John Anderson – Life of a Former Deputy Prime Minister – Hope 103.2

John Anderson – Life of a Former Deputy Prime Minister

A searching and revealing conversation with John Anderson AO including public life, his future and integrating his Christian faith in it.

By Leigh HatcherSunday 25 Aug 2013Open House InterviewsInspirational StoriesReading Time: 1 minute

Australian veteran broadcast journalist and author Leigh Hatcher interviewed former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson AO, who was the leader of the National Party from 1999 to 2005.

A searching, revealing and surprising conversation with Australia’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson. He’s lived a life marked with great privilege, sadness and upheaval but has managed to thrive among it all. John talks about the public life, his future and integrating his Christian faith in it.

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia John Anderson AO with former Australian Prime Minister John Howard

Source: johnanderson.net.au

John Anderson summarising some of the challenges facing contemporary Australia

“There are no problems confronting Australia that can’t be decently resolved with a proper civil debate, where people go for the evidence, not for the other person’s jugular,” Mr Anderson said.

“Whilst in office, Anderson, known as a man of simple Christian faith, sought to respect the dictum that another’s right to speak should always be defended, even if he disagreed with them.” – johnanderson.net.au


About Leigh Hatcher: Leigh “is one of Australia’s most respected and experienced broadcast journalists. He’s had a career of 40+ years in radio and television.” Leigh worked in the Canberra press gallery between 1975-1977 and 1981-1983, at Seven Network and Sky News before becoming a Director of Public Affairs and author.

Leigh Hatcher at Sky News

First edition: Leigh with his morning news team at Sky

Transcript:

Leigh Hatcher (LH): 

Welcome to the Open House podcast site available at openhousecommunity.com.au. My next very special guest on Open House is taking a somewhat more relaxed interest in the current election campaign, compared to his pretty frenzied connection with politics over many many years. He is the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson. He was a member of Federal Parliament for 16 years and Deputy Prime Minister to John Howard from 1999 to 2005. He left Parliament as Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007. John Anderson’s life has been marred by great opportunity, great privilege, great sadness and upheaval, and in the words of the title of his biography, “Faith and Duty”, he may be out of the fray in the frenzy, but he still takes an intense interest in how public life plays out, where Australia is and where it is heading. He does so as he has lived his adult life, grounded in a deep, fully integrated Christian faith and worldview. I’m so glad to say, especially at this election time, that John Anderson is joining us now on Open House. John “Welcome”.

John Anderson (JA):

Leigh, it’s good to be with you and with your listeners.  

LH:

And it’s great to see you, thank you so much for coming in. I wonder if at times in the midst of a campaign like this, are you glad to be out of it all and not the slightest hint of yearning perhaps?

JA:

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To be honest I experience I have a pretty full range of emotions on it. Sometimes I’m angry sometimes I’m delighted really. Often, I think to myself, somehow between us, electors elected and the media, who are like the lubricant that keeps the machinery going, both sides informed and conveys the information and the claims and counterclaims and the questions, somehow we’ve got ourselves in a mess where we’re dumbing the debate down where Australians everywhere know there are really serious issues to be dealt with but we don’t seem collectively (I’m not going to blame the politicians alone for this, collectively to get ourselves to the point where we say “These are really serious times. The world is changing very rapidly. How are we going to secure our future and our children’s future?

LH: 

I was going to ask you not out of a self serving interest but since you have left politics, the 24 hour news cycle has in a way consumed politics in the political process. How much do you think that has to do with what you’ve seen?

JA:

I think it’s exacerbated and seriously exacerbated a trend that was emerging in that, it means that you can’t float a good or a serious proposal and encourage a considered and real debate, let alone think of one.  Because it’s the whole problem is that the cycle is so immediate, that somebody can demonise an idea, make the most outrageous claims about it before it gets a chance to be properly aired and properly considered. I mean, your classic examples are scare campaigns over something like the GST. And you’ve only got a floater scare campaign now the 24 hour news cycle and the idea is dead before people have had an opportunity to hear why the matter might be important, let alone what the pros and cons of the proposal might be. I want to say that’s not only sad, it’s downright dangerous.

LH: 

So what’s your assessment, having been in the midst of the frenzy, observed it from a bit of a distance now? What’s your assessment of the two leaders in two ways? First, in what they are presenting, and second in how they’re presenting themselves? First, what they’re presenting.

JA:

I think we all want them to grapple more deeply, both of them with the issues confronting the nation in a rapidly changing world. Look, we’re part of the sort of Western civilisation. That’s what we are. We live in Asia. But we’re of the west, we’re on the west but not in the West, so to speak. The classroom of Europe in America tells you that if you get it wrong in public policy for long enough, you rob your children’s future. You eat yourselves out from within.

And that’s what’s happening across Europe today. It’s really serious. Do we want to go down that road? How do we avoid going down that road? I reckon the Australian people (and if you look at the way they’ve closed their checkbooks as an example), they’ve gone from dis-saving spending more earning to saving more than almost any other country on Earth. There’s only one reason they’re doing that. They reckon it serious. They don’t quite know what it is that serious, but they know the country faces big challenges. But we’ve created an environment now, where there’s such punishment for anybody who says there are big issues, and we need to have an honest debate about hard choices. No one does it and it will cost us and it will cost us and it will cost us but we either pay now, you know, “the old stitch in time saves nine”, or our children and grandchildren will pay the way Europe’s children and grandchildren are going to pay.

LH:

From your assessment how do you see us positioned at this time independent of the election campaign? We’re seeing the mining boom cooling and China’s growth cooling as well. How do you see The future for Australia having been relatively immune from the GFC?

JA:

I think in balance would be the answer. I see Australia’s future in the balance in economic and social terms, I actually believe, by the way, that economic outcomes follow social values, and beliefs, or beliefs, values, behavior and ethics in that order. This is going to be the Asian century, there are great opportunities for us. But if we’re not careful, we’re going to squander those opportunities. So it’s in the balance, we need to make tough, tough choices now, while they’re not actually going to be incredibly painful, but they will require a level of honesty and integrity. Now, I’m not going to get into the business of saying to all the politicians for it’s not the very point you just raised about the 24 hour media cycle, Twitter, social media, the way we talk to one another. Frankly, sometimes what happens in our school rooms, what happens around the kitchen table to make young people disaffected with democracy. If 40% of young Australians apparently we’re told now by the Lowy Institute I understand, feel unwedded to democracy one asks, – have they not been exposed to the alternatives? We need to make this work because (why it sounds terrible when a politician quotes Churchill, but he had a relevant point). Democracy is a dreadful form of government until you consider the alternatives to try, we need to make this work. And can I say our forefathers have given us a political system in this country that is fully capable of delivering our ambitions and our aspirations? We just need to use it wisely. We need to put cynicism aside. We need to somehow elected electors and media, recreate an environment where you can have honest and searching debates and draw logical, fair, reasonable, and when necessary, tough policy options that will secure our future not undermine it.

LH: 

Go back to the second half of my question, how the leaders are presenting themselves, the aesthetics of in a way how they are forced to present themselves today.

JA:

Both are highly intelligent men.  Well, I don’t want to say both. I want to include Warren Truss, who’ succeeded me. He’s a highly intelligent man as well. And they are men who I think have a quite deep comprehension of the challenges before us. But we live in this environment now where I think they are unduly constrained. And I think that is a pity. I think we are all at loose.  I’m not going to blame them. Beyond that proportion of the blame, which does belong to them and then only they can answer to that to the Australian people and the Australian people make that choice. But we are all in this together. And the young people in particular, I would say this I have for young people, buck up a bit. get interested and involved in your future. It’s no use just saying I want to exercise my rights and what have you. I don’t want to sound patronizing or as though I am putting young people down. What I am saying though, is that you have a great interest in this.

You do not want us baby boomers to do to you what European leaders ,and to some extent American leaders, have done to the next generation. They have engaged in monstrous intergenerational theft in an age of cheap credit. They’ve racked up personal debt of their own when they haven’t been able to afford it anymore. They’ve made governments pay for it. And,  the result is a horrible level of indebtedness, that children are going to have to pay in their taxes, they just won’t have anything like the opportunities that their parents and grandparents had. We’re not at that point in Australia. We don’t have to go there. But we need to change now or we’ll end up there.

LH: 

You made the point that economics flows out of social behavior, out of beliefs and behavior ethics. As you look back on the way, we have, almost universally and solely seen the economic issue, how we are financially as dominant, the be all and end all, should that be our primary focus – our only focus?

JA:

It can’t be. You know, Western civilisation is built on the Christian concept of loving your neighbor. You know, caring about the other person. It is going beyond just doing to them what you would have them do to you, No, we’re losing sight of it. Interesting the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences recognises this. You know, the communists in Beijing understand the success of Western societies was the influence of Christianity, the idea of the little guy mattered as well as the big guy that gives away eventually the idea of the rule of law so that we stopped taking the law into our own hands and then the vote – the vote because we have dignity, the vote because we should have the right to choose who leads us and therefore where they take us, but recognizing our fallibility, and power does corrupt. You know, the old saying, power corrupts absolute power corrupts absolutely. We need a peaceful means to remove people who get above themselves, or get lazy. And so we have, you know, we have to have the vote because we’re good. We have to have the vote because we’re fallible. It’s an incredible balance. And we need to, I think, really start to re-develop an understanding of that and to use what is available to us wisely. And that means opening our minds and are willingness to listen to people who want to put ideas that may not suit us or may not suit the progressive elites of today on the table.

LH: 

You’ve thought very deeply about the way Christian faith has intersected with life and public life. And I want to explore your personal journey in the second half of our conversation tonight. The British writer in broadcast and Malcolm Muggeridge was very influential for you. critiquing a society that says, “We can do better without God.”

JA:

Well, Muggeridge was of course a man who lived in Soviet Russia as a BBC journalist to the 1930s and came to see the ugliness of trying to do it without God of simple materialism and they were brutal in seeking to exterminate God. It’s  fascinating as we look at the Russian history of Russia. They flip flopped on nearly every policy you could imagine from agricultural policy to foreign policy to economic policy. The one thing that remained consistent was their absolute commitment to scrubbing God out of the public square. It was then as he saw a disaster, and it remains a disaster and you look at where Russia is at today. It’s as other souls been stripped out of the place in so many ways.  I’m sorry if I offend any Russians in saying that, but they do. I mean, they’ve got a massive free fall in population. They’ve got crime, they’ve got corruption. They’ve got, you know, an estimated 10 million women of childbearing age who are infertile as a result of botched abortions because three out of five conceptions result in abortion. I mean, so tragic.

And Muggeridge saw that and he said, it’s almost as though the West is doing to itself voluntarily what the Russian government is trying to communists try to force on their people for so long. He said, we’re in danger of becoming the first society that eats itself out from within. We’ve got everything. We need to be careful. So yeah, that certainly influenced me. Does it make me negative. No, it makes me concerned. Why? because I want to see a free and prosperous society. I want to see people reach their potential. But I don’t think potential is simply about having two BMW’s and a big house. We are relational beings. That’s what I want to see.

LH: 

And yet john Howard, perhaps more than any other Prime Minister, encourage the inspirational class to look first and foremost in economics.

JA:

I mean, he’s certainly a man who I admire his values, the way he reflected his commitment to his family, for example, very real, and his loyalty to his friends. And those are the sorts of things that I like, really do admire in other men. I guess he was tapping in to a rich vein of feeling in Australia that that’s, you know, that people want to aspire to, you know, happy family in the suburbs. There are many people who challenge that view now of society out there who say “no, that’s old hat”. But I noticed even the Labour Party never stops talking about the hard working families of Australia. At the same time when we have massive force trying to deconstruct the very idea of a traditional family,

LH: 

In relation to how so much of Western society is being kind of de Christianised, the opposite is happening in nations like China. Like in Africa, the connected Africa.

JA:

Well, this is one of the things Muggeridge said. He said as the West deserts Christianity. He gave this amazing lecture a couple of lectures at Waterloo in America called the Blair Pascal Memorial lectures. And he said, You know, he called it the end of Christendom, but not the end of Christianity. By Christendom he meant the West built on Christianity. You know, and this is a challenge to the atheists and the naysayers, and there may be some among your listeners right now.

You what you cannot deny is the contribution of Christianity to building our society. The very idea of a little person matters is a Christian concept. It’s a story of a good Samaritan. It’s a story of the Beatitudes. It’s the story of the second half of the 10 commandments. That’s what they’re about caring for your neighbor. Show me another culture, another creed that does that. I haven’t seen one. It’s the unique and wonderful and powerful thing that Christianity has bought the public policy and the way we live, we abandon it it at our peril, and a large part of our collapse has to do with this retreat to individualism- it’s all about me. you see it in advertising jingles, you deserve his product –  It’s all about you. I saw both of them in an advertisement for a retirement home the other day, or, you know, the best advertisement from one of the banks look after the most important person in the world, you, any parent knows that if you want a little household but a little tyrant, and them running around the house, you know, making a mess of relationships everywhere, then let them pursue this idea that they’re the only person that matters.

We’re now setting that up as the sort of premier venue for our society. It doesn’t work like that. If I matter as an individual, if I want to believe that Lee, then I have to matter that as a Christian, I have to say, you matter equally or more. That’s a radical idea. It’s a very important one. If we’re not careful, we lose it at the cost of the essential moral and spiritual fiber of our culture.

LH: 

I read one particular quote of yours about the intersection of faith and politics. This is it to those who say Christians should leave their faith behind when they go into politics or the Cabinet Room,  all I can say is bunkum. Yeah. How comfortable was it in politics in the Cabinet Room in an era, for instance, where Australia was taken to a war, as the whole asylum seeker debate was playing out?

JA:

That comment was in response to a cabinet minister who said, and it was aimed at three or four of us I think, we should leave our faith behind at the cabinet door when we work in the Cabinet Room. Despite that it was a harmonious and trustworthy environment that was largely at the heart of the broad success of the government that I was privileged to be a part of. But my point was, I think one that I would want to reiterate very profoundly, there’s no such thing as a person who doesn’t have a religious view. If religion means a worldview, we all have, we all have them.

But can I say to you, it is idiocy in my view, to say that Christians should be denied their place in the square. We can’t force our views on others, but do not put them would be grossly irresponsible, particularly in a culture where so much that none of us would argue with is valuable. The very idea of loving your neighbor and several it’s wellspring is Christianity. So I mean, to make the question more pointed, would the person who said, You know that I should and others should leave their Christianity, which part of our Christianity, the part of our Christianity, which says, “the little guy matters”, you’d like us to leave that behind? The part of us that says, “integrity matters”, like us to leave that behind?

LH:

Were there times of discomfort for you?

JA:

No, not really. No, no, not particularly. No not in that environment, because we’re good people. It sounds easy to say that but they were they’re a great people to work with. There were times when I felt I was perhaps, you know, made mistakes or felt embarrassed about something I’d said or whatever. But then No, they were all pretty gracious about it, to be fair, so I can’t complain there. As I look back on it, I think the problem, the biggest ethical problem that I faced, and often you wouldn’t realise and you’d done it until afterwards, I tried not to mislead people, but they’re always times when you put the best case, if you like, and you realise afterwards, you probably gilded the lily.

LH: 

Tell me about the price that families pay for a life in politics. Your beautiful wife Julia has often spoken quite frankly about that.

JA:

Yeah, she coped incredibly well – she is a very strong, very positive and very loving person and almost thrived on the people side of it. Interestingly, Julie is not particularly interested in politics, but loves people, very interested in people. So the variety of people she met from all walks of life, and nothing, you know, the one thing that will reduce Julia to tears is someone in deep, deep trouble, particularly if it’s a child. And so she found that side of it absolutely tremendous.

But she was always very, very keen to not only defend her own family, but when she said those things, she was often sending messages to other people who were busy ‘look after your family life first,’ because in the end, when you know the old saying “when you’re on your deathbed, you’re not going to say I wish I’d spent more time at the office”. Indeed, Professor Bruce Robinson who is a very dear friend of mine has written a book “Fathering from the Fast lane”. He interviewed me, John Howard and Kim Beazley and others for in 2000 at the time of the election, I said, Why are you writing this book? He said, I’m writing it for fathers who are busy, because I’m a chest surgeon or chest expert And when I have to tell men, we can’t do anything more for them I’m struck by the immediate reactions is always the same. He said, I wish I’d had more time with my family. He said I’ve yet to hear what I’m saying. I wish I’d spent more time at work!

LH: 

On Open House we are with the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, John Anderson. Let’s look John, at your journey. I marveled at the way you’ve had to overcome some significant hurdles in your childhood, to go on and live the life that you have. You lost your mum, when you were three and landed at the King’s Private Boarding School as a shy boy in Sydney.

JA:

Yeah, well, my parents, were very traditional rural Australians, I suppose, privileged, though fortunate. My mother in particular had grown up in a wealthy family and my father you know, not without his own challenges, he had a horrendous Second World War. But the war interrupted their marriage plan. So they married quite late, and then didn’t have children for a while.  I was born at 56. And mum was diagnosed with indigestion of all things at the age of about 37 or 38, and died at 39 of cancer, which was devastating for my father.

When I look back on it, you know, I don’t think I understood this until much later in life. It was remarkable of him to have kept my sister and me albeit with the enormous inconveniences of living in a remote property with a succession of governesses and so forth, although I had a wonderful aunt who stepped in and played “Mum” for many years of my life. But he stuck to us like glue and kept us by his side. I’m very glad he didn’t sort of palm us off onto some relative or worse. I mean, they might have been wonderful. I don’t know but to foster parents.

It’s given me a very deep sense of two things. We have a very deep desire to know our biological parents. I’m sorry to say that but it’s innate, deep in us, and I have to say that because I’ve had personal experience of it. And I think the second thing that I would say is that it’s got to be pretty bad before you’re better off with somebody other than your biological parents. I just can’t put it any other way. It can’t always happen by the way, I’ve got to say that I acknowledge that, but far too often, it could happen. But adults make decisions that suit them and not children.

LH: 

Yes. Fast forward to when you’re 15, hugely significant moment in your life. And I know you’re up to sharing it with us. It started off innocuously enough – a game of cricket with your dad.

JA:

My father been an absolutely brilliant sportsman, and I wasn’t. I took longer to pick things up and we used to spend endless hours playing cricket. No, it must have been pretty frustrating for him. And suddenly one day it all came together for me. And I was belting him all over the place Easter holidays at home. And unfortunately of all of my bat collected my sister who was simply watching and playing with a kitten actually on the side, she was about 14 months younger than me, we were quite close I age. And it killed her instantly, which is the ultimate freak accident. If I’m honest, if I’d known that was going to find its way in its public arena it didn’t for the first 10 years I was in the public life, I probably would never have gone in because it was awful to find it revealed.

And it was revealed because in a weak moment, a journalist said an interesting thing to me. She said, we know huge amounts about the formative influences on John Howard and on Peter Costello, we know almost nothing about you. And she said something that provoked me, she said, it’s as though you’ve got a dark secret. And I suppose I don’t blame her. I don’t blame her. But it prompted me to just sort of say, Well, you know, in a way there is, you know, not dark, but it’s extraordinary thing. She said, do you mind if I print that and I said, No, I don’t want that out in the public arena. And then a few weeks later, it appeared on the front page of the Herald during an election campaign. I wish in some ways it never had because people tend now to talk about it.

But the upside of it is, is that, you know, people do experience the most extraordinary and terrible things. And when we’ve talked about these things, particularly women have often said to Julia, I’m so glad that you’ve been able to talk about those things in your life, because I have been through X, Y, and Z and to know that someone else has, and it’s all right to talk about it. So there’s that upside.

LH: 

It’s interesting that in the coming few years, it did end up opening up a larger dimension to your spiritual life.

JA:

You know, I went into the Parliament at a time when a couple of Christians in public places had let the side down, can I put it that way? And I remember thinking to myself, gee, you’re gonna have to live it out to the best of your ability old fellow because if you go out there and say, hey, look at me, I’m a Christian. They’re gonna laugh and say, Oh, yeah, like… so and so, you know, or whatever. I won’t say any more than that .And so over time, people ask more and more questions and they did after that, after it became known that I’d been through that sort of particular tragedy because look at what it did to me because at the time apart from a deep sadness descending, not just on me but on my father, I mean it was just awful for a kid to see the impact of something like that. He’d lost his wife and he lost his daughter and daughters and fathers have special relationships. It aids me prematurely. I mean, suddenly, I’m funnily enough, I met a girl the other day who was driving a car when she perhaps on a farm  she wasn’t doing anything illegal. But the card had overturned, and she killed a member of her own family or she was not killed, but a kid had been killed. And she just said, suddenly, the kids of my age group at school seemed like kids, and I seemed like I was an old woman. And I felt like that I suddenly, you know, there were serious questions to be asked.

LH: 

What were those questions? Why,

JA:

How can this be I still don’t have any neat answers to that now. But can I say to you, the idea that it’s all just a random accident, that no one’s in control, that is meaningless, that it’s empty, that it’s just an accident of us being captive to our genes or whatever the Dawkins line is – I can’t go there.

LH: 

A conversation with one particular teacher of yours?

JA:

We had a chaplain who used to talk. I mean, I always believed in God, I came from a non Christian home. My father, I don’t think ever went to church, I think I saw him at a church, probably a couple of funerals and a couple weddings would have been it. He used to say to the Governesses “make them say their prayers at night” that would have been a bit of leftover from the Scottish Presbyterianism in the family, that would have been about the full length and breadth of it.

So I’ve always believed, and look, can I say to your listeners, one of the things we know is that despite the census talking about fewer people going to church or not acknowledging a religion in fact, the number of atheists in Australia is not on the rise – It’s pretty static. And if anything, there are less certain of their atheism and they’ve been in the past, not more certain. Most of us do believe in a god of some sort. And I was one of those. And I had this view that he was distant, out there, powerful, perhaps to be feared.

LH: 

In fact, the notion of a loving God irritated you.

JA:

Yeah, we had a chaplain, a young chaplain came to the school and he talked about the idea of a loving God who loved us and who could be loved in return. I thought that’s just well irritating is a good word really it irritated the living daylight out of me. Can this be? What nonsense is this?

LH: 

So what was it about that one conversation with Cam Stewart, your teacher?

JA:

I don’t remember a great deal of it but he must have given me both barrels of the story of the love of Christ for me, and I walked out of that place on something of a sort of a spiritual high.

LH:

It was a tangible thing?

JA:

Oh yeah, it was incredibly so and very powerful. I hadn’t gone looking for it, I hadn’t expected and I was surprised by it. CS Lewis wrote the book “Surprised By Joy”. Well, I was. Yeah, I mean, that’s probably the best way to describe it.

LH: 

And a transcended religion. You were in a school where religion was pretty big. Yeah.

JA:

Well, yeah, I’m probably resented. Although, funnily enough, at that time, there was an incredible number of boys who came to faith and have stayed in the faith. Some have dropped out since but others who have picked it up, which is quite an interesting thing. You get these moments in history. when it’s as though you know God intervenes directly to bring people into faith. But I’ve walked away from it, I’m ashamed to admit.

I was at university when the things we were talking about earlier, the sort of studying history. And looking at this incredible tangible distaste we have for the idea of a Christian God. We all believe in a God but we know what this God who actually says some pretty tough things to us. Because the Bible does about our failings. So I sort of did what I did, you know, I slipped away as so many did. The parties and the you know, the hand me down Holden ute from a farmer father and all that sort of stuff.

But I came back with a job when I realised I couldn’t go down this road that European societies had gone down when they said we can do it better without God, because on the left wing, you had communism. Remember that Marx said, religion was the problem. It was the opiate of the people. And everybody would have forgotten about Marx’s ideas. You know, it was buried in High Grove cemetery on a wet and miserable day and there were only 11 people at his funeral but along came Lenin.

And what a mess, what misery what a palpable and utterly appalling illustration that was of godlessness. This is a challenge, by the way for the new atheist. How then shall we live if there’s no God? But then you had the right wing version of it, fascism. You know, Nichca recognised that if God was dead, so was man, it was all pointless or meaningless. And that coincided, of course, with the sociological theories that some people built out of Darwinism, said, you know, the survival of the fittest. Fascism was really ugly. It said, well, the fittest should survive. And by the way, we can hurry the process along by getting rid of the people we don’t think are the strongest and 60 million people died in the Second World War, as a result of that godless theory. 12 million them in the gas chamber, 6 million of them simply because of their race. How evil is that? And this is the most educated and civilised society on earth to that point in time, which is just evidence again, that wisdom doesn’t come from intelligence or from education. It comes from respect for a higher moral order.

LH: 

I want to ask you a couple of more episodes from your life? And again, I know you’re up to speaking about this because I’ve asked. Fast forward to 1998 just before your Deputy Prime Minister, and Julia falls pregnant to Andrew.

JA:

Yeah, surprised because we’d finished our family and we learnt we were going to have another one. When we got over the shock because Julia carried four successfully, you know, we didn’t pay any more attention till quite near the end and the doctor started to say this one was going to be a boy. And that was exciting, because we had three girls and one boy and we thought, okay, if we’re gonna have a fifth. that’s a big family, but it’ll be nice to have another boy. And our son was looking forward to it and our daughters thought it was going to be terrific, too.

And then we discovered very late, we were told they were going to be problems and very serious problems. And indeed they were. And in 1998, was also the worst year politically, the government was in a hole. I was Minister for Primary Industries, the bush was getting very, very upset indeed. And a lot of that anger was focused on me. We had this terrible problem going on at home that no one knew about. No one knew about, because he was born in, funnily enough on our other son’s birthday (31st of January), but it was 1998. He lived for about six, seven months.

LH:

And that was a big thing for Julia to go through that pregnancy. Terrible, but a big choice as well.

JA:

Yeah, but look, that was a non issue for us, we felt we had to give him the best possible shot of life. And it’s very interesting once he was born, that was a view of the medicos as well, including one medico, who I don’t think would claim any Christian belief, but he wanted to carry on when frankly, we felt it was right to let things take their natural course. So it’s interesting how we fight for some lives and not for others.

LH: 

How on earth if things are going bad politically, and with the pressure of that, how on earth did you deal with that?

JA:

There was a point there was a lowest point of my life, I think, when I did hit rock bottom, you know I sort of cried out, a bit like David in the cave. Yeah. “God where on earth you going with all of this? I seem to be the most sometimes feel that because the most unpopular man in Australia, every farmer seems to be angry with what I’m trying to do”. Now they say thanks for this and thanks for that and why can’t we but that’s what happens, you know, but at that point, it just seemed everything was black.

The government was in an almighty hold, one nation was rampaging including in my own seat, and this thing was going on at home and then the doctor say, Okay, well, he will probably come out of hospital, but he will require 24 hour care for the rest of his life. And his life expectancy is probably about 40 years. So I went to the PM and said, “I’ll have to resign”.

We then had, and I share this because there will be some of your listeners who have gone through things like this or know someone who is.  I said to my wife and to the medical team, who were wonderful, incredible really, the efforts that were made fine. Look, we need to meet and talk about this. So we sat down, and there were three medicos, and there was Julia and me.. And I said, I want to ask you a question. What are the chances of a happy five year old running around if we persist? Because the little fella was going through agonies, endless operations, medical procedures, all of which were resulting in pneumonia, and more agony for him as a six month old baby. And one medico said, “I can” and the other two said, “No, we can’t”. And I sat down, I thought, What am I doing about this?

So I said, I think we should take him home and allow things to run their course and if he pulls through he pulls through,  if he doesn’t, he doesn’t, will he live for  two weeks? And then in a way was the toughest I mean, that was dreadful. But then, and one of the things and I share this again, only because look, these are personal things I’d prefer not to talk about, but this is relevant for some of your listeners.

At that point in time, I realised one of the things that was happening as I was clearly focused on what this meant for our for our 4 kids and our future as a family and how we’re going to keep it all together. While my wife was understandably committed to how do I get this little fella through the next day. And that takes some pulling together and your listeners, you’ll have people who know what that’s like, or people who are going through it.  Be sympathetic to them, it’s very tough on couples, and on families. But by the grace of God we pulled through.

Then came the agonizing moment, do I put my exhaustion or emotional drainage behind? This is over. There’s an election coming up. One notion stampeding I’ve told the PM I can’t run.  I’ve only been a one- term in government, man, but family comes first. I managed to pull things together enough to say I’ll go back and fight the election because I believe it’s important and I did and I won. Seven months later I was Deputy Prime Minister because Tim Fisher wanted to go so it was an incredibly busy time.

LH: 

What did John Howard say when you came to him?

JA:

He was very good about it. He’s a good guy. He’s a good man. He has got a heart for other people. And he was very understanding. He loved politics in a way that I didn’t. I did politics because I felt that was where I was meant to be and I should do my level best to make a contribution. And when I’d made that contribution I should go.

LH: 

And you did? Fast forward to 2001, you are acting Prime Minister, nothing new while John Howard’s away overseas but this trip turned out to be hugely significant this time, because it was September 11.

JA:

Yeah.

LH:

And you’re in charge back here?

JA:

It wasn’t a good week. It started on the Sunday morning for me. John Howard had just left. I had been in Tamworth at a Regional Developmental Conference. John Howard had flown to the United States. I was woken at six o’clock the next morning with a call from New Zealand to say that New Zealand Air which owned Ansett was in deep financial trouble and they couldn’t continue to fly Ansett’s planes (this was happening at the same time). We had to say in the end, we can’t, the taxpayers can’t do this. Just can’t do it. We had to let it go. I’d worked right through the Sunday night and flown immediately to Canberra, work through that as acting Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and right through the following night but I’d fallen into bed utterly exhausted.

My Press Secretary rang me said “Get your television on”. I was in a strange motel, the remotes didn’t work because the batteries were flat. Finally we got television on, and there’s the unfolding disaster. And you know, this is a remarkable country, in many ways. We are so well served by so many people. Now, Australia never seen anything like this. But all sorts of things flowed straight into interaction incredibly quickly.  Counter terrorism arrangements such as we had all the sensitive assets that people we thought might have been at risk if it was part of an ongoing rolling attack, you know. We now know that were meant to be more attacks, probably not in this country but we didn’t know. All sorts of things were sprung into action. Planes were appropriately diverted and people were properly guarded. I was put through by a Defense Signals Directorate to the Prime Minister. They gave me a six or seven digit number for my mobile phone. We found out he was alright. He was in the basement of the Australian Embassy in Washington. It was by far the most dramatic political week in my time in Parliament, and most people I think would be relieved to know that I sought divine guidance on that occasion.

LH: 

I was going to ask how did you hold your head together through that?

JA:

I remember actually, and I don’t mind sharing this either saying, This is bigger than me. I don’t matter in this. There are far more important things here. I would say to you now that you know, I remember sort of thinking of then version – I wonder if I was an Italian cruise ship captain, I could jump overboard, you know, off the bridge. But I haven’t got that option. I’m here and to the best of my ability, I’ve got to serve the Australian people. That’s my responsibility. If I get minced out of this so be it. But please, don’t let me miss anything that’s important with all these people providing me with advice and recommendations and what have you.

LH:

Your departure from the ministry, and the Deputy Prime Ministership came relatively suddenly.

JA:

Hmm. I think the first thing to say is that I was exhausted. Now there are two reasons for that. It’s an exhausting lifestyle. I lead the National Party. I was Deputy Leader for seven years and Leader for six.  For six years I was also Deputy Prime Minister. He spent an incredible amount of time traveling away from home, you know, even with the best will in the world, and I’ve always tried to keep myself in some sort of physical shape, but it’s very, very hard to find the time to exercise, eat properly, all that sort of thing. And that was combining so I was exhausted, and, you know, nine and a half years by then in Cabinet, but it combined for me with an unusual one, and again, I fest up at the time, completely benign. I didn’t have cancer, but I had a prostatitis problem which emerged when I was only 35. And I remember the expert in Sydney saying to me, Look, I’m dealing with another young bloke in the corporate world with exactly the same problem exactly the same age as you.

LH: 

This a prostate condition?

JA:

Yeah, that’s right.  It wasn’t painful, but it just kept me awake at night. That was the problem – fatigue, couldn’t sleep. And he said, I’ve said that there’s other bloke, give it away and he’s given it away and he’s painting boats. And the problem is cured overnight. He said, no operation no medication. That’s just your body. Some men get ulcers, some people get heart attacks, whatever. And, and in rare cases, men’s bodies react the way you do a very stressful lifestyle. He said, Your call. You do it for as long as you do. But as I was 35 I lasted till I was 49.

And John Howard said to me, “Look, you know, no one’s asking you to go, Well, sure they were probably but nobody was asking me my face. No, no, media speculation or you know that somebody wanted my job, and what have you. And you’ve said that you’ll serve out the term, which in fact, I did, by the way.  I think it was the right thing to do to stay there. I’d been elected and wasn’t as if my condition was life threatening, which it certainly wasn’t by the grace of God. But I gave the reason and I thought, well, you know, women talk about some of the health issues that are important to women and men need to talk about this. I am fortunate it was benign, and the doctors were right. took a while. But once I returned to a normal lifestyle, it recovered as well.

LH:

What commentary about that kind of lifestyle?

JA:

Yeah, it’s a tough lifestyle. And we mock people in it. Sometimes they invite it – I’m the first to say that. But you know, I think it’s unbelievably important that we somehow find a way to say this is an important career, we want our best and our most capable in it, our wisest, service minded people, selfless people, you know, it’s actually more important that we have them there than we do on our sporting fields or even in our defense forces. You know, you want great people in those areas. You know, you want great people in the law and the media. But boy you want great people in the Federal Parliament, not necessarily brain scientists, but men and women of great integrity and courage and selflessness. But we’ve created an environment where if I asked a bunch of school kids “would any of you like to be politicians?”

So it ends up being if we’re not careful, it’ll become a self fulfilling prophecy? We say, Oh they are only in it for their own good? Will you will only end up with people that are there for their that good? If that’s the case? So fulfilling.

Now. It’s not like that yet. I’ve just actually ran into some people from a New South Wales Parliament from a couple of different parties. Terrific. They are all men as it happened. There weren’t any women in that group. I’m all for women in politics but they were great people I’d trust them in any way and I thought to myself, how fortunate are we to have people like this? They are there. And you know, I’d say to voters, myself included, we’ve got a responsibility not just to be ……….. and knockers, we need to be discerning in our own self interest and say, “is this person, a genuine person that I would trust, and then move on to their policies? But I want to know what they really think and I want to create an environment where they can tell us what they really think. And there’s a proper room for a proper debate. Otherwise, we’re going to trivialise this to the point where we’re all just doing  – what are they called – selfies? I mean, where do we get off with this stuff? And the way we talk to one another, you know. I was talking to a breakfast not long ago, I still get asked to speak of things, I don’t know why, but I do. I have about 100 people  at a breakfast. and a very nice lady – you could see instantly she was a woman of dignity and grace and intelligence. She stood up and she said, “You must feel so despairing. when you look at the way people talk to one another in Canberra now. I’ve said before I answer that, can I ask you how you feel about the way your grandchildren communicate with one another and social media behind the anonymity of the keyboard, we’re going to wake up to this.

LH:

A very good question.

JA:

We’re not engaging in debates anymore. If we don’t like somebody else’s ideas, we demonise them. So they don’t put their ideas on the table. One of the things John Howard was brilliant at was getting everybody’s ideas on the table. Because he knew (A)  I sort of say, you know, everybody has something to contribute, (B) you’ll get the best policy outcomes if you get all the ideas and all the views on the table. But we’ve created an environment where too many good people with good ideas with reasonable expectations and aspirations feel – now I’m not going to go out there because if they disagree or I slip up or I say something that the progressive elites disagree with, they won’t argue with my idea. They’ll demonise me.

LH

I think that’s what inspired clarion call to all of us actually. Tell us what life’s like back on the farm. Is your wife happier to see more of you?

JA:

Yeah, look, we’re blessed with a happy marriage. We work we run a farm business together.

LH

So life’s better out of it all?

JA:

Well, there’s that side of it and I’m also privileged to serve as either the patron or on the director of boards of a couple of not for profits. Overseas Council Australia is a Mission Organisation that supports colleges and students in the developing world. I’m a patron of Opportunity International, which is a Micro Credit Bank not for profit – makes loans to people in the developing world. An amazing thing, you know, 98% of the loans are repaid on time in full. That’s how people lift themselves out of poverty.  Great work, and  sit as my wife and I did, for example, in Indonesia a couple years ago, in Jakarta, with six women who had access small loans, setting up little businesses, one had a courier business one was a fast food producer in her little tiny kitchen in the house of where we were in. Somebody else had a roadside stall.  You know, the glint in their eyes as they talked with excitement about how it meant they were getting their kids to school, breaking the cycle of poverty, and then they start to ask questions like, why have people in Australia have done this for us, and if you can’t see both the humanitarian and if you like the sort of diplomatic implications of those sort of questions, well, I can’t help you.

LH:  

A final question, as you look back on a life of gratitude and great challenges, if you ever thought what it would have been like outside of a framework of Christian faith, and what would you say to the many spectators to Christian faith who listen to Open House?

JA:

I crave at a very deep level relationship, and it’s relationships that motivate me and that fuel me onward. And I don’t know that I would have been anything like the same person. I think I would have failed in a personal sense completely. Perhaps I have anyway, I don’t know, if I had not come to personal faith because I actually believe that’s what we were made for. I believe that biblical account is right. We were made to be in communion with God as a high point of his creation, unique and extraordinary, made in His image, to be in relationship with him and with others around us. That’s why we crave relationships.

That’s what the god shaped void is and to know that, despite my own very profound failings, that I can be restored through no merit of my own by the blood of Christ. That’s the Christian story to that place where I’m meant to be in communion with the Almighty, both set free and obligated to build relationships to the best of my ability with my fellow human beings. I mean, I can’t imagine what life would have been like without that, because it would have been a completely different story in one way or I think I just would have retreated as a very shy farmer and probably gone broke on the land.

LH

John Anderson, it’s such a treat and such a privilege to get you in the studio to talk through so much tonight. I’m so grateful for your time. Thank you so much.

JA:

Well, it’s been great to be with you. And if there’s nothing else that I can say out of all of this, it’s please look long and hard at this question of “what is truth?” because I believe truth, it’s in fact, a person,  it’s Christ.

LH

John Anderson, thank you so much. Thank you.

We hope you enjoyed this Open House podcast. To hear more from Open House, visit openhousecommunity.com.au.