News National ‘It’s time’: veteran political reporter Laurie Oakes retires

‘It’s time’: veteran political reporter Laurie Oakes retires

Laurie Oakes retires
Laurie Oakes in a 2007 interview with then prime minister John Howard. Photo: AAP
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Veteran of Australian political reporting Laurie Oakes has announced his retirement from a career of more than 50 years.

Channel Nine announced the 73-year-old’s last day will be on August 18, only a few days after his 74th birthday.

Oakes, who covered some of Australia’s biggest political moments, became a household name and journalistic institution for his fearless work in the Canberra press gallery.

“To pinch an election slogan – it’s time,” Oakes told the Nine News website in a long tribute to the iconic reporter.

“I’ve been reporting politics since 1965. I’ve been in the Canberra press gallery for 48 and a half years.

“I’ve been the Nine Network’s political editor since December the 1st, 1984 – the day of that year’s federal election. And I’m about to turn 74.”

Graduating from Sydney University in 1964 with a Bachelor of Arts, Oakes joined the Daily Mirror newspaper in Sydney before moving to Melbourne to become political editor of the Sun News-Pictorial. 

He turned his hand to television 1975 when he joined Channel 10.

The three-time Walkley Award-winner moved to Channel Nine five years later.

Oakes, a self-described journalism junkie, said on Tuesday that covering politics was “an addiction”.

“But now I’ll be able to devote more time to reading crime fiction,” Oakes told the Nine News website.

“That will be my equivalent of a methadone program.”

Oakes’ portfolio of political stories reads like a chronicle of Australian politics itself: the Kirribilli leadership pact between Bob Hawke and Paul Keating; staring down Julia Gillard at the Press Club over the Kevin Rudd coup; the leak of the 1980 federal budget; the 1997 travel rorts scandal which cost three ministers their jobs; and the Gair Affair, where Gough Whitlam tried to use a diplomatic appointment to shore up his numbers in parliament.

Laurie Oakes retires
Laurie Oakes was inducted into the Logie Hall of Fame in 2011. Photo: Getty

“The story that caused the biggest stink, I suppose, was in 1980 when the entire budget was leaked to me two days before then treasurer John Howard was due to deliver it,” Oakes told the Nine News website.

“I met a contact in a hotel carpark on the Sunday morning.

“He handed over the budget speech and gave me 15 minutes to read it.

“So I gabbled the whole lot into a tape recorder while he went in and had a quick drink, and then I transcribed it back at the office.

“That evening Mr Howard was at home with toddler daughter Melanie on his lap watching cartoons on TV.

“Then the news started and I came up blowing every detail of his Budget speech.”

Oakes developed a reputation as a fearless reporter who set the agenda and was never afraid to put the cat among the political pigeons.

After this year’s mid-winter ball in Canberra, for example, Oakes aired video footage of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull mocking US President Donald Trump at an event usually considered off-limits for reporting.

Even the politicians he held to account paid tribute to Oakes in a tribute on the Nine News website.

“He’s one of the great pillars of Australian democracy,” former prime minister John Howard said.

Julia Gillard said politics would be unrecognisable without him.

Kim Beazley said he “burnished the reputation of all journalists” while Tony Abbott said he’d been the king of the press gallery for as long as anyone could remember.

Kevin Rudd advised Oakes to not retire altogether, lamenting that “Australian journalism needs you”.

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