the pace was increasing and the space to get the message across was shortening. But the pace has increased almost exponentially. If you want to see the future, watch the US presidential race.

While we live in a pluralist society, the competition to make the case from one interest is getting harder given the ease with which the lowest common denominators aggregate into the majority. Rick and many people like him, including people who worked with me in government, still believed in the importance of making a case from the margins. Think about those early voices for primary industry reform; think about those who started really questioning what it cost all groups in society to prop up the incomes for a few and ignore the environment.

Now, however, thinking people are treated like fools because it assumed that various blocs will vote on the basest of motives. And it is true: some people were and are likely to respond to issues by accepting the simplest, most plausible explanation or one that feeds their preordained prejudices. Our media now ensure the public is well programmed to believe that all politicians are rogues and thieves, interested only in themselves and never to be trusted. When did you last hear a cause being supported by the media that was genuinely about a minority interest, unless it was cushioned by a complacent sense of guilt and hopefully could be used to make the problem go away.

I am not in the business of blame. The causes for our condition are multiple but not so long ago it was not quite like this, and it was not inevitable that it should be now as it is. I know just a little bit about the ravages the media can wreak. But I also know a good deal about what it was like to lead a department committed to change, to working through the detail of change, and to risking the time, patience and resources that would build support for change.

Susan and Nicholas’s book recreates aspects of this on agricultural policy, and particularly on Landcare. In developing those and many other policies we built on an appetite for change, an expectation of working with conflict, and a realisation that no sound bite reduced to a minimum number of syllables was going to do the trick. But I honestly don’t know if anyone can get away with that approach now. The quality of public debate is actually atrocious I think, but as I said I am a grumpy old men.

To give an example, the Australian economy is doing comparatively, if not exceptionally, well in macro-economic terms as I have said, but it is being talked down by the self interested. At the micro level there is a crisis in confidence. The constant news of the gloom overseas due to the antics of the untouchable banks and the publicity given to the slightest move on daily stock prices and other economic parameters keeps everyone on edge. What makes the news is the loss of jobs when a firm closes - bad news gets a run - regardless of how many jobs might be created and that the economy is going through a transition accentuated by the mining boom which, by the way, is no news to anyone who came up through the 1960s.

Who is going to give publicity to the fact that 83 per cent of the profits of the miners go to overseas investors or that 40 per cent of our top 200 firms pay no tax. It is so much easier to blame the government or Julia. The major multi and transnationals are basically beyond government control now, but we don’t want to say that. Between $21 trillion and $31 trillion is lodged offshore in tax havens now. It is becoming even harder, as Wayne Swan has found out, to raise the issues of the widening gap in the distribution of Australia’s income. Because we are now a share owning society we are in the thrall of stock markets, but this is not the same as comprehending economics.

The headline is that we have a productivity problem and of course we put it in the box that it’s the fault of the unions. The trouble is when 83 per cent of our employees are in service industries, it is harder to lift productivity unless you cut wages but which in turn wipes out the middle class and the consumer society. The fact of the matter is that management and capital utilisation has also failed to a large degree, and this is based on analysis, which is not news.

In my time, when Rick was deftly using the power he had and seized so cleverly, the problem was already emerging. People like him made politicians cautious, because they thought they might be caught out by shrewd analysis rather than simply strategically quoted.

I was the despair of my media advisers. I never had any media training and had the idiotic idea that I should try to explain what the government was doing in my area of responsibility and why. But then I could get away with it. I tried to be consistent. But not to put too fine a point on it, if you have over 4,500 people involved in a policy department concerned with hundreds of primary and resource industries dealing in both a domestic and international trading arena then there is a lot of information and complexity to impart.

Keating too adopted a strategy of educating journalists on the basis of the combined expertise of Treasury. His special skill was in boiling concepts and economic interrelationships down into understandable terms, spiced with memorably pithy phrases. He had great communication skills. And sure back then there was spin. But what was important was to press on, boringly, and follow a policy line decided by a cabinet with an integrated, long-term view, even against concerted opposition that alleged I was intent on killing every industry in my portfolio. It was no easy road but there was a goal. And for all the alarm the signs were clear that things simply needed to change and that Australian primary producers would get nowhere if they waited for the world to change first.

When Rick wrote his Australia Day words in 2003, he would have been well aware of how much the media had changed in his time - from the days when as a journalist he was writing for a target audience and working to reach a larger one to build a new constituency. Then there was an appetite for the goal, perhaps simply because of all the shocks that tumbled out in the 1970s. Now I am not so sure. The issues themselves, or the truth about them, are rarely examined. What counts is the politics, who will grab the polls. The irony is that all the information is still there buried in print, but how many people read the Financial Review or on economics by Ross Gittins or a range of people still able to research their writing - as I say, analysis is not news.

Frankly, I couldn’t cope with the media environment today’s politicians live in and I wonder actually whether a figure like Rick Farley could either. The 1985 farmers rally outside Parliament House was rowdy but at least it committed resources to arguments a good deal more developed than ‘ditch the bitch’. It is not hard to stir up fear, racism and misogyny in our society. The 1960s reflexes of conscience, which Rick played on in his enigmatic way, are now very dull or complacent. And of course the pace is such that serious journalists are required to do more and more with less and less time to carry out research, investigate and, above all, the pressure is on to entertain. The loop is closed when politicians in turn have to entertain a media which itself is a juggernaut. A hundred tweets by a hundred twits is more important than a wordy piece of analysis, print or electronic.

Rick became heavily involved in conservation and environmental and Aboriginal issues from the 1990s on. To take an example: how would he have handled the Murray-Darling Basin issue of today? A deal has to be done which will satisfy no-one from a fixed point of view. How do politicians handle the need for compromise in the minds of the electorate? What do you do when a year’s work on options for management is burnt to attract publicity by one interest group, when the participants obviously haven’t had the chance to read or let alone study it? And on the other side the conservationists, as represented by the Greens, won’t compromise.

When I chaired the Murray-Darling Basin council in 1988, we decided that there would be no more extractions or diversions of water from the basin. By the time the succeeding Federal Government put this in place, New South Wales had already increased its take by 12 per cent. Who takes responsibility?

To get change you can build an issue but it takes time, education and application; or you can utilise the power you have and work from the inside, influencing real policy makers. Rick was very adept at both: building a consensus, building networks and changing settled views. He did the analysis.

So, to my mind, what Rick said in 2003 was right and it has got worse. I don’t know what to do about it. But a contrast between his time and ours - and his time was only so recent - suggests there is nothing inevitable in how we got here. Discussions like this evening’s might point to some alternative paths from here on. I thank you. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks so much to John Kerin. Mick Dodson has had an illustrious career as a lawyer specialising in the rights of Indigenous peoples. A close friend of Rick’s through political and personally complex years, Mick asked a question that helped Susan and Nicholas shape their biography of Rick. Mick asked: ‘I want to know why Rick devoted his life to Aboriginal issues.’ Please welcome Mick Dodson.

MICK DODSON: Thank you, and good evening everyone. I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners and pay my respects to their elders. I am going to be brief – ‘thank God,’ I hear some of you muttering. I can’t remember precisely when I first met Farley - many of us Aboriginal stirrers tend to refer to him just as Farley. I can’t remember when I met Rick. It may have been when I was working at the Northern Land Council as a senior legal adviser there and the land claim lawyer, or it may have been when I became the Social Justice Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission. But probably why I remember him, because I don’t remember meeting him, is there must have been something there when we did meet.

And like Phillip, Rick and I became a tag team eventually. I remember the first time we did something together was in a small north-western New South Wales town. We had known of each other for a while by then. I was Social Justice Commissioner and pretty much a trouble maker in the eyes of many; and Rick had been involved in what many perceived as the outside of politics. I remember we flew to this little town together. When we arrived at this small town airport the whole town’s media - all three of them - greeted us as we got off the plane almost and were very surprised to see us walk across the tarmac chatting to each other. I think we may have had a chuckle at some stage. It was this view, which Phillip also referred to, that here were two radicals in different spheres actually appearing to like each other - and we did. We did grow to like each other. But that was the beauty of Rick. Some of the other speakers have mentioned that you could have – not arguments - disagreements with Rick but he always managed to keep you focused.

I finished up working as a tag team with Rick when the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre (AILC) was established and became - and still is - the only accredited leadership program anywhere in Australia. Rick and I lectured on that program and I learnt so much from him because we did a lot of travelling. The philosophy of the AILC is to take the learning to the leaders, take it to regional areas, take it to remote areas, bring the teachers there, bring the expertise and bring the knowledge. Rick and I would do a tag team around Native Title and leadership. I grew to understand why he was capable of generating the respect and the trust amongst Aboriginal people. In one way you always felt confident about Farley.

In the last ten days or so I have been doing a bit of travelling and I have been thinking about Rick because last week I spent the entire week up in the Kimberleys as a judge in the Australian Indigenous Governance Awards looking at organisations that are doing great things that Rick would be really proud of. I was noting that in two of those organisations people in important positions who were AILC graduates and who – although I didn’t ask – probably were at some stage taught by Rick.

Rick always said that you’ve got three options around Aboriginal affairs and issues, particularly in reference to Native Title and agreement making. He said you could litigate and he would explain that to the students in the program. You can force legislation and he would explain what that meant from a leadership perspective. But the thing he spent most of his time on in those lectures, as I recall it, was the power of negotiation. There is now - it has its lumps, bumps and warts - in relation to much of what happens out there on our country a culture of trying to make agreement. We’re not always successful, and agreement of course needs compromise. Things aren’t fantastic but I think in some of these spaces, and particularly that space, Rick would be proud.

I was supposed to be talking about identity actually, but we can do that in questions. To conclude, when I see some of the intractable problems we have - most of it is not without solution or resolution - I sometimes wonder, to paraphrase what Penny said, what Rick would say or do. Thanks. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks so much to Mick Dodson. Nicholas Brown is an historian and a member of the National Museum of Australia’s Centre for Historical Research. Trying to understand Rick Farley tested all of the categories that he used to think underpinned debates in Australian history - he is going to explain more. Please welcome Nicholas Brown.

Caring properly for our country and resolving unfinished business with our First Peoples can become national goals that unify our communities and create greater national certainty and confidence.

NICHOLAS BROWN: Thank you. It’s an enormous pleasure to be here and I want to thank Susan for taking me on this journey. From Susan, Penny, Phillip, John and Mick you have already heard much about their work with Rick on, as he put it in the above quote, the great unfinished business of caring for country and addressing Aboriginal needs and rights.

As your final speaker, I want to focus instead on those last four words in my excerpt from Rick’s 2003 address: ‘so let’s talk properly’. Like each of our texts, it’s a piece of classic, direct, succinct Farley. But it is worth pausing over. A lot of what he meant by it has already been drawn out by earlier comments. I want to focus on what does it mean to talk properly? What, in the context of the issues we have been discussing, and of the politics and transformations of the period we have been reflecting on, did it or does it mean to ‘talk properly’ and to reflect on what Rick might have meant by talking properly?

As is already clear from what has been said this evening, and in whatever sense of Rick’s importance has brought so many of you here, a great part of his contribution was in making conversations possible even across seemingly unbridgeable differences and often intractable issues. As one letter to the Sydney Morning Herald put it after his death, ‘Listening to Rick was always bitter-sweet. His humanity, empathy and optimism were always a source of hope.’ That bitter-sweet reflected the perspective Rick brought to issues but also the way he cast into stark relief the general absence of similar qualities in much public discussion. But also I think the bitter-sweet, as that person heard it, reflected the vulnerability, the fragility and the cost that came with speaking as he did.

One of the resounding themes picked up by many of the readers from our book is the open, searching question that emerged often quite spontaneously towards the end of so many of our interviews when people simply paused to ask: ‘Where are now the impassioned and politically fearless leaders?’ As a condolence letter to Linda Burney - one of hundreds, many making a similar point - put it: ‘Although I never met him, Rick’s action spoke to me of brave, intelligent and compassionate man, one who changed my perceptions.’

In those interviews Susan and I conducted – and there could. We know, have been many more - a similar point was often made with various inflections and reflections. And as much as the people we spoke to were thinking back to Rick they were also thinking back to themselves, to that sense of their perceptions changing on all sorts of questions, and what it meant, felt like and made possible to have your perceptions changed, to see that you could understand issues perhaps another way. We wanted to capture a sense of those moments in the book. They are a vital part of the reciprocal process of talking properly.

Of Rick in particular we might recall some aspects of what it meant to speak properly. The steady reasoned quality of his voice, and we began by hearing something of that: a careful articulation that sometimes seemed at odds with the tension, the complexity and the frustration people suspected to be actually there in his thinking, but reflected as he spoke a determination and often the advice and an insistence on simply ‘cutting the crap’. But there was also that insistence on being in the present for all its conflict and uncertainty.

We might reflect also on his habit from early on of seeking people out - ‘collecting them’, as Michael Woolridge put it - out of an intense interest in what they had to say, how they saw things, how they differed from him and equally a part of his speaking properly his impatience with careless or small talk. Even his use of obscenities was - university contemporaries remembered - always fastidious. No word, not even the most crude, was ever gratuitous. Nothing was wasted.

‘Ridiculous’, friends would also recall, was often his most damning judgment. For Rick to say something was ‘ridiculous’ was the worst thing he could possibly say - again very specific and literal. He had a keen sense of what fell short of the reasonable but also fundamentally a sensitivity to anything that stripped dignity from people and made them seem ridiculous. His mind turned to irony as a way of seeking a way through the structural discordances of the 1980s and the 1990s onwards. The easy, highly personalised ridicule that prevails in political culture now was profoundly alien to his way of thinking.

We might also reflect on his capacity, even in the most intense negotiations – and we have heard that already this evening – over the most divisive issues to slow things down, to create a space, to build even the most minimal point of intersection into a prospect of cooperation.

Rick would begin in a fundamental way with acts of recognition and respect: ‘where are you coming from?’ rather than ‘who simply are you?’; ‘where do you want to go?’ rather than ‘what are you not prepared to change?’. He would seek to find the ‘we’ in describing an issue, not the ‘you’ or the ‘them’.

But overall - again it is a point we have all made - it is fundamental to talking properly to listen - to earn trust. Another really important part of Rick’s methods as a condition of that trust was to own, carry and be accorded fully the authority you bring to a conversation: to be clear about for whom you are speaking, to whom you are accountable, from where comes your power and your responsibility; whether in terms of the office you hold, the culture you carry or the assumptions you make; whether as a delegate from a farmers organisation, a Landcare group, a traditional owner - who gives you your authority, what authority do you have? As one Barkindji elder noted of Rick’s work in facilitating the land management agreement at Lake Victoria, he brought Aboriginal people from the edges of the room to sit at the table because they had authority as Barkindji people and they didn’t really need to have any other authority than that.

And equally fundamentally the capacity to engender in other people the confidence that they had something to say. Rick was someone people, even those on apparently opposite sides of an issue, sought in confidence for conversation - perhaps because they always saw in him the fundamental radical, the inside-outsider, the issue carrier.

These might seem intangible things, means rather than ends. I am not offering them as a manual on right speech a checklist or a parcel of attributes Rick exemplified; they were part of his work, what he learned and what he shared with many others who wanted to make a difference. They were far from uncontested in the volatile politics of his time. The education of the NFF’s stiletto man was far from smooth or always assured. Still, there was always the Farley who, in one sharp contrast which I think speaks volumes, spoke in his last years at the National Farmers Federation of the capacity for Native Title legislation to find a balance, a measure of mutual recognition in the rights of pastoralists and Aboriginal Australians, but who saw, so soon after he left, the NFF release a television advertisement showing a black and white child wrestling in a tortured game of twist. There can be no more powerful statement of the difference that Rick actually made in the authority he carried within an organisation and how quickly the politics at the time could change that.

Certainly, as Rick would concede, his approach was often a matter of technique, of managing people, of using his own silence or gaze or measured tones to coax from people more than they might have meant to say. No account of Rick could ever overlook the extent to which talk for him was tactical, a means to an end.

To ‘talk properly’ was something he came to appreciate often with a fair measure of failure and humility, through both the personal and the political journey which is at the core of his life and its historical significance. I suppose the point we are all developing, and partly reflecting on this evening in thinking about what has changed since his time and now, is that Rick Farley was profoundly of his time: a time which, from the 1970s onwards and even from his first unlikely partnership in Rockhampton with the cattlemen’s union, saw many groups trying to find ways to be heard as the pace of social and economic change accumulated around them, fracturing old certainties, highlighting marginalities and demanding a way past prejudice and resentment.

Our biography, of its nature, didn’t allow much space to include the many others who worked with Rick in meeting that change. One aspect of this forum is to highlight a sense of a much wider company - partly reflected here this evening - of ‘brave, intelligent and compassionate’ people who shared that task.

There are many laments and diagnoses in what has happened to the capacity to talk properly in contemporary Australia, and each of them is shown into relief by Farley. This was because not only, as John has pointed out, in some ways he was complicit in their early evolution but also he came to fight against them. He knew from the cattlemen’s union and the NFF about the rise of machine politics, pressure group influence and opinion poll driven policy. He saw the early changes of the transformation of the media of political communication towards the 24-hour cycle and the minimisation of the political message.

He also understood the dynamic Laura Tingle has recently described in Australia over the past 30 years between an entrenched culture of government-supported entitlement, the course of economic reconstruction and deregulation since the 1980s, and the battle over core values of the 1990s and onwards. This coupling, as Tingle has shown, has produced a pervasive and self-perpetuating cynicism about the failure of government to meet expectations.

Farley, a smooth political operator, began with the well-placed telex or fax, kept on his mobile phone recordings of Paul Keating’s late night calls of Native Title to remind him what pressure and influence was, and worked as a consultant in the emerging world of email, yet never had the opportunity to adjust to the world of Facebook and the tweet. Reacting to all of this, what he demanded as a precondition for talking properly was a different space in which meeting someone, going to their place, seeing what it was like for them, watching their reflexes, their hesitations, their fears, their stumbles and their furies was what it meant to lead. And never with a safety vest and a hard hat or a nodding colleague standing behind you in a sound bite, and never with the sense that it was enough to be moved by someone else’s testimony unless it led to action. It was not enough to apologise; you really had to do. And then, having recognised that, to take things to the next level of recognition, respect, patience, trust, authority and confidence.

Before we solve the issues of policy in Australia, it’s perhaps more pressing that we think carefully about what it might mean to discover such a space, a space that Farley worked so hard to find in his own work. It is an irony perhaps that Rick didn’t live to reflect on that the years in which on what he was called the Howard government’s ‘shit list’, as he put it, also gave a power to his and many other voices as they started to insist on pushing an agenda the government would not touch through alternative informed, civic cultures – and again those cultures are reflected in some of our speakers tonight. When Farley ran for the Democrats in Canberra, the balance of power seemed to him potentially a balance of decency. Yet what has followed and where we are now is perhaps ridiculous in both the senses Farley appreciated.

It is to conclude absolutely fitting that we should meet to reflect on Farley’s life here in the National Museum of Australia. The NMA has weathered its own seasons in following a commitment to an inclusive conversation about land, nation and people and to bringing Australian stories to life. But as I thought about comments this evening, I wondered where beyond this forum might Farley’s story live in the National Museum of Australia.

Here is a suggestion: Our Eternity gallery takes one object of a person’s life and evokes them in terms of an emotion. Now Farley, as Susan said, always said he steered clear of emotion. That’s not true. The nature of his work was often a slow, meticulous attempt to find common ground on deeply contested issues. In his last ten years as a consultant on land use and Native Title agreements right across Australia, he began, as Susan notes in our book, every negotiation with a new Collins 3880 notebook - a real one, not a digital one - in which he recorded carefully all meetings, all names and all contact numbers - high officials and local contacts, every person you need to talk to in order to get a deal to stick - all halting steps and priorities, the next steps and the obstacles, the flights and the bookings, as the talk about caring for country slowly unfolded.

One of these books opened at any page might on the one hand seem prosaic. Equally, one of these books opened at any page might fit under any one of or all of the emotions through which our Eternity gallery charts Australians making a sense of their experience: the emotions of home, chance, devotion, fear, hope, joy, loneliness, mystery, passion, separation, thrill. Farley might have said he steered clear of emotion but in ‘talking properly’, in making a conversation possible, all of those emotions are there in his work. Thank you. [applause]

ALEX SLOAN: Thanks very much to Nicholas. Before we adjourn for refreshments there is time for a few questions. We would love you to participate in that. You have such a fine panel, a meeting of old friends here. We can pass around the microphone and make sure you state your name first.

QUESTION: I did the HSC in New South Wales 19 years ago in 1993 and at that time the Mabo case was actually very much part of what I was studying at the time in geography and also in English as case studies. What hasn’t changed in the last 19 years and almost in a way we have gone backwards – we have gone one step forward and two steps back. Can you see any new approaches that can be taken to reconcile what has happened post Rick Farley’s death?

ALEX SLOAN: In terms of reconciliation and steps forwards -

NICHOLAS BROWN: So the core question is: what are the main issues that might perhaps point a new way forward, a new path? In a way I think what Mick finished by saying is true, and we don’t acknowledge it often enough, that there is out of the cities, out in the bush, out in another Australia, a real preparedness amongst many people to negotiate, to talk about country and to identify really shared meanings about country white and black.

One of the most powerful experiences Susan and I had in writing this book was when Susan went to interview an Aboriginal elder in Wagga. But we actually interviewed her after she came out of a public meeting in which the local primary school paid her honour as an Aboriginal elder. Just to see a Wagga school acknowledge an elderly Wiradjuri woman as an elder and as somebody who could teach them something – who taught them a lot - was for me just one of many ways of saying this work, Farley’s work, is crucial.

QUESTION: I have a comment more than a question. Earlier on the question was posed: who did Rick Farley mentor? I have read the biography and I think it was fantastic. I think the biography facilitates him mentoring people and I feel enriched from having read it.

SUSAN BODEN: Can I make a quick comment about that. I would like to thank you enormously for that. One of the key motivations I have when I am teaching as a landscape architect is a sense of my students - many of whom in Canberra come from regional areas in Australia - their desperate desire to find a way to talk with Aboriginal people about country. I mean we are handling country; we are handling landscape. That was one of my motivations that I have something slightly more intelligent and meaningful to contribute to their education. That was a really strong driver for me. Thank you very much for that comment.

QUESTION: My question is to Mick Dodson. I believe that the country actually produced Rick in many ways in that from reading his biography who he was came from his experiences across the country. Mick, we need people like Rick more than ever. Do you think country will provide us with more heroes like this?

MICK DODSON: Yes. Rick, in my view, had a very diverse approach to what an Australian is. An Australian person isn’t just me; it is not just you; it is not migrants; it is not asylum seekers; it’s not a farmer or a politician or a lawyer, a refugee from North Africa or a disabled person, a man or a woman - it’s all of those things. I think that’s what we’re missing because we think that it can be one thing when that’s just silliness. We’re a myriad of things.

What I think would disappoint Rick today - he’d probably use that ‘ridiculous’ word - is the way in which the discourse around identity is played out and particularly in relation to Aboriginal people and to a lesser extent Torres Strait Islanders. It’s a discourse of negativity, of failure, of inability to succeed – and that is what some refer to as a deficit discourse.

I told that story about teaching people in the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre. That’s been going for a bit over ten years now. You can go around the country and see not only those graduates leading people but bringing people along, fostering new leadership and, above all, succeeding themselves and helping others within their group and beyond to succeed as well. It’s the negative story that gets the headline. These success stories don’t because too many of us have been told for too long that this is who they are, this is how we characterise them. And for some different image of that to be presented destroys their comforting the negativity.

JOHN KERIN: I could give a more policy answer to that. I really think all the structures, all the potential, all the science is there. Some 70 or 80 per cent of farmers now have some connection with Landcare. The catchment management authorities and the natural resource boards - all the science is there. What I think we need is a bit more values-based pragmatism and actually work on what we have and get it all together. I have just been on a catchment management authority which has a lot of Aboriginal people in it. If you can work from the bottom up with good dedicated people, you can get across the idea of country and also the issue of land management. There is a movement for environmental management systems that could be fortified. So, as I say, all the stuff is there.

One of Rick’s great abilities was to drag it all together and understand that everything is related to everything else and that you are not dealing with issues in isolation. The NFF was a bit of an adornment to the usual agricultural policy organisation because they realised they had to be national and therefore they had to also concentrate on national economic issues. But as I said Rick worked from the inside with the NFF but also on issues that involve heart, appreciation, negotiation and people. It’s all there but I think there needs to be a bit more - I don’t like the word ‘leadership’ – a bit more passion.

PHILLIP TOYNE: I am trying to assimilate all of the things that have been said here tonight. There is one aspect of Rick that I don’t think has been mentioned and that was his incredible capacity to bluff. He often didn’t have the consensus that he claimed. I remember him confronting me once and saying, ‘How can you make this deal we’re considering’ - I think it was in relation to Landcare – ‘how can you make it stick? Greenies are all over the place, you can’t deliver your constituency.’ And I said, ‘Just look behind you at the NFF.’ He had some of the wildest schisms going on behind him in the NFF, a great example being Native Title and the way that was handled, and he used to bluff about a unity of view when often one never existed.

He was a political player and he was a very good one. That is what we are all celebrating here tonight. I think he would be uncomfortable being described as a hero. I think he saw himself as a serious player and somebody whose major attribute, in my view, was the capacity to keep on keeping on. So when you talk about what happens when things are going pear-shaped, things went pear-shaped for him many, many times - in Kosciuszko, in the Murray Darling Basin and the Lake Victoria issues and in many of the Native Title negotiations where things just became a complete impasse and he couldn’t break through those. But I think what he did do was to identify the tools that you need if you have got any hope to succeed, but he couldn’t guarantee the success behind it.

SUSAN BODEN: I certainly agree with what Phillip said but if I can go back and make a small comment, and again I make it as a landscape architect. One of the things that frustrates me in this country about the slowness on the issue of reconciliation is the way it completely excludes people who are not Aboriginal and are not non-Aboriginal as in Anglo Celtic, Anglo-Saxon background. I volunteer as a home tutor and I have a Pakistani student at the moment who said to me the other say day, ‘I have lived in a desert. My people have lived in a desert for a long time but it would be nice if someone asked us.’ The complete way in which Afghanis, Iraqis, North Africans, hosts of civilisations and cultures that have lived in deserts and arid cultures for a long time don’t even get a voice in this country is something that Rick was quite prescient about in that 2003 speech because he actually mentions the rising tide of immigration that we have seen. From my perspective that is very much why that issue needs to be settled.

ALEX SLOAN: Is it time for refreshments? I think the brother of the author can have one more question and then we will wrap it up.

QUESTION: I have been outed but it’s not a question as Susan’s brother and Nicholas’s brother-in-law, it’s a question for Phillip or John in particular. I am absolutely fascinated why Rick Farley stood for the Democrats. What were your personal reactions and what were the reactions of the Green left and the Labor Party?

PHILLIP TOYNE: I remember distinctly him deciding to stand for the Democrats after he had had a long conversation with Bob McMullan, and that was interesting because McMullan was providing him with information about polling that certainly the Democrats couldn’t do in relation to the ACT. Of course, McMullan’s agenda in all of that was to see a Democrat elected rather than a Liberal. It demonstrated some of the labyrinthine political plays that Rick found himself engaged in. My reaction to it was that I thought it was foolhardy because his greatest strength in many respects was being non-party aligned. I saw it as being a compromising position to be in. As it turned out, the very optimistic polling that he had been told about was not borne out by the election result. I don’t know if you would describe it as a big mistake but it certainly would have been a seriously sobering experience.

ALEX SLOAN: I know how much Susan and Nicholas really appreciate your attendance tonight and we should join them in thanking the wonderful panel of speakers. It’s been so special having them together. Thank you as well to the National Museum of Australia and the dedication of Alexandra Tough and Heidi Pritchard from the public events team. They have done a great job.

Perhaps we can turn again to Rick to end this part of the evening as he said at the end of his Australia Day speech, ‘That’s enough reflection and contemplation. Time now for celebration.’ Please join us in the foyer to continue the conversation. There will be books for sale and they can be signed by the authors and the panel. If you haven’t read A Way Through, I do recommend it. Again thank you so much and very special to have Cathy, Cailin and Jeremy here as well. Thank you [applause]

Date published: 10 September 2012