Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre was packed last night to see what host Sally Warhaft called a “Feast of Christophers”, with Innovation and Industry Minister Christopher Pyne and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen sitting down to speak about their recently released books. Both are published by Melbourne University Press. Pyne’s memoir, A Letter to My Children, and Bowen’s analysis of Australia’s most important treasurers, The Money Men, though markedly different, led to an entertaining evening.

While Bowen offered valuable insight into how different treasurers approached their roles, Pyne’s charm and humour stole the night, as he poked fun at himself, current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former PM Tony Abbott. When speaking about the difference in political debate between the ’80s, ’90s and now, Pyne compared the styles of Turnbull and Abbott without prompt, to much audience mirth:

“Malcolm is a very different fish to Tony Abbott, just in listening to Malcolm on the 7.30 Report or at press conferences he does actually try and answer the question, which is unorthodox. It’s very refreshing I think to a lot of people. I mean, he listens to the question and then he tries to answer it, now I think that will be quite refreshing to the public.”

Ms Tips’ recording of the event includes her companion’s commentary of “oh snap!” and “sick burn, Pyney” during this marked criticism of his old boss.

Pyne and Bowen both spoke about their political mentors, with Pyne explaining the lengths he went to when first working for Amanda Vanstone, and Bowen revealing that he is in regular contact with former prime minister Paul Keating. “I speak to Paul Keating most days,” Bowen said. “He’s full of advice, he rings me up with suggested lines for interviews, many which I can’t use.”

Speaking of friendships across the party divide, Pyne expressed his great disappointment that John Howard had abolished the non-members’ bar in Parliament House, and while he was reminded that the space now houses a childcare centre, he did mourn for the bar.

“It was a very good clearing house for pressure, which is now the gym. And I don’t go to the gym, I’m waiting for the bar to be reopened.”

Pyne also noted the ways in which the architecture of new Parliament House has changed interactions between politicians and the media. He said that leadership changes would be detected by the media far earlier if governing still took place in the old building, where the journalists’ offices weren’t so far away from the politicians’.

“Things happen in the new Parliament House because of the architecture that would never have happened in the old Parliament House, which is rather interesting … and Michelle Grattan is very vexed by it, she likes to know everything that’s going on all the time.”

The night wasn’t completely devoid of policy talk, with Pyne leaving the door ajar on the future of higher education deregulation. Warhaft asked if it was gone, to which Pyne answered: “We’ll see”. We’ll see, indeed. The recording of the event will be uploaded by the Wheeler Centre here later today.

Peter Fray

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