At the start of this Sunday morning’s Insiders, you wouldn’t have known it was Barrie Cassidy’s last time at the helm. But by the end, everyone, including the show’s 18-year host, had a tear in their eye.
I started watching Insiders as a teenager. It was my introduction to the addictive sport and perpetual disappointment of following Australian politics. In the darker moments of my political cognisance — during peak “stop the boats”, when Tony Abbott repealed the only sensible legislative measure for reducing carbon emissions, or when the Coalition blocked a conscience votes on marriage equality — I turned back to Barrie.
In doing so, I wasn’t seeking the talking heads that Q&A delivers, where one oscillates between furious agreement and absolute outrage as Tony Jones throws from one panelist to the next. I was seeking thoughtful analysis, even-handed moderation and the simple but disarming questions of Barrie Cassidy.
No matter the panel, which once regularly included Andrew Bolt, Barrie could, with a single line, quieten bickering between the likes of David Marr and Piers Akerman, or correct a Gerard Henderson diatribe. No matter the politician, he could cut through the talking points and the spin, and ensure they were taken back to the question. And if, by the end, the question was not answered, every Insiders viewer (hungover or fresh as a daisy) knew it.
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Barrie has been a constant through the tumult of my years or so of avidly following politics. He’s my Sunday morning alarm — quite literally labelled “BARRIE” (8.50am) and in my phone. When he announced that Sunday June 9 would be his last show, I wanted to ensure that we, the audience, took a moment to reflect on his contribution to our Sunday routine and political consciousness.
I’m under 30 so, naturally, I made a Facebook event. “Put your coffee plungers out for Barrie Cassidy’s last Insiders” was inspired by the untouched pot that sits atop the Insiders coffee table every Sunday morning. It didn’t go viral (it’s not the Insiders way), but a healthy bevvy of viewers posted pics of their plungers, with a few words about Baz.
His final show began just as Insiders has for as long as I can remember: Barrie framing the issues of the week in a piece to camera, followed by a package of press conferences and talking heads, with a thematic or paradoxical top-40 pop song. It is the epitome of the show’s daggy charm.
This week, George Michael’s “Freedom ‘90” blared under clips of the AFP executing last week’s media raids, and commentators expressing their shock that expanded “national security” laws were a smokescreen for policing powers being used to intimidate those who embarrass politicians.
Slowly, sentimentality crept in. Panelists wore purple in a tribute to late Insiders regular and Fremantle Dockers tragic Matt Price, who died in 2007. Labor deputy Richard Marles finished an interview by handing Barrie a custom-made snow globe emblazoned with the words “Back to you Barrie” and featuring Baz, notes in hand, in his Insiders armchair. It really was very sweet.
And it got sweeter: Mike Bowers and the Insiders team surprised Barrie with a package of politicians and panelists heaping praise on the “wise”, “craggy” and “timeless” host, who “promoted the contest of ideas”.
When a snowy Bob Hawke flicked onto the screen, I was crying into my coffee.
For the final time, it was back to Barrie. He thanked those whose Sunday routines had changed to fit around Insiders; those who had pulled him up on the street to say thanks; and one viewer who had found love because of a nod to Insiders in a Tinder bio.
I’ll miss you, Barrie. I’ll abide by your parting words and stay loyal to the show, so long as the show stays loyal to your legacy.
Emma Buckley Lennox is a lawyer and Insiders tragic.