What a week for political podcasting in Australia. After the “blink and you’d be lucky to miss it” cycle of the announcement-backlash-cancellation from Jessica Rowe’s cozy chat with Pauline Hanson, we now get the Josh Frydenberg podcast. It is an attempt, we are told, to discover “who our treasurer is, what he does and why his role is one of the most challenging in our country today”.
Host Sarah Grynberg’s primary project (her “mission”, as it says about her tasteful and spare website) talk to people who “cultivate greatness” – with the aim of then unlocking it in listeners. So fresh from interview with Matthew McConaughey, she sat down with the treasurer to get answers to “the important questions, often not asked in the media”. Questions like: “What are the core values your parents instilled in you and your sister?”, “How do you find time to respond to the needs of your constituents?” and “What’s it like to have the lives of all Australian people on your shoulders?”
Of course, in a sense it’s pointless to whine about what a softball hagiography this is – it doesn’t claim to be much different; it just does what it says on the tin. And especially if you to have to get through stuff like this, Frydenberg isn’t the worst company; he has some personal charm and makes sure that the early things – the loving parents, the chance to become a tennis pro, the uni days – pass pleasantly enough.
And Grynberg does her job, which is to ask questions so flowery that Frydenberg can talk himself out while still appearing relatively humble.
They set the tone with the first question. Characterized by what it’s like to have “one of the most challenging jobs in Australia”, Frydenberg can preface his response by modestly comparing himself to the approved politician’s everyday heroes: frontline health workers and the armed forces. Join us next month when we ask Josh about his three dream guests. Spoiler alert: One of them could be Nelson Mandela.
The closest thing to the revelation is that Frydenberg explicitly did not believe the coalition would win the 2019 elections, but even that is an opinion he shared with most of the country.
And to his credit, he – just barely – continues his cynical attacks on the state government in Victoria, expressing concern about the people of the state going through the world’s longest lockdown and leaving it at that.
Still, when he says his biggest regret is that “governments weren’t more creative about keeping kids in the classroom,” it happens right away that he can only choose regrets that fall outside the responsibilities of his own government and speak seriously about mental health. because he knows there will be no follow-up questions about it vaccine offer and unroll or the federal government canceling support for job seekers. In this context, his comment about how the state governments are making announcements and the FBI getting stuck with the bill is sounding disrespectful.
Which is always the risk with uncritical vanity projects like this – it tends to entice the subject to overplay their hand. When Grynberg asks about the many small businesses that told her about the personal contact they had received from the treasurer during the pandemic-induced recession (a real journalistic boon for Grynberg for tracking down those random businesses, I must say.. .), the answer gives Frydenberg a chance to tell us that he personally intervened to get housing benefits for a single mother and small business owner who feared losing her livelihood. That all sounds good, until you realize that he brags about systemic problems being solved one person at a time.
The tone of the show is probably best summed up by the following exchange: Frydenberg recalls with some amusement recently revisiting ABC coverage of the 2019 election, seeing the ALP panelists shrink from their initial enthusiasm and excitement to the horrifying realization that they weren’t going to make it.
Grynberg says in the same reverent tone she takes everywhere, “What a beautiful, beautiful moment.”