“You don’t know my story, mate . . . “

Nic Stuart asking a question at the National Press Club

People often come up and tell me “oh, you can’t tell you’ve got a brain injury”. To which I reply, “really”.

Sometimes, though, my head injury does show up. Dramatically.

My ‘day’ job is writing a column for the Canberra Times. This means I attend lunches at the National Press Club – where I get a chance to question politicians. Which lead to the following story in The Australian:

Senator fires up: ‘You don’t know my backstory, mate!’

Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie has clashed with a reporter at the National Press Club, telling him: “You don’t know my backstory, mate!”

Ms McKenzie was responding to a question from Nic Stuart from the Canberra Times when things got very awkward.

McKenzie was asked whether the Nationals would consider an energy source that did not involve mining coal, such as wind power . . . 

McKenzie’s response included a reference to “political elites and cultural elites” who “take for granted” services that “aren’t able to be accessed (500km) down the road”.

Bridget McKenzie at the National Press Club.Bridget McKenzie at the National Press Club.

By this point I’d forgotten the ‘rules of the game’ – just ask the question and sit down. It’s the sort of thing that happens to someone with a head injury. You forget where you are and the context you’re in. The injury I received as a result of a car crash marks every moment of my life and I certainly don’t feel as if I’m ‘elite’. I queried the Minister further.

“Sorry, am I an elite?” 

“That’s for you to answer,” Senator McKenzie shot back.

“Well I’m saying I’m not, are you saying I am?” 

“Did you want to be?” Senator McKenzie responded.

“Yeah I’d like to be like you. A perfect retirement plan there.”

Senator McKenzie fired up: “You don’t know my backstory, mate.”

Which is quite true. Except that she didn’t know my backstory either; which is exactly the point.

We are all diverse and everyone – everyone – brings something new and different to the conversation. Often including people with disability can shake things up and lead to new insights. That’s not always needed but I’d argue our exchange was great. I asked my question,followed it up, and the Senator did ‘fire up‘.

Which I think made her look better than an anodyne response.

It was a moment that touched on the essence of politics: commitment and debate. And that’s what happens when you bring diversity into the room. Other, different insights bring us closer to the truth.

Nick Stuart from the Canberra Times at the National Press Club.
Nic Stuart at the National Press Club.

So that’s the end. Well, almost.

We both realised we’d gone a bit further than normal and so after the speech we both had a quick, pleasant chat. I think she understood my fight-back; I understood her response. Good journalism and politics.

But, and just before we wrap up, it’s worth noting that one of the Senator’s staff later phoned to ask if I was really OK. A genuine query, not just a proforma check.

Good journalism, good politics, but most importantly, a touch of real humanity.

Bridget McKenzie speaking at the National Press Club.Bridget McKenzie speaking at the National Press Club.


Nic Stuart

Nicholas Stuart is an author (Kevin Rudd, an unauthorised political biography; What Goes Up, behind the 2007 election; Kevin Rudd, 2007 - 2011) and columnist with the Canberra Times. He was the ABC's Indochina Correspondent when he suffered a significant head injury in a car crash in Bangkok.

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