The ears have it for Maxine


Maxine McKew Maxine McKew knows that the best TV and radio interviewers are those with the greatest ability to listen to their guest. Being able to talk without pausing for breath is often a liability. It fills air time, but does not necessarily engage and win over an audience.

Listening was her winning strategy in Saturday's election. She believed in listening, and was open and honest about its role in the political process. Writing in The Monthly, political commentator Judith Brett described McKew's style as 'the politics of courteous listening and polite persuasion'.

After Saturday's result, we know it works.

McKew was right when she said: 'The campaign is about a prime minister who has stopped listening.'

It seems that the 'he who has the best handshake' style of grassroots campaigning is about as popular as Workchoices, and as effective as all the expensive promises that were made.

Maxine McKew knows that the experience of being heard empowers people, and that it is also likely to secure their vote. Leaders who truly listen will know what the people actually need, and will therefore be best equipped to deliver accordingly. It is also decidedly more clever economically than carpet-bombing the electorate with expensive promises.

The longing to be listened to is especially true in the case of migrant populations such as that of Bennelong. Invariably migrants and refugees are long-suffering, and have stories to tell. Many of these people have lived in totalitarian countries where they could be imprisoned for telling their story. What they seek in Australia is the freedom to speak, and the courtesy and generosity of spirit with which it goes hand in hand.

Writing three months before the election, Judith Brett was skeptical that a strategy as passive as McKew's would work, especially as it was also evident in Kevin Rudd's approach.

She said Paul Keating and Bob Hawke 'thrived on conflict, and they made conflict work for them', while the 'smiling and calm Rudd has been repeating his messages that the government is tired, sneaky and out of ideas'.

At that stage, it remained to be seen whether that approach would work. Now that the electorate has spoken, we can say definitively that it does.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. He was also editor of CathNews, after working as information officer for the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome.




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Existing comments

Michael offers an interesting thesis - that Maxine McKew's victory in Bennelong was a result of her 'listening' style - but to my mind the thesis needs to be tested elsewhere before it can be confirmed.

I was as delighted as anyone to see Howard beaten in his own seat, but the swing that Maxine achieved was not significantly different from the overall swing and doesn't need Michael's thesis to explain it.

Across the country, the swing varied considerably - over 10% in some places, negligible in others. Now if Michael could correlate the variation in swing with variation in 'listening', I could take his thesis more seriously.

I'm not saying that listening is not desirable, rather I'm questioning whether it is as effective as Michael suggests.
Warwick | 30 November 2007

I do not think she is good at listening. I am an avid listener and reader of news in Australia and around the world, so have heard Maxine McKew many times. She would be the rudest interviewer I have ever experienced, with her interruptions in the middle of sentences, and giving her own thoughts before the interviewee has had a chance to finish. I always relished the way John Howard would cut her short and say something like, 'could I please finish Maxine'. Having said that much, has there ever been a 'superstar' radio/TV person who has made a good politician? e.g. Peter Garrett (foot in mouth)), Mary Delahunty (lights on, nobody at home).
Stephanie Kent | 30 November 2007

Maxine is such an empathic listener, so good at giving accurate feedback, so attuned to the heartbeat of the Australian electorate, that she pronounced Mark Latham as almost a shoo-in to the Prime Ministership at the 2004 election. As an interviewer Maxine is like the kitten who has finished off the cream and knows where there's more to be found! Her assertion after her win in Bennelong that the people of Bennelong will never again be ignored is called 'Bennelongian Jingoism'. Us Bennelongians will soon be descending on Maxine's electorate office in search of our rights!
Claude Rigney | 04 December 2007

Further to my earlier post, Philip Coorey in the SMH has attributed Maxine's success to her work with Asian communities in Bennelong. (see mckew/2007/12/12/1197135558234.html).

But Phillip's article raises the same problem for me as does Michael's article; both describe what Maxine did, but neither establish a causal connection between what they did and what they achieved.
Warwick | 13 December 2007


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