Greg McIntosh was a staffer in the Provisional Parliament House for the Hon. Ian McPhee from 1985 to 1987. He was a Parliamentary Political Science Fellow from 1988-89. The Museum is acquiring his collection of taped interviews with MPs, Senators and Press Gallery journalists about the implications of the move to the new building, recorded as part of his Fellowship.
Interview with Greg McIntosh, part 1
B York: This is an interview with Greg McIntosh who was born in Victoria in 1953 and came to Canberra in 1985 to work on the staff of Ian McPhee. Ian McPhee was a former Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister for Employment and Youth. Greg worked for Ian McPhee until 1987. In 1988, he was appointed a political science fellow with the Parliament and in 1989 his monograph on executive dominance and a new Parliament House was published. Greg recorded many tape interviews for this project and the Museum is very interested in acquiring them, perhaps, so we will talk about this project as a part of the interview. Greg will be speaking with me, Barry York, for the Oral History program conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. On behalf of the director of the Museum, thanks a lot Greg for your co-operation.
G McIntosh: Thank you.
B York: Do you understand that the Commonwealth owns copyright in the interview of the material but disclosure will be subject any disclosure restriction that you impose in the Rights Agreement?
G McIntosh: Yes. I understand that.
B York: Can we have permission to make a transcript or a summary of this recording?
G McIntosh: Yes, by all means.
B York: Thank you very much. The interview is taking place today which is Thursday the 20th of October, 2011, at the Museum. Let’s begin at the beginning. Can you give me some personal background, please?
G McIntosh: Certainly, Barry. I was born in a small country town in the southern valley of Victoria in 1952. My father was a plumber and builder there. My mother was basically involved with home duties, bringing up children but also did some work in retail. I went to school there. It was a very small town, only about a thousand people. Our nearest community was Jeparit where Sir Robert Menzies was born, that was our nearest town. It was fairly isolated, a small country town — mainly wheat and sheep, so it was mainly an agricultural community. I knew right from the start, the sort of people that stayed in that community were farmers, sons mainly and sometimes their daughters. But I knew fairly early that I would have to leave that community if I wanted to further my education and that’s what I ended up doing in 1971. I went to Melbourne. I had gotten into Monash University. I was there from 1971 to 1974. In 1975 I commenced a teaching career.
B York: What was the name of the country town?
G McIntosh: The country town’s name was Rainbow which is about 60 miles north or 100 kilometres north of Horsham and about 150 k’s south of Mildura.
B York: Did you have brothers and sisters?
G McIntosh: Yes, I had an older brother and a younger brother.
B York: Were they like you? Did they want to move?
G McIntosh: My older brother went into the National Bank and was unfortunately killed in a car accident which devastated the family. My younger brother went into the bank for a while and then he went to Western Australia where he still is. He’s worked in a variety of jobs over there. At the moment he’s in charge of occupational health and safety with a mining company just north of Kalgoorlie.
B York: What about your formal education? Was that in Rainbow?
G McIntosh: Yes. I went to school… We had a primary school and a high school there so I did all my schooling in Rainbow. As I said, we had no option to do any tertiary studies in those small county towns. I virtually had no option. I did get into the ANU but I went to Monash because I had a teaching scholarship. My parents couldn’t afford to… There were fees in those days as well. So the teaching scholarship which bonded me for three years, I was happy to do that. That enabled me to get through Monash University and get the qualifications to become a teacher.
B York: When you were young, growing up in Rainbow, did you have ambitions? Did you have your mind set on doing something in particular?
G McIntosh: Probably not in the early days but about in year ten and eleven some of my teachers had an influence on me. Plus I was reading more widely and I was aware of the wider world which you don’t tend to when you’re younger. There wasn’t anything that particularly… My next door neighbour was a farmer and I used to do a lot of work on farms with my next door neighbour. He was virtually my uncle. I probably would have, if I had the opportunity, gone into farming. I’m glad I didn’t but that was something that did interest me. Once I got into about year ten or eleven, I started to take my studies a bit more seriously. Luckily my marks were good enough to get me into university. I was keen to go to university. I knew that that was something you needed to do if you wanted to give yourself some choices in terms of your life and your jobs and stuff.
B York: Were you inclined in a certain direction in terms of studies for the scholarship went?
G McIntosh: I was always keen on history. I did a bit of history at high school. I became interested in politics and economics to an extent. I did politics, economics and geography for university. But I got interested in politics probably in the late sixties in high school. My father used to take me to some political meetings when visiting politicians would come through town. So I always had some interest in that. Certainly after I left school, the advent of Whitlam-ism and what Whitlam did to… I think he energised a whole generation of young people to be interested in politics. I guess I was just interested and I wanted to be involved to some extent. I also wanted to teach. So I did do a lot of teaching at year twelve level for politics and economics and Australian history. It had a good flavour of Australian political history as well.
B York: Was your father in a party?
G McIntosh: He wasn’t. He was very cynical of politicians. Most of his era… Most of my father’s friends, the first thing they would say about politicians was ‘they’re all on the take’ or ‘you can’t trust them’. There was a lot of cynicism amongst that generation. The community that we were in was very strong for the National Party. It was in the seat of Mallee which Winton Turnbull had held since the 1950’s right through to 1972 when Peter Fisher — who I knew quite well — he became the member for Mallee then. He was National Party as well. I can remember in 1972 going out to his house in the country and we all had Whitlam t-shirts on. We got a very hostile reception from a lot of the local farmers and National Party or Country Party supporters, in those days. It was all good fun but once people had had a few drinks and they were angry that Whitlam had got in and we were happy that he got in… It was a great night and they welcomed us and so on but there were a few harsh words spoken. It was a very National Party community, very conservative and of course Menzies came from just up the road so there were people supporting him.
I do remember once in about year twelve going to a Labor Party meeting. It was basically old farmers who still had that agrarian, socialist sort of background and they believed strongly in the Labor Party. But there were probably only five or six people. That sort of shocked me in how much support the Labor Party had in that sort of country environment.
B York: When you got to Monash, I guess in 1971, was it still a radical type campus?
G McIntosh: Well, people like Albert Langer were dominant on campus. I used to go to a few rallies. I never got officially involved with that but I certainly went to demonstrations. I went to lots of meetings. We boycotted the… I forget the name of the Vice Chancellor…
B York: Matheson?
G McIntosh: Yes, Matheson, Louis Matheson. I was on the fringes of that. I never really got involved in that. I was keen to do it and there were lots of issues that I thought were important. I remember going to one demonstration one day and the guy behind me threw a bottle of beer at the face of a police officer. We all got a good towelling. That sort of turned me off. I thought if these kind of people are going to do that, I wasn’t interested in that sort of stuff. So I was involved but only on the fringes.
But certainly at La Trobe university there was a pretty strong group there. I can’t remember the names of the people there. Certainly, Albert Langer was the dominant one at Monash. There were lots of things going on in student politics then that I saw from the fringes. It was interesting, just behind me was Peter Costello and a few of his lot that actually cut their teeth in politics at Monash University, come through in the Liberal side of things. A lot of the people that I was involved with were either in the Labor Party or campaigned for Labor members and that sort of thing. But I never was actively involved in it.
B York: With your academic studies at Monash, what subjects did you do?
G McIntosh: I did a lot of Australian Politics and some International Politics. I did Economics for my whole three years. I did Geography, a little bit of History, a little bit of Economic History. Then of course, I did a Diploma of Education so I could qualify as a teacher.
B York: Were there any lecturers or tutors that had a particular impact on you?
G McIntosh: Probably no one dominant. I mean, there were some Economics lecturers… I mean, Economics is difficult to understand. I think it’s even more difficult to understand today. But there were some… There was a guy called Lachie McGregor who was a good lecturer in Economics. He made it understandable. In Politics there were some wild and wonderful lecturers. There was one guy there, I can’t remember his name, but he was talking about revolutionary politics need to overthrow… You know, Communism, Socialism… We were studying all that sort of stuff. I remember at one stage, we were talking about the need for us as students to be active and involved with that sort of stuff.
I remember there was one demonstration coming up and I thought ‘well…’ I approached him after the lecture and I said ‘well, are you interested in joining us in this thing you told us we should be doing?’ He said ‘oh, no, no. I don’t want anything to do with it.’ I thought ‘it’s okay for an academic to stand there and talk about what you should do to try and change society.’ I thought ‘when push came to crunch, he backed off at 100 knots.’ I thought ‘if this is what some of the academics are like, this changes my view of him.’ But for the most part, it was interesting. It opened up my eyes to lots of things. It radicalised me to an extent. It also made me more conservative in some ways too, I think.
B York: With the teaching experience, was it your plan to teach in a country area?
G McIntosh: I always liked country schools. I didn’t like living in Melbourne. I did four years at Monash and I was keen. So when I applied for schools in down in the Western district of Victoria. I think Lake Bolac had a really small school. I was keen on that. So in their wisdom, they sent me to Sunbury. As it turned out when I spoke to the Principal there, he was going to give me a full complement of typing. So I was going to be teaching typing which I absolutely knew nothing about. I knew the principal at Rainbow and my mother on her own at that stage because my father had died when I was at uni.
I knew the principal and I said ‘is there any chance…’ I knew one of the guys at Monash had been posted to Rainbow and he didn’t want to be there. So the principal arranged a swap and I ended up back in my home town for one year and taught there. I didn’t want to go back there but I certainly didn’t want to teach typing at Sunbury. I ended up back at Rainbow for one year. It was basically to help to be home with my mother who was on her own then. So I did one year there and then ended up going to Yarrawonga on the Murray River which was fantastic. I had five years there. That was really good.
B York: What was… Sorry, go on.
G McIntosh: I met my wife there and because we didn’t want to be teaching at the same school when we were married we both applied again down at the Western District, I think. We applied for two different schools that were both close together. So I ended up in Colac and she ended up in Mortlake. We lived in Colac.
B York: You were teaching History mainly and Politics?
G McIntosh: Teaching mainly Politics, History, Geography and Economics. But yes, for years twelve I basically taught Politics most of those years and Economics and a fair bit of History.
B York: Now, you came to Canberra in 1985, is there a gap there that we need to fill? Were you teaching up until that time?
G McIntosh: Teaching up until there. I went to Yarrawonga, went to Colac, Mortlake and then we ended up in a place called Wycheproof up north of Bendigo. My wife taught at Birchip and I taught at Wycheproof. We had a great time there too. Again, it was a bit similar like my home town and I was starting to grow out of those small towns by then. I was getting disillusioned with teaching. What was happening was there was more and more bureaucracy coming in. It was a bit like the Public Service. I basically wanted to teach and I wanted to teach in the classroom but if you wanted to progress as a teacher to higher levels, you had to go into administration. A couple of times I was virtually forced to do the timetable. You know, to organise admin things. I was getting dragged out of the classroom when I wanted to stay. Plus the discipline thing was changing. In the early years there was good support if you were with difficult kids. Towards the end that support was just not there. So I was ready for a change. My wife was happy to come. We had both been to Canberra a number of times. I used to bring school groups here to this building in the 1970’s and 80’s. I came up here a number of times and we would come up here to Parliament and we would meet some of the pollies, like Peacock and people like that — Donald Chipp. So I would bring up a group of kids, usually about ten or fifteen kids and we would come up here for usually about three or four days, do this building and Parliament.
B York: I wasn’t aware that that happened back then.
G McIntosh: Well, I organised these myself. These weren’t formally organised. There was no Parliamentary education office. That didn’t exist in this building, I don’t think. But I organised it myself. So I would make appointments with Peacock and Chip and Doug Anthony, our local member. We would have morning tea and all that and he would talk to the students and then we would go into Parliament. It was just one way. I always believed that, if you could, try and make a subject as close to reality as you can. Teaching out of textbooks is all very fine but in politics there are a lot of options out there. I had mentioned before, Barry, that I did some interviews. Telecom was trialling their new teleconference facilities. I was able to trial it. I had free use of a teleconference facility and free phone calls while I was teaching particularly at Wycheproof. I rang up people like Whitlam, Gorton, Chip, Doug Anthony, Gareth Evans and a whole range of people. My students were able to talk directly to these political leaders that they weren’t just talking about in textbooks and newspapers. They were actually able to talk to them and I actually taped all of those interviews as well.
B York: Was Whitlam Prime Minister at that time?
G McIntosh: No. Whitlam wasn’t. I think he had been retired from Parliament by then. It was the 80’s. I think he retired about the early 80’s or late 70’s. Gorton had obviously been around for a while. Yeah, they were interesting to talk to.
B York: Would you travel by bus from Wycheproof?
G McIntosh: Usually we would bring a minibus up and on a couple of occasions we brought two or three cars but usually just a minibus. We would stay out at Narrabundah or somewhere close. Do all the cultural institutions. Particularly, because it was Australian History Politics students, the particular emphasis was on Parliament and politics.
B York: Do you know if any other teachers were doing that as well? Like did you get the idea from someone else or was that your own idea?
G McIntosh: I know that lots of schools did trips all over the place and lots of schools went to Canberra but I wasn’t aware of anyone who was… I mean, Australian Politics at year twelve level, there wasn’t a large number of students in Victoria. There was only a couple of thousand there. I don’t know of any other schools that particularly did this. My emphasis was Parliament and politics. Other schools would have done more general trips with students from across the board. They would come here and they would visit Parliament House but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as full on as what I was doing. Not that I was aware of anyway.
B York: That was your first visit to Canberra yourself or had you been here as a child?
G McIntosh: No, I had been here probably late uni days and probably when I first started teaching, I came up here a couple of times. The few times I came to Canberra, I really loved it. My wife was the same. She visited with her parents. We both knew it was a nice city and we both liked the country. She came from Melbourne, a place called Williamstown. But she liked the country. She used to visit friends in the country every year. So we both liked country towns and what we liked about Canberra was: city benefits, country living. It’s grown a lot since then but there’s so much bush around Canberra. It is like living in a rural environment to a large extent. So we deliberately made a decision to do it. I was ready for a change. I thought ‘well, I’ve been teaching and studying politics. I may as well come in and have a look first hand.’ So I started applying for jobs with politicians.
B York: I see. So there was no connection with McPhee or…?
G McIntosh: No. I applied for a number of positions with people and some were almost there and they fell through. I applied for one with McPhee and it just turned out that one of his staff had left. This was in ’85. I went down and had an interview with him in his Electorate Office in Brighton. We both hit it off pretty well. One of the things I was impressed with, I said to him very early, I said ‘you do realise, I don’t vote Liberal, don’t you?’ He said ‘that’s okay. That’s fine with me. I don’t expect you to be a card carrying member of the Party. I want you to do research and speeches and help me with my work.’ That was unusual because most pollies wanted someone who was effectively in the Party but McPhee was more than happy with that. I mean, some of his best friends are in the Labor Party. I was surprised. You could just tell, he was a genuine nice person. We hit it off and he offered me the job on the spot so I didn’t even have to wait too long. At the end of ’85 we started to move up here and I started with him.
B York: And did your wife get a job here as well?
G McIntosh: Well, she was teaching. So she came up here and within probably a month, she had a job at a high school. She was a maths teacher so there was plenty of demand for that. She’s pretty well been teaching in Canberra ever since. She’s now at Copland College, Melba Copland College in Melba, teaching up there.
B York: Before we talk about working for McPhee, can you give me a description of Canberra back then? What was Canberra like in 1985?
G McIntosh: So in 1985, certainly there was a lot less traffic around. It was a lot less busy. There certainly wasn’t… I mean, we live in Tuggeranong, down in Gordon. Most of Tuggeranong hadn’t been developed at that stage. The hyper dome wasn’t there. There wasn’t much development past Campbell or Wanniassa, down that way. You could get a car park anywhere you liked which, these days, it’s almost impossible everywhere you go. It has changed a lot. It’s grown a lot. Civic has gone from a really sleepy, little hollow where on the weekend there was nothing there except wind and dust to now, you know, it’s become quite cosmopolitan. There’s a lot more eateries there, a lot more shops there. They’ve put a lot of apartments in there. Canberra has grown a lot. I wouldn’t want to see it grow much more but I understand communities have to grow or they stultify. It certainly has changed a lot.
I think people work longer hours now. It’s sort of hard to remember what it was like. It seems a more frantic pace now. It seems a bit more like normal cities and certainly things like the crime rate has changed. You could virtually leave your keys in the car in the mid-80’s in Canberra. There was very little graffiti. I mean, I’m sure it existed. But I look now and it’s sort of in your face. I’ve had three cars in our family broken into in the last eighteen months whereas in the first twenty years we were here, you know… Nothing. Now, that might be coincidence. I don’t know. It’s changed. We’ve now got a lot of big city type issues and problems and it’s still only three hundred and fifty odd thousand. But back then it was probably only less than two hundred.
B York: Where did you live when you first came here?
G McIntosh: We rented a house just briefly in Weston, not far from the Weston Creek centre. Then we moved there fairly quickly because was wanted to buy a house. We had been lucky when we had been teachers. I had access to subsidised teacher housing so we had cheap teacher housing which enabled us to save money so we had a good deposit. We bought a house in Kambah in I think 1986. We moved into that fairly quickly and we stayed there for a while and then we bought another house in Kambah in the early 90’s. Then about four years ago we moved down to Gordon.
B York: Now, with the job with McPhee you’ve mentioned research and writing and assistance with speeches, were there other duties?
G McIntosh: Up until that stage, he tended to just bring staff up here when Parliament wasn’t sitting unless there was something special on. When I had the interview with him I said ‘look, I would like to live in Canberra. I don’t really want to keep shuttling backwards and forwards.’ He said ‘that’s fine.’ He said ‘it’s probably a good idea if we had someone.’ So I ended up being the sole staff for here. When sitting was on other staff would come up. He hired another guy after me, a few months later. Basically, because I was here on my own in the building here, you ended up pretty well doing everything. So you’re opening up mail, you’re answering the correspondence, you’re answering the phone, you’re writing speeches.
One of the key things that I was tasked to do was write policy documents and give policy ideas on for Shadow Communications at that stage. So I was involved in developing policy for the Shadow Cabinet on the ABC, on the SBS, [inaudible], Telecom and all those telecommunication sort of things. Media policy, back in those days one of the issues was Murdoch’s takeover of the Herald Weekly Times which was a big issue. So it was all that sort of communications issues and satellites, the role of satellites. It was pretty broad ranging. I had no background in that area so it was a bit of a struggle. But I must say the policy side of it took a back step to all the other stuff that was going on. The Peacock-Howard leadership thing just totally dominated the whole Party and what was going on. It was a fascinating and interesting time to see it but frustrating in a sense that I knew that not much policy was going to go anywhere until they sorted out the leadership. They were going to have trouble getting into office. A lot of the politician’s time was taken up by the total distraction of leadership.
B York: I’ll ask you about that later, Greg, in more detail. I’m wondering whether there was a daily routine that you can describe for us.
G McIntosh: On a typical day I would come in our office… Because this building was overcrowded, they decided to put an annex on it. The annex went out where the House of Reps tennis courts are. They were out on the northern side of that. It was a long corridor with two levels and you could access it from where we are now. You would walk across and there were two levels. Those offices were probably the best offices in the building apart from what the Minister’s had because they were fairly new and they were bigger. Mainly Shadow Minister’s got those but it was a bit of a mixture. So I was lucky in that sense that the office that I had to start with was, by the standards of the building itself, pretty good.
I would arrive at 8 o’clock in the morning and there would be mail, quite often tic-tac with the office in Melbourne what was going on. The number of phone calls that would come to the office is the thing that would amaze me. So many people would phone and want to talk to McPhee, if he was there or wanted to know where he was or media enquiries or there were constituent inquiries. The electorate office would ring up quite often to get me to do something here. I could use the Parliamentary Library a lot easier than they could. So it was a lot of that stuff. Apart from correspondence, mail and sending mail down that the Electorate Secretary could deal with was stuff that I had to look at. I needed to do a lot of reading, a lot of background and getting on the phone, talking to people to get background on.
McPhee was particularly keen on a good solid policy on the ABC, what the Liberals should do. There was talk at that stage about SBS merging with ABC. He was opposed to that. He helped stop it. But supposedly, I supposed to be doing reading. On top of that, I had to keep on top of what was happening politically in the newspapers and what the political issues were and stuff. It was sort of all over the place in a typical day. You never were quite sure at the start of the day. You might say ‘I’m going to work on this particular part of policy today and I’m going to talk to so and so and so and so.’ But it would all get thrown out the water because something else had happened. McPhee would get on the phone and say ‘look, I need this because I’m going to a meeting blah blah.’ You never had a set routine. It varied a lot.
B York: What were the hours? How long would you actually be there?
G McIntosh: When it wasn’t actually in sitting, it wasn’t too bad — 8 o’clock until probably 5 or 5:30. McPhee was always good. He knew I had young children and a wife at home. He quite often would say ‘you know…’ He was a good boss in that sense. He didn’t expect me to work onerous hours. When it was sitting, it was different because we were here and he might be on duty and whatever. Quite often on sitting nights you could be here until 10 or 11 or even later. But again, he was very good and usually there was other staff there. He was always keen to make sure I had some time at home with my wife and kids. He was good in that sense. Some of the other politicians around here insisted on their staff absolutely staying. In those days the House of Reps could sit until 3 in the morning. It was quite common. They didn’t have cut-off hours. A lot of staff just drove their staff into the ground and they expected them to be there, even though not much was happening. They wanted them there just in case which was pretty silly.
B York: What are the parts of the building itself did you need to use or go to?
G McIntosh: Certainly the Press Gallery. I was over there a lot putting Press releases out or talking to journalists about something. Quite often there might be a story that McPhee wanted a journalist to have a different angle on or someone had written something that he wanted to give a bit of clarification. He did do a lot of it himself but sometimes I would go and do that too. As a matter of keeping contact, I would go to the Parliamentary Library a lot because I was trying to get information that I didn’t have time to get myself. That’s where I got to know quite a few people in the Parliamentary Library in those days.
The non-members bar was an interesting place to visit. That was really one of the social parts. Not only social but a lot of work was done in the non-members bar. Back in those days it was so different, there was a lot more grog and longer hours. A lot of people drank more than they do these days. The culture has changed. The new building changed that too. In fact, in the new building they had a non-members bar for a few years and then they closed it down which I thought was a real shame. The non-members bar here, you would have Ministers mingling with the cleaners. I thought it was a great venue for all different people in the building mixing together. It was a shame that in the new building they closed it down. But it wasn’t the same atmosphere up there because this place was so small.
You were quite often visiting other member’s offices, talking to other staff. That included other… I mean, I knew a few Labor staffers who we would tic-tac to and swap notes on how things were going in each particular party. So it wasn’t just other Liberals.
B York: What about the Chambers? Would you have occasion to go there?
G McIntosh: Yes. We would go into the Chambers quite a lot. I mean, I remember one time McPhee went overseas. He was with Andrew Peacock actually. They went overseas to the US. They had meetings with President Bush, the senior. While McPhee was away, I think John Moore was Acting Communications spokesman. I remember one day… I basically kept in contact with him. This was over a couple of weeks. One time, I remember he had to make a speech. I think he gave me about twenty minutes notice. He had to reply to something the Minister Michael Duffy had said in the Chamber. It came out of the blue, I think. I don’t think it was Moore’s fault. I can remember sitting in there writing scrambling in the Chamber, handing notes the attendant who then passed it on to Moore who was about two sentences ahead of me, both of us not knowing what we were talking about.
But I mean politicians are good on their feet. He made a decent fist of it. Nobody reads Hansard anyway. But yes, that could really throw a spanner in the works when you’re sitting there like that and you know this stuff is going on the record and you’re speaking on behalf of the Party. But Moore was an experienced politician. That didn’t happen often but quite often I would be in there if McPhee was in there or go in and listen to others.
B York: Were there any spaces in the building that were out of bounds to you?
G McIntosh: Certainly you couldn’t get into member’s offices without being invited or whatever but apart from private offices, I don’t think so. There would have been aspects of security, I guess. But security is nothing like it is now anyway. I can remember one guy. You know, we had passes with photographs on them and on guy had a photo of his dog on it. I don’t think the attendants knew or were twigged to it for months. He just did it as a joke. Compared to security now in the new building where they just dynamited everything, it was a lot more relaxed and a lot more casual. Some people just refused to wear their passes and they got away with it. Some of the journalists refused to wear passes. They put it in their pocket. I think there was pretty much full access to everything except private offices and probably security.
B York: Mentioning security leads to a question. Did you need a security clearance yourself?
G McIntosh: I did get one later on but I don’t think I had a security clearance at that stage. I think if McPhee was in Government at that stage I would have but because he was not part of the executive, I didn’t have a security clearance at that stage.
B York: I would like to ask about the recreation facilities in the building back then too. Were there recreation facilities?
G McIntosh: Yes. There were a couple of tennis courts on the Senate side, a couple of tennis courts on the Reps side which I used a bit. There were quite a fair number of members who played tennis. Paul, who was one of the transport people who organised Comm cars for all the pollies, he quite often used to organise, semi-organise, sets of tennis. So you could end up playing against Alexander Downer or Lionel Bowen or John Moore who supposedly played at Wimbledon. Michael Mackellar was an excellent tennis player. Senator Baden Teague was an excellent tennis player. But there were a crew, probably fifteen or twenty pollies and probably another twenty or thirty staff, who regularly played tennis. I was part of that. There were squash courts out the back near the House of Reps tennis courts which they took down. I noticed they’re not there. They’ve been gone a while, I think. There were bowling greens, some of the members I think played…
Interview with Greg McIntosh, part 2
G McIntosh: …bowls and some of the staff did do it. There was a pool room somewhere. I can’t remember where it was because I didn’t play pool but there was that as well. Of course, the non-members bar where people would drink. Because members didn’t have decent offices and stuff, people basically went out of their offices to socialise. I think that helped communication in the building. It helped people mix across parties. Whereas in the new building, because the offices are so good and they’ve got decent fridges, you can invite people in and have drinks. You can have thirty or forty people in your office. In this building, three or four and you’re crammed against the wall. They were the main sporting and social activities, I think.
B York: What about after hours? Was there like a social scene with your colleagues?
G McIntosh: A lot of the staffers used to go to Manuka or Kingston which they still do now in the new building. But groups of staffers would, you know… You’d tend to make friends with different people so there would be people going to restaurants. I didn’t do that a lot because I had Marion at home and a young daughter but occasionally we would go. Quite often with McPhee I would go to lunches to Kingston and Manuka. There would be a fascinating array of people at that sort of thing. A lot of the staffers did go to restaurants. The Lobby restaurant was used pretty heavily and restaurants and that sort of thing. Yes. There were informal parties in the Press Gallery and in offices and in corridors. A lot of the Committee rooms and Meeting rooms we used for functions. There were always lots of visitors. Quite often they would put on coffee or tea or they would put on grog and snacks and things like that. There was a lot of social activity. I would think there’s probably more here than there was in the new building even though they probably have a lot more people now. It would be different.
B York: I was meant to ask you earlier, what was your actual title? What was your job designation?
G McIntosh: The Public Service had a name for it. I can’t quite remember it. It was some kind of Administrative Secretary or something like that but it was basically just a staffer for Ian McPhee. That was basically the title. He was entitled to three or four staff and I was one of those.
B York: Were you happy with the salary you were earning?
G McIntosh: I took a cut in pay from being a teacher but the overtime… You know, you were given pretty good overtime allowances so that made up for it. But certainly the salary, that wasn’t the reason I did it, by any means. I was earning less than when I was teaching. The only decent money in political staffers really is if you go into government. I think they’re a lot better now. Shadow Ministers and staffers probably get paid pretty substantially too. In those days it was pretty poultry.
B York: Where would you eat?
G McIntosh: Quite often we would go to just the staff dining room or the cafeteria. I would bring my own lunch usually. I would just have lunch in the office but a lot of times you would go to restaurants. It was just so ad hoc, you just weren’t sure when you could do it and that sort of thing. Quite often McPhee would take us to the member’s or part of the member’s dining room where you could take visitors so we went there quite a bit.
B York: I wanted to ask about the technologies too in the office and the building generally as it applied to you, you know, as you used it. Were there changes in those few years that you were here?
G McIntosh: We had a fairly new computer system but it was fairly rudimentary compared to what we’ve got now. There was no email, no internet. So you basically had a word processing computer. It was good for writing things. In the old days you would tend to… There was a typing pool. The typing pool still existed back then. They were housed over at the Hotel Kurrajong where there were some workers in Parliament House at the Hotel Kurrajong. I actually ended up working there later on. But there was still a typing pool so that members and senators could get things typed up by this typing pool but we had word processing things in the office. It was pretty basic. You still did a lot of things just hand written. We had access to photocopiers and printers but looking back now, it was fairly primitive compared to what it is now. The phone system was okay. We had pretty reasonable phones. That was it. You basically had a phone and a computer and a typewriter.
B York: With the advent of computers, did you have training for that?
G McIntosh: No. There were courses I think but you probably wouldn’t have time to go to them anyway. When there was still a typewriter in the office which was used. I didn’t use it a lot but we still had a typewriter. The word processing started to take off so the computers were okay for that. You could type up a decent letter and type up documents that needed to be circulated to people. A lot of members were still using the typing pool. They were hand writing stuff out and sending it to the typing pool and then that was their copy.
B York: You mentioned to me before the interview the pranks that occurred in the building. Of course, I’m fascinated to know, what were these pranks?
G McIntosh: Lots of things went on. Of course, I can’t mention names. There was one Shadow Minister who had responsibility for parts of infrastructure. He was actually renowned for practical jokes himself. One of the other Shadow Ministers, who happened to be in this meeting, said ‘well, we’ll play one on him.’ So anyway, he had been to a conference. It was either in the Northern Territory or Tassie. It doesn’t matter anyway. But he had been at this conference and it was to do with infrastructure development and all that sort of stuff. This Shadow Minister said ‘look, I’ll fix him.’ So what he did, he started writing letters to this Shadow Minister and he dodgied up the letter head somehow. He signed this letter: ‘Bruce’.
The assumption was that it was one of the other backbenchers. In this letter, the backbencher writes to this Shadow Minister and says ‘I think you’re doing a wonderful job. However, I’m really disappointed that you haven’t mentioned any infrastructure development for my particular electorate’ and he listed a series of things that he thought should be done. He said ‘as a Liberal Shadow Minister, I think it’s really important that you look after the rural regions and you should do this and this and this.’ He sent a couple of letters along these lines and he kept patting him on the back, saying how good he was and all of that sort of stuff. Anyway, there was some Bill that had come into the House and these letters kept going to the Shadow Minister. He was wondering ‘who was writing these damn letters?’ because ‘Bruce’ was just a pseudonym.
Something came up and the guy that set the prank up said ‘I think we should listen to what he’s going to say in Parliament today’. So anyway, the Shadow Minister gets up and he lays it on really thick about how he’s going to… It’s really important that all this infrastructure goes into this particular part of this particular electorate and ‘I’m really concerned about this’ and blah, blah. He went on and on and on about how he was going to make sure all of these policies went in. It was all just a set up. It was all set up. It was all just a joke so that sort of thing was going on all the time.
B York: Did you then let him know that it had been a joke?
G McIntosh: No, they never knew. They never knew. This was set up because this particular person also did lots of practical jokes. There was another one where… It was two National Party members I think. Again, this was another Liberal Shadow Minister. The Leader at the time was Ian Sinclair, the Leader of the Nationals. There was another member who didn’t like Sinclair one little bit and he was a National as well. Anyway, this guy used to rant and rave about how he didn’t like Sinclair. So anyway, this Shadow Minister — I don’t know how he did it — he got some letterheads from this particular backbenchers office and he sent an invitation to Sinclair to come around for drinks to this guy’s office. So there was a whole series, a whole group of us who knew this was happening. He sent this letter around saying ‘let bygones be bygones, come around. I’ll shout you drinks. Let’s kiss and makeup and we’ll forget the past and blah, blah, blah.’ So anyway, we’re all… This is out in the annexe and we’re all hovering around behind photocopies and office doors and this sort of stuff. At this set time, sure enough, Ian Sinclair marches up the corridor and he’s got something in his hand. He looked quite happy and whatever. He knocks on the door, a staffer opens the door and ushers him in. The next thing you hear ‘what the bloody… what are you doing here!?’ He basically threw him out of the office and we’re just laughing and laughing and laughing. It was basically just a complete set up. I don’t think either of them knew what happened. Nobody ever said anything.
B York: So there wasn’t any investigation or anything?
G McIntosh: No, no. It didn’t go any further. It wasn’t a big deal but I think both of them were pretty perplexed about just what had gone on. It was that sort of stuff that went on. It was an interesting time.
B York: How common was that kind of practical joking?
G McIntosh: Well, I saw it happen a number of times but obviously it was happening in other parts of the building that I wouldn’t have known about. I’m sure other parties and other groupings in the building were doing a similar thing. There were some good practical jokers around.
B York: Back then, I think, it used to be common in workplaces of any kind.
G McIntosh: I think nowadays, it’s a bit harder to do because if you offend someone’s dignity or whatever you can get in all sorts of trouble. Those sort of… I mean some of those things probably… I think they were innocent enough but some pranks that were played on men and women were probably inappropriate. You don’t want to see all of it thrown away. There’s nothing from with a bit of levity in life.
B York: Now, let’s talk about Ian McPhee. With these interviews, we’re always keen to get to understand the Parliamentarians in terms of their personalities and their characters. Would you like to talk about Ian McPhee in that was as you experienced him.
G McIntosh: The first thing that I would say about him would be that he’s a decent human being. He was always good to his staff. All the staff that worked for him liked him. He was a bit of a softie. He liked kids and he was good with people. He was always interested to meet other people and get different ideas. He wasn’t closed. I mean, he had set policy ideas. So he was a decent human being, I reckon that was the best way to sum him up. The problem was when I was there, the Howard-Peacock thing was just so time consuming and he was a key player in that he was the unofficial leader of the ‘Wets’. There was about twelve in a little group that I think they set up in early ’86 called the Liberal Forum. This Liberal Forum was basically set up as a bit of a counter to the move of the new right. So you basically had the two streams. Howard was representing, not totally but to a large extent, the economic dries and some of the New Right.
The New Right were not happy with Howard either in a lot of ways. They didn’t think he was radical enough. Peacock was… He was more a small ‘l’ Liberal and much more liberal than Howard was. McPhee was probably more intellectual. McPhee was a bit of froth and bubble really and most people say that. Peacock was a good people person. Howard wasn’t. Howard was more of a policy person than Peacock was. McPhee had a bit more depth and he was interested in policy, genuinely, whereas Peacock was just totally consumed by the leadership thing. McPhee was involved in that heavily so that detracted a lot from what he should have been doing or what he could have been doing. I think his view was, until they could sort the leadership out, and he really wanted Peacock because he knew the sort of policies he wanted he would have more influence and more chance with Peacock. Peacock and McPhee actually did get on pretty well together whereas McPhee and Howard, well… They just didn’t get on. They differed on so many policy areas.
So McPhee was distracted by that lot and so that his little Liberal Forum including people like Alan Missen, Senator Alan Missen from Victoria — unfortunately, he died in early ’86 — Senator Chris Puplick, Phillip Ruddock, Robert Hill, Senator Robert Hill, Maxie Burr from Tasmania, Steele Hall to an extent. They’re probably the main ones. They were sort of fighting a rear guard action from the push from groups like the National Farmers Federation, people like Costello, Kroger, in Victoria who were trying to push the Party to become economically dry, into privatization, tougher on refugees, not very sympathetic to things like feminism. They thought that was all a bit esoteric whereas McPhee was more into… He and Malcolm Fraser got on very well and they agreed on things like multiculturalism, refugees, feminism, a fair go for aboriginals and all that stuff.
So from about early ’83, when I wasn’t there, through to about ’90, the Liberal Party was pretty well distracted by the Howard-Peacock thing. It went that long. So there were aspects of policy still going on but it was all overshadowed by that Howard-Peacock thing. McPhee was trying to… I think he spread himself too thin. If he had a weakness, I think… I used to say to him quite a lot… He used to invite people in so he could talk to them about policy and about the leadership and whatever. I said ‘you have to get out and mix more, particularly with the people that you haven’t got.’ He was a bit hesitant to do that or he didn’t get time to do it, I’m not sure. So he was concentrating on this little group and Peacock needed those votes so, you know. Howard knew those people were Peacock supporters so it was a… There was a lot of animosity in the Party at the time. I’ve always said ‘I think the greatest enemies in politics are within the same Party’ and you can see it now with Gillard-Rudd. You can see it with Paul Keating and certainly with Howard-Peacock. Some of the best friendships and colleagues are across parties.
B York: Did McPhee ever display any animosity to other people?
G McIntosh: I heard him say some… You know, when people disappointed him or the things that he would strongly disagree with but he wasn’t a hater in the traditional sense. He was a genuine person. He liked people but he really was worried the way the Party was going. He was more that old Deakin Liberal tradition. He could see the Party being hi-jacked and heading in the wrong direction. Howard was one of them but there were lots of outside influences. I heard him say some disparaging things about some people but in politics people say all sorts of things in the heat of the moment. I wouldn’t say… He wasn’t a nasty person by any means. I did meat some who were very nasty — good haters who never forgave and never forgot. He wasn’t one of those.
B York: How would he address you and how would you address him?
G McIntosh: Very informal. That’s what I liked about him. It was first name basis all the time. The other thing I liked about him was he held nothing back. There were no confidences. A lot of politicians didn’t trust their staff but with Ian McPhee was what you saw was what you got. He would tell me the most intricate things happening in his family. He would come out of a meeting with the Prime Minister and he would tell me what was going on. Not all the time. Shadow Cabinet he would tell us what was going on. His view was that we needed to know so that if we had to make decisions we would make them with more knowledge. There were some things he didn’t tell me, obviously. I remember one night I dropped him off at the Lodge — he didn’t want to take a Com-Car — and he spent how many hours with Hawke, talking over all sorts of things. He implicitly trusted me that and I mean, a lot of people wouldn’t even say anything about that. He and Hawke were quite good friends — talked a lot on the phone — but they had a falling out and I’m not sure that’s ever been resolved. They didn’t speak to each other for a long time. I don’t know whether that is still the case or not.
B York: Did having that kind of inside information ever put you in a position where you could have been compromised? I’m thinking of journalists trying to obtain information from you.
G McIntosh: Not really. I knew the information and I had to be very careful about what I said so I always was very careful. Some of the things McPhee told me, I just knew that you don’t tell to anyone other than maybe to other staff or someone he trusts. He was very trusting. I’m not aware of any situation where any of his staff ever let him down. They were all loyal. All the staffers I met, including ex-ones, were all loyal to him. Some other… I know Shadow Ministers and other members told their staff virtually nothing. He was the complete opposite. There were lots of things that went on, you just had to keep it secret.
B York: I used the wrong word there when I said ‘compromised’. I was really asking about whether journalists tried to obtain information that they might have assumed that you had?
G McIntosh: Journalists might ask you ‘what was discussed?’ or ‘what was decided at Shadow Cabinet?’ You just say ‘well, that stuff is not available until it’s publicly available and there is nothing I can say about it’ or you would just say ‘I don’t know anything about it anyway.’ But yes, they would try things on. Not to my knowledge was there at any stage were there any problems with… If he was really open with his staff, I don’t think it ever came back to bite him at any stage.
B York: Anything else you would like to say about Ian McPhee as a person?
G McIntosh: It was just interesting, at the time, and it was highlighted just how divisive the Party was. He had been a Senior Minister in the Fraser government but at the time I was here, McPhee’s best friends were in the Labor Party. He was really good friends with Hawke. He was good friends with Ralph Willis. He was very good friends with Mick Young. He was good friends with John Button. He was good friends with Barry Jones. Now those people were the sort of people he would talk to, have meals with. Even the Minister, the opposite Minister Michael Duffy. Duffy and McPhee were good friends and spoke a lot together. Obviously they talked about things that were happening in their own Party but I don’t think McPhee ever compromised or ratted on his own Party or anything. He was genuinely interested in other people and whatever.
He found people like Mick Young and Barry Jones and all them really interesting people to know and he socialised with them to an extent. A lot of it was done privately and that happened a lot in the building. His friends in the Liberal Party were people like Robert Hill and Chris Puplick and Alan Missen. But there were a lot of people in the Liberal Party. He was good friends with a lot of the old, what I call the ‘old style Nationals’, the old traditional politicians. People like Clarrie Millar, Skinny Robertson, Ralph Hunt. These are all the old style, 1930’s, ‘50s, ‘60s politicians compared to a lot of the new modern, flash dressing, mobile phone carrying Party people. These were the old style ones that don’t exist anymore. McPhee got on well with those too. There were a lot of people in the Liberal Party that he was uncomfortable with.
B York: You mentioned to me when I asked before the interview in the questionnaire ‘were there individuals who stand out in your memory?’ You mentioned Andrew Peacock, Mick Young and Ian Cameron.
G McIntosh: Well, there were other ones but the dominant ones were obviously Keating and Hawke, just around their dominance of politics in the building. Some of them were real characters. Mick Young, he could just tell stories all night, you know. He was an ex-shearer, great with people. I don’t think I ever heard anyone say anything bad about Mick Young, even when he got caught up in a scandal later on with Ivanov affair. Everyone just liked Mick Young. McPhee got on well with him. But you know he could sit down…
There were times when McPhee would take us to a meal somewhere and there would be Mick Young there and Barry Jones and Duffy and all sorts of people would walk past. You would have Robert Hill there and some of those other people. Mick Young could just tell stories all night. He was a real character. A lot of those sort of people, the likes of Jim Killen, he was there too. McPhee wasn’t a big fan of his but he was a bit of a character with some of the speeches he made. Freddy Daly, I think he was just still here then.
Ian Cameron was an interesting one, a member for Maranoa. He particularly at night after he had had a few after dinner drinks, he was quite a character. He was always stirring up Hawke. He was a bit like Wilson Tuckey but a little bit different. You knew if you went to a meeting or anything if Ian Cameron turned up — he was a backbencher. If he turned up he certainly livened things up. McPhee might have a meeting with some officials from communications companies or whatever and a briefing for backbenchers. You would know if Ian Cameron came in that things would get livened up. He was so direct and so open. He said what he thought, a bit like Tuckey.
B York: What about the Prime Ministers or former Prime Ministers — did you meet McMahon or Gorton?
G McIntosh: I met Gorton one time. I was with McPhee somewhere. I can’t remember but John Gorton actually walked past. They had a good conversation and I met him briefly then. Malcolm Fraser visited occasionally and Ian McPhee was still good friends. They spoke a lot on the phone. So he came to the office a couple of times and I had met him. Hawke I didn’t meet but he would ring on the phone occasionally and want to talk to McPhee. They were the main… I think they were the only ones. Yes.
B York: And with Fraser, how did he… Can you say anything about how he struck you as a person?
G McIntosh: I think he was like his public image. He was fairly aloof. I never had the opinion that Fraser was good with people like Hawke was. I think Fraser was always a bit uncomfortable with people. Even after years in public office, I think he was still the same. He always came across as… Well, I only met him once or twice, briefly, and he was interested in talking to McPhee so it was hard to get an impression. But I always found he had the impression of being aloof. I think that was just the way he was. He wasn’t a natural… Just like Howard, particularly in the early days, wasn’t natural with people whereas Peacock was. Hawke was a natural with people and Fraser wasn’t. You know, they had to work hard with the people skills.
B York: You’ve touched on the leadership tensions — that whole Howard-Peacock — is there anything you would like to elaborate on? Would you like to say more on?
G McIntosh: Well, it was just a shame, the wasted years. It does show up that if you’re disunited, it’s really hard to be elected. Now, in July, ’87, Howard should have been Prime Minister. The polls were in his favour early in that year. Apart from the ongoing leadership tension at the last minute you had the Joh for Canberra. Now, the Joh for Canberra thing had been bubbling behind the scenes for quite a few months. I never really understood it. It just didn’t make sense.
The money that was supposedly behind Joh wasn’t there. We had spoken to people who had contacts in Queensland or came from Queensland. They knew the money wasn’t there. The Joh for Canberra people were talking 25-30 million to get him and his candidates into Parliament. That wasn’t there. The whole thing was just a shimmerer. It was… Joh virtually just couldn’t be stopped. Even Sir Robert Sparkes was opposed to it right from the very start. He reluctantly… He was the Nationals President in Queensland, very wealthy, and he bankrolled Joh. Even he was opposed to it at the start. He thought it was crazy. The National Farmers Federation were pretty dominant, the New Right push, all those people. Joh really believed his own publicity, I think. He was popular in Queensland but he wasn’t popular across the rest of Australia. But that push…
Joh, you know, set out to humiliate Howard and Peacock. Unfortunately, I don’t know why, but Peacock actually got involved from the sidelines in the Joh for Canberra. He was actually meeting with some of the Joh for Canberra pushers. So ironically you had Joh black art-ing Howard and Sinclair. Sinclair and Joh and the National Party was split then, the same as the Liberals. So you had not only the Liberals, but you had the Nationals split. Ironically you had Joh black art-ing Howard saying ‘he’s no good. I’m going to become Prime Minister’ and he was supporting Peacock and he opposed everything Peacock stood for on small ‘l’ liberalism. But he thought Peacock was a better… The deal was that Peacock was going to be Deputy Prime Minister and Joh was going to be Prime Minister which was never going to happen.
You had all of this. The Queensland Nationals completely split away from the New South Wales Nationals where most of the members were. Ian Sinclair who wasn’t a very good leader anyway, he couldn’t pull all of this together. He tried to counteract the Joh for Canberra thing but the National Party split and for the first time in a long time at the ’87 election, the Liberal and National Parties weren’t a coalition. Now if that Joh for Canberra push hadn’t have happened, even with that Howard-Peacock thing, an election coming up. They would have won it.
The Joh for Canberra thing is what wrecked it. That was just… It was like a bolt from the blue. Joh thought he was the messiah. He had people patting him on the back. A lot of it was Gold Coast property money — the so called ‘white shoe brigade’ which I think John Moore came up with that term. So the big money and people like Mike Gore and there were a couple of others who set up Sanctuary Cove, I think, in Queensland. They had this big push and they thought they could impose Joh on the rest of the country. It just showed the lack of political nowse these people had. Unfortunately, Howard couldn’t counter it. Sinclair was certainly out of his depth. He didn’t know how to deal with it. So you had the Nationals split, the Liberals split and Hawke called an early election and took advantage of it. Very rare to have an election in winter but Hawke did it and he won it. He stayed there until ’96, Labor stayed in.
B York: Did McPhee ever talk about Joh in the office? Like what terms would he speak of him?
G McIntosh: There were lots of meetings. He had meetings with journalists and lots of meeting with other people, other politicians. They all just could not believe that anyone was taking this ‘Joh for Canberra’ thing seriously but the downside of it was… I don’t think anybody believed that Joh was going to become Prime Minister. But the problem was the damage that it was causing — the media publicity that was happening, the fact that the Nationals were ripping each other apart. Joh threatened to dis-endorse all Queensland Nationals federal members if they didn’t support him. All the New South Wales Nationals basically… I think most of them stuck with Sinclair. So you had a Queensland-New South Wales — which is where most of them come from — you have this huge split. That was the worried wall.
The people that were talking about it — like McPhee and Peacock and all of those — it was the damage that was being done. I don’t think any of the people that had any political nowse at all, I don’t think they genuinely thought Joh was going to do it. I mean he just didn’t have the support in the south. He was a Queensland phenomenon. Whatever way you looked at it — the money wasn’t there. There were a lot of problems. The money wasn’t there. He wasn’t saleable to the rest of the country. It wasn’t going to happen. But it was the damage that he did to the Coalition and that enabled Hawke. Hawke was a superb political strategist. He knew what to do. He knew politics well. He was a much more effective leader, Hawke, than Howard, Peacock or Keating. Hawke was a really good political operator and saw his chance and won the election.
B York: What led to you deciding to move on from McPhee’s staff?
G McIntosh: Because Howard and McPhee just did not get on and McPhee got demoted when Howard became leader in late ’85. He took over from Peacock. McPhee was shifted from Industrial Relations to Communications because McPhee believed in conciliation and arbitration and the so called ‘old Industrial Relations Club’ — they call it. Whereas Howard was up for freeing it all up which is in fact what has happened but you’ve still got that fight back. There are still elements of the old system there anyway. But Howard and McPhee just did not see eye to eye on Industrial Relations so that was a huge issue for them. Howard accused McPhee of leaking stuff and there was a lot of animosity. McPhee made speeches opposing the takeover of the Herald & Weekly Times by Murdoch and Howard wasn’t opposed to it. All sorts of things they disagreed on and in the end… I remember McPhee saying to me ‘I’m impregnable, I’m impregnable. I’ve got support in the Party.’ I said ‘well, you can’t always guarantee that. Don’t back on that. Howard could get a strong leadership moment.’ And he did.
I think it was in April, ’86. He demoted… He actually sacked Peacock first and then he got rid of McPhee. So Peacock went to the backbench and McPhee went to the backbench and Senator Peter Bowen resigned over an issue to do with affirmative action. McPhee almost resigned then as well. Anyway, Howard sacked him. As a result of that sacking, McPhee had to lose one staff member. I put my hand up and said… I had had enough by then anyway. It was a crazy life. I had seen politics up close but I could just see these so called ‘professional politicians’ just going around and round and round in circles, fighting amongst themselves. It was really frustrating. I liked McPhee but it was just frustrating and I had had enough. A couple of the staff in Melbourne volunteered to go and I said ‘no, no.’ I was ready to go so, as a result of that. But I was allowed to stay until the election so I didn’t go until after the election. So I stayed there and campaigned and whatever. But that’s the reason — because McPhee was dumped from the Shadow Ministry.
B York: Were you still the only staff member here for McPhee?
G McIntosh: Basically and if the sittings were on, there were at least one or two others that came up. I was still basically on my own here. When the election campaign was on here, we basically shut up shop and went to Melbourne for a week or two and letterboxed and campaigned down there. I did stuff like that. We were walking around suburbs and stuffing stuff in letterboxes for a week or so.
B York: Did that job have any impact on your family life? You mentioned you had a daughter, was it?
G McIntosh: Yes, I had a daughter. Penny was born in ‘8o… What year was she born? She must have been born after that. It was just after the election and Marion was pregnant, I think. I just remember being tired all the time and I didn’t have much time with my wife so it was quite wearing. Even on weekends and that, you didn’t know whether…
Interview with Greg McIntosh, part 3
G McIntosh: …things were going to come up. I remember one time, I was down the coast and I had written a speech for Ian McPhee called ‘The Dangers of the New Right’. I remember going down to the local shop to pick up The Australian on Saturday morning. Here was the main banner headline: ‘McPhee Slams New Right’ and I knew, I just knew that when we came back there would be all sorts of stuff on that because McPhee was speaking out more and more as he got more frustrated with what was happening. He was really aggravating a lot of people who were Liberal supporters and Liberal backers opposing this so called ‘New Right’ push. It was very conservative — the National Farmers Federation and the New Right in general and a lot of the economic dries and all that sort of stuff. People like Des Keegan in The Financial Review. There was a lot of debate at that sort of stage. McPhee was sort of lashing out a bit and every time he did it was trouble. The media would just go crazy wanting to talk to him.
B York: When you made the decision to resign, did you have something in mind that you would move onto?
G McIntosh: I knew I could go back to teaching but I wasn’t keen to do that. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do but I knew the public service was there if I wanted to. So what I did initially — I had a bit of a break — and then I did some short term teaching here in Canberra in some of the colleges. So I went and taught for about… after the election from about February ’87. I taught in a few of the different colleges in Canberra and in that time I also applied for the Political Science Fellowship in the Commonwealth Parliament. McPhee did a bit of work behind the scenes to help lobby for me which I was always very grateful for. I applied for that and that in those days was a two year fellowship. The fellowships nowadays are shorter. But basically I applied for that and I got it so at the start of ’88… So I did some teaching for the rest of ’87 and at the start of ’88 I became a political science fellow.
That meant working in the research service in the library and in the second year doing a research paper. That research paper is where we did those ninety odd interviews for Members and Senators. So I worked in the research service for a year and geared up for my research project which was basically looking at the move from this building to the new building in late ’88. How that affected the operation of Parliament and how that affected the executive relationship in Parliament and a whole range of other things too like what people thought of the different buildings, Party discipline and that sort of stuff.
B York: I’m keen to talk about that. You also did a research paper ‘As it was in the Beginning’ was the title of it — Parliament House in 1927. Am I right to think that you wrote that prior to…
G McIntosh: Yes. When I was a political science fellow, in that first year that I worked in the research service, I wrote that research paper in that first year. I did that deliberately. It was my idea that I thought that a lot of the Members — there were a lot of Members who shifted up, obviously, in ’88. A lot of the Members would be interested in just getting a feel for what Old Parliament House was like when it first opened. So they’re moving into the new building and they’re experiencing it when it first opened. I thought I would try to get a flavour for what the building was like in 1927. There was a lot of interest. A lot of Members rang up and said ‘yes, it was very interesting’ and asked for copies and whatever.
So I found some great old photos of the building in 1927 which were in the back. The appendices, I listed all the Members and the Cabinet and the building and how big the rooms were and had some plans of the building, all that sort of stuff. I went through and looked through who the Members were and who the characters were, what the main issues were, what was debated, who the ministers were and interestingly, some of the main issues that were being debated in 1927 are exactly what they’re debating today and when I wrote the paper. It was the same recurring themes. One of the themes I put in there, there was always this tension between the executive and the Parliament and that certainly showed up then. It still does now. I really enjoyed doing that. I went out to the archives in Mitchell and tried to dig up and look at various things about 1927. I found old invitations and all sorts of things that were interesting. It was fascinating out there. I had a pretty much free reign as to how I did it. But yes, a lot of the Members were interested. I was basically trying to get a feel of what this place was like and Canberra in 1927.
B York: Did you speak with people who were around in 1927 at all?
G McIntosh: I didn’t go that far, I just went to the archives. I was a bit time limited. I had to get the thing finished and I had other work to do at the same time. I didn’t do that. I did find out lots of interesting things about what it was like here in 1927.
B York: We had a copy here in the library somewhere. Let’s talk now about the Political Science Fellowship project. What inspired to think of that topic?
G McIntosh: When I applied I had to suggest what sort of topic I would like to research and I was always interested in the Parliament executive’s relationship because there’s all this theory about how Parliamentarians have got their own responsibilities and their own power and that sort of stuff. Over the… From my reading of Australian political history, over time the executives become more and more dominant. I mean, the Ministry dominates, Party disciplines become stronger. I thought I would have a good in-depth look at whether in fact that’s correct or not but also what the impact was and because it was a historic time — we were moving from this building to the new one — there was a one off chance. If there was going to be any interest in this topic, it was going to be at the time it happened.
So I thought ‘here’s a chance for me to jump in and have a look at what people think.’ People who worked here and they worked in the new one, how do they compare the two? What do they think? How do they affect the thinking of Parliamentary executives? How did it affect relations in general? You know, all sorts of things. What did they think of the new conditions compared to the old. It was as much the timing as anything. It was 1988 when I got this and I knew the move was going to happen in ’88. I thought it would be topical, relevant and you get one chance to do it. It would be hard to do it ten years later. It would be hard to do it even five years later so I thought I had to do that. I was interested in it but it was the timing. I did it just after they had moved into the new building. That’s when I started to get it all together and get a questionnaire going and then, after I had done all that, then I did the interviews with ninety odd people that worked in the building and a really good cross section of parties, different level officials at the Press Gallery. I think I got a pretty good snapshot of what people thought. It was a good sample. They were all very open with me about it. I wish that I had had more time to do it. I could have done it better in lots of ways but I wanted to get it done. I got it done.
B York: Were you supervised?
G McIntosh: Yes. I was basically answerable to the Head of the Research Service in the library. The supervisor changed, I think, three times. While I was there I had three different… But it was basically my own baby. I did get some political scientists to look at the written project. I know the Australian Political Association was involved. But basically I was left to my own devices to get on with it and do it. I must say, of all the things that I’ve done in my working life, it was probably as enjoyable as anything that I had done. I mean the time with McPhee was just fascinating to see and watch up close. This was a really interesting piece of research to do and I was getting paid to do it. If you can get into a position where you have something you really like and you get an income off it, it was a great two years.
B York: Why did you decide to record the people than why not just take notes?
G McIntosh: I think it was simply to make it easier for myself. I could go in and I could start talking. I know, if you’re talking to anyone, particularly politicians though, if they’re talking and they’re talking fairly quickly and I’m taking notes… And you’ve also got to think about your next question, I reckon I’m going to miss a lot of stuff. So I thought the easiest way was to set up appointments with these people, take the tape player in and I was then free to not stick to the script but I could ask questions that weren’t all particularly directly relevant. It was just fascinating — so many different angles on all sorts of things. I thought if I just took notes, it would be nowhere near as efficient. I would have trouble reading my own writing. So having it on tape, I could at my own leisure go back and sift through it.
B York: Did you already have a tape recorder or did Parliament provide that?
G McIntosh: No. It was my own tape recorder. I think I already had it. It was quite a big chunky one, by today’s standards. The thing I wanted was a tape to tape so I could record from one to the other.
B York: Yes.
G McIntosh: It had a pretty good microphone on it so I would just plonk it on the desk. You heard the quality of the tapes. They’re not too bad considering it was fairly primitive technology. Even if I had sophisticated equipment, I probably wouldn’t be able to carry it around. We would have to organise interviews. It would be a lot harder to get people. If I could go straight to their office, it was a lot easier and it didn’t take time to set up or anything. I would just push a button and off we go.
B York: As far as the Parliamentarians were concerned, were they all co-operative or were there some who declined?
G McIntosh: I wrote to every politician in the building. I can’t remember the exact numbers but I got something like 45-50%, I think. It was fairly high anyway. It was a pretty good percentage. There certainly were a number who just ticked the boxes because when I did a questionnaire, asking them similar things, at the bottom I said ‘are you interested in an interview?’ and some people just said no. The Prime Minister said ‘no’. I got three or four Ministers but a number of Ministers obviously… Because some of them didn’t have time, some of them just weren’t interested. Same with the Press Gallery, I approached pretty much all the Senior Press Gallery people and some of them just said ‘no’. I rang up and they just said ‘no’. For the most part, I got a pretty good response. I think it was close to fifty per cent of pollies. There were all parties represented.
B York: Why did you keep the tapes?
G McIntosh: Well, I didn’t want to just throw them out. I thought there was lots of fascinating political stuff there. They were all done confidentially and there were some fascinating discussions. The last thing I wanted to do was throw them away. I wanted to keep them. It’s been in the back of my mind for a while and we’ve shifted house and I knew they were there. They were in the back shed. I certainly didn’t want them to just fade away. I think they’re important. As I’ve said to you separately, Barry, I think they’re probably the only decent snapshots from the horse’s mouth, direct primary evidence of what people thought of the new and the old building at that time. So I think it would be a shame if they disappeared anywhere. I just kept them and I knew at some stage I was going to do something. I thought after twenty-five years it was about time so…
B York: Yep. [Laughs]
G McIntosh: I approached the National Library and they put me onto you. So I thought it was about time and they should be preserved. I think for researchers or just people interested in politics, there are some really fascinating insights in there. Most of them were pretty open to me, quite frank about colleagues and stuff like that. There were some really fascinating insights into politics. I only used a fraction of them in my paper. Some of those tapes, I’ve only listened to once and have only been played once.
B York: How did the paper go down after it had been published? Did you get positive feedback or lack of interest?
G McIntosh: It’s a bit hard. I think I got a front page article in The Australian. I got interviews by a number of radio stations all around the country, did two or three television interviews, got interviewed on 666 radio here in Canberra. So there was initial interest but, you know, typical media. After about a week, other issues come up so there was initial interest. I made sure that people in the Press Gallery got copies and that sort of stuff so there was initial interest but then that sort of faded fairly quickly. Over the years, I noticed in journals and academic articles, even in textbooks, there’s a mention of it here and there as a study on Parliament. After a while, those sorts of things just fade. You always have high hopes for your papers but I wished I had more time because I would have done it a little bit differently. It went over fairly well and given that I know the way the media works, I didn’t expect much more. A lot of the Members were interested in that but their life just goes on and they’re all busy. It sort of then faded away. You just hear a little bit about it now and then.
B York: Is there anything else that you would like to say about that project?
G McIntosh: I don’t think so. I think it’s unique in that I don’t think anyone else has done anything in that detail on that issue. So I was really pleased to be able to do that and do something that not only no one else has done. They can’t do it now in the same way that I did because you haven’t go people who worked in the Old Parliament House. There would only be a handful left.
B York: Yes, yes. What did you do from 1989-1990? Can we just have an outline?
G McIntosh: Sure. I finished the Political Science Fellowship at the end of… It was ’88-’89. In 1990, I joined the Commonwealth Public Service and I did a stint in the Department of Primary Industry, what they called ‘D.O.P.I.’ in those days — Primary Industry and Energy. I did six months there and hated every minute of it. I was involved in what was called a ‘Rural Research Unit’ which sounded nice and sounded like there was going to be some good research stuff. I had been involved in research for a lot of years. It really was… It was badly run, badly managed. A lot of times there was no direction on the work. There was nothing of substance to do. They were publishing stuff that was incorrect. I would point out the fact that they were incorrect and you were told to pull your head in. So I had six months there and I couldn’t wait to get out.
I applied and I got a job as a Committee Secretary at the ACT Legislative Assembly. I was Committee Secretary there, secretary of the Social Policy Committee and the Planning Committee. I did a few stints in other committees when people were away. I did a lot of work on Estimates Committees. That was interesting to see how the smallest Parliament in Australia operates compared to the largest. I was involved in all sorts of inquiries with interest to the ACT. I think the first one I was involved in was whether there should be a ban on front fences in the ACT or not, things like that. It was an interesting time. There were some interesting characters there like Trevor Kaine and Kate Carnell and Ellnor Grassby and Norm Jensen and Annette Ellis who was my Local Member. I got to know Annette there. I worked with her there in the Social Policy Committee. So I did that for three years and then I got a job as Senior Researcher in the Research Service in the Library which is where I first met you when you came up and worked there for a while. So I was there pretty well through to when I retired in 2008, I think. While I was there, luckily, I was really fortunate to be able to go on a Parliamentary delegation trip to India and Bangladesh which was really interesting. To see those countries from a diplomatic insider perspective was really interesting.
B York: Was that to look at their Parliamentary library services or…?
G McIntosh: No, not so much. I went just on a Parliamentary delegation in general and there were four Members who went including Senator Ross Lightfoot who was a bit of a character, Andrew Southcott, Bernie Ripoll and Kelly Hoare from New South Wales. It was a Parliamentary delegation that went over. I was basically the organiser and the contact and the administrative part of it, like a secretary I guess. Wherever we went it was first class treatment. We were met by all the diplomats and we met the President of India and we met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. We met all the Foreign Ministers. We were helicoptered all around Bangladesh by the Prime Ministers helicopter. It was just a fascinating insight into how it worked. After that I wrote up a report that no one ever reads on the Parliamentary delegation. The aim of it was to improve relations between Parliamentarians in these countries. It was fascinating. It was really hard work but fascinating stuff. But really interesting work in the Research Services too, lots of interesting research for Members and Senators and Governor Generals and ex-Prime Ministers.
B York: I’m trying to remember the desk that you were on. What was were your…
G McIntosh: I moved around a bit. I had an office next to Adrienne for a long time.
B York: But I mean the desk in the sense of…
G McIntosh: What area?
B York: Yes.
G McIntosh: I did education for a fair while, secondary education. Then I moved into aspects of Community Service, Aged Care, Child Care, Disability Services, Public Housing, a lot under the broad umbrella of Community Services type stuff. It was a real crab bag of stuff. Basically doing work for Members and Senators on those areas. I wrote a few papers on various things. But again, I had deliberately set it up — or tried to set it up— my financial situation so I had the option at fifty five to… You know with the superannuation the way it was, you, so at fifty five I had had enough and I deliberately set out in the early years when we had first come to Canberra to have a good inside look at politics and how it works. I think I achieved that because I worked for a Member, did the Political Science Fellowship, all that research and then in the research service. I had worked in both the buildings and I had worked in the national Parliament and the ‘toy Parliament’, as they called it — the ACT Legislative Assembly. So I had pretty well covered everything I wanted to do in terms of, instead of just being a teacher for politics in country Victoria and talking about it and reading textbooks, I really wanted to have a good, close, hard up look at it myself and I think I achieved that.
So that was… I had had enough by the time I had retired and I keep a bit of an interest but I’m really pleased I don’t have to read all the papers all the time or follow the politics all the time. The older I get the more moderate and conservative I get. I think it happens to most people. I must say out of all of that political studying it and being involved in it and researching it, I have come out reasonably cynical. The one thing that does… I mean, from what I’ve seen overseas and I’ve seen quite a few countries and quite a few different legislatures. I went to the UK Commons and that sort of stuff. I think our system of Parliamentary democracy runs pretty well even though we look at it up close and see all the faults and flaws. Our democracy does work pretty well. We don’t slug it out in the streets like they do in Bangladesh or India. We’ve had very little political violence in our history. The most traumatic was probably in 1975 and we got through that without slugging it out in the streets. I think our political democracy works fairly well even though if you’re up close to it and you see all the faults, you do get pretty cynical. It could work better but we’re dealing with human beings and everyone has got faults and foibles and things we disagree with.
B York: How do you feel when you come back to this building?
G McIntosh: A bit nostalgic, I have lots of memories. I had some good times here. I had some fairly average times too but I’ve certainly got a soft spot for the building. I like the look of it. I like the architecture of it. From a distance I think it’s quite attractive. It had that sort of lived in feeling about it. It was pretty ordinary. The offices were terrible and all that. You couldn’t help but meet different people and there were so many interesting people in the building. There were always hordes of visitors coming in to talk to Shadow Minister and Ministers. You’d meet so many different people. It was a fascinating environment.
But yes, a bit nostalgic. If someone asked me: ‘if it reverted back to Parliament, do you want to work here tomorrow?’ I would probably say ‘no’. Not in that political aspect, a different sort of job maybe but not the political stuff.
B York: Is there anything you would like to say about how you find the two buildings, just a general comment?
G McIntosh: I think the new building serves its purpose pretty well. They built it into that hill. The members definitely and the Ministers needed better facilities. I’ve always been a bit worried about having Ministers in the Parliament House building like in Westminster the Ministers are located in their departments. Originally when this building was done, that was intended because the Ministers were either in West Block or East Block. They did some renovations at one stage. I think I might mention it in that paper. The Ministers actually ended up almost by default coming into this building and getting offices. Ever since that time in Australia we’ve had this quirk of this Westminster system of the Ministers being in the building. As soon as you do that, the executive gets a lot more control. It mightn’t make a lot of difference but I think it would make some difference. So you’ve got that big ministerial wing on one end. It is a huge building and it is hard for people to meet and whatever. But you’ve got to give people decent facilities to work in. You’ve got to have decent chambers. You’ve got to have a bit of space. I think all the public areas up there are pretty good. Most of the people who visit the building appreciate it. It costs a lot to run and maintain but there’s no way you could stay in this building much longer than they did. I mean it was the provisional Parliament House in 1927. They were talking about moving out of it from the 1930’s and 40’s. It just took so long. I think the new building probably serves its purpose pretty well. There’s certainly some downside in it.
B York: In the new building?
G McIntosh: In the new building, yes. I think there’s less informal contact and it’s not as people friendly. That’s part of its size but also its design. The Press Gallery conditions in this building were just appalling. At least now they’ve got decent facilities. Again, visually from a distance I think new Parliament House looks pretty impressive. They did a good architectural job on it. I know Peter Walsh was really concerned about the cost of the flag pole. The flag pole which I think has got titanium or something in it. It was ninety five million dollars, just for the flag pole. Now that sounded extraordinary. Originally the building was going to cost about four or five million but it ended up costing about thirteen hundred million. The flag pole was nearly one hundred million and Senator Walsh who was a Finance Minister was really uptight about the flag pole. But it’s such a defining part of the Canberra landscape. I think the whole flag pole on top of the building is really good, even if it is worth its weight in gold.
B York: Well look, thank you very much for today. I will be in touch again to send you a copy of the interview on CD. Yes, thank you for your time and for a valuable addition to our collection. G McIntosh: Thank you very much Barry for inviting me. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
This history has multiple parts.1 2 3
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