An interview with John Anderson
John Anderson talks to Peter Hastie
This interview was first published in the winter 2013 edition of AP magazine. It is used with permission and with appreciation.
Advance Australia – where? Politics is often seen as an unseemly business. The German chancellor Otto von Bismarck once reportedly said: “To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” While this may be a truism in regard to political process, it should not be seen as a reflection upon every politician. Clearly, there are some who stand apart from the crowd.
One such politician is John Anderson AO, who is widely regarded as a man whose political priorities were always subservient to his faith in God and sense of duty to the people of Australia. Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister from 1999 to 2005, he retired from politics in 2007.
John is married to Julia and they have five children.
John, you played a key role in the Howard government, rising to Deputy Prime Minister. What led you into this particular calling?
I really had no particular desire to enter public life, other than a broad interest in public policy and a desire to share my views on the issues of the day. As a young man I never had any ambitions to be a member of federal parliament or a deputy prime minister. When I found myself in those positions I was completely surprised.
The immediate reason for my entry into politics was that several senior party people, including my sitting member, Frank O’Keefe AM, urged me to do so. Frank was retiring and he thought I would be a good candidate for the seat. As a Christian, I saw this invitation as God opening the door on a new sphere of service for me, and in retrospect it certainly was.
Were there any particular qualities that they saw in your life that they thought especially suited you for a public life?
I became involved in politics shortly after the election of the Hawke government. I had just become the secretary of the local branch of the National Party (not willingly, I should add). One day in that capacity I had gone to a meeting of delegates in our region and our federal member, Frank O’Keefe, made some comments about the incoming government. He referred to one of them as “un-intellectual”, another as “someone who looked as though he hadn’t had a shower”, and a third, who had no sense of dress because he came into the chamber without wearing a tie. I passed a comment on what he’d said, and I began my opening remarks by declaring, “as someone who actually went to university, had a shower this morning, and is wearing a tie, I’d like to say x, y and z ….” and it caught his attention. I think he thought, “this young fellow can communicate”, and that became the trigger for him to become my sponsor.
I was only 27 when I won the pre-selection – it was apparently a landslide – so I think I was too cock-sure by half, spruiking the advantages of youth. I now understand why the wisdom of years should not be so lightly dismissed. Nevertheless, my youth seemed to impress the delegates and they decided they wanted someone young. I won the right to run for the seat for the party. But between that time and the actual election in 1984, the electoral boundaries were redrawn and the seat was abolished. So I was left high and dry.
I subsequently ran when the member for the new electorate retired, and he prevailed upon me to run in his place. That was Ralph Hunt, a man for whom I had huge respect. He was a well known Presbyterian and again I felt God opening the doors. At that time I felt an almost irresistible call to continue to try those doors, even though I was not a particularly keen politician.
What do you mean by that?
I am much shyer than people realise, and I don’t enjoy the limelight. I do enjoy a robust debate, but that’s a different thing altogether. I have a real dislike of being in the media.
Is that for family reasons, or personal reasons?
It’s partly cultural, I think. My father believed that if you were going to be in the papers it should be on the sporting pages. Otherwise, no decent human being should feature in the media. It’s also partly because I find myself at variance with the values of almost all of the modern mainstream media. While I enjoy the company of many journalists, I simply cannot sit comfortably with their secularised, cynical, and disrespectful views of the world.
It’s not political reform we need. It’s a recovery of the beliefs that drove the values that drove the ethics that made us a free society.