If this story was a Sarah Ferguson interview you’d already be on the back foot, equivocating.
Filling in for Leigh Sales on the ABC’s 7.30 during her maternity leave, the Four Corners reporter has proven to be a formidable interviewer of politicians. With her clipped tone and forensic attitude to enquiry, Ferguson has been a notable success, engaging with and grilling politicians with a non-nonsense manner that strives for a clear answer even if they’re intent on not giving one.
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Sarah Ferguson: 'I did ok for a beginner'
She's noted for her fierce grilling of politicians while in the 7.30 presenter's chair but a modest Sarah Ferguson, who finishes up on Thursday, says she's only "just getting the hang of it".
"It's very important that you're in charge not least because [politicians] are so skilful," she told Fairfax Media in the lead up to her final show.
Some viewers are calling her the best interviewer in the country. "That's silly," she says. "I did OK for a beginner, I'm just getting the hang of it."
Well received by the show’s viewers, Ferguson finishes up on Thursday, and to mark her tour of duty here are five of her memorable 7.30 interviews.
Mathias Cormann – May 1, 2014
One of Ferguson’s strengths was a refusal to allow those opposite her to deliver the answer they want to give no matter the question. The interview with the federal finance minister ran for 26 seconds before Ferguson interrupted him - putting an end to his attempt to point score using party line talking points - and refocused the interview. Does it work? In this case, yes. Cormann’s second answer actually applies to Ferguson’s question. Her remark about “rehearsed lines” from press conferences was pretty neat, too.
Lesson: In the Sarah Ferguson Interview drinking game you have to do a shot whenever she says: "I'm going to jump in right there."
Joe Hockey – May 13, 2014
Having just delivered a controversial federal budget, the Treasurer gets one of the great opening questions-of-all-time from Ferguson: "It's a budget with a new tax, with levies, with co-payments. Is it liberating for a politician to decide election promises don't matter?" While it was not exactly a light-up-a-cigar moment for Hockey, he was resolute in his replies. What was notable about the interview was its robust but fair play – Ferguson pursued the publicly elected figure, and he made his case. A worthy exchange, even if Hockey’s closing "great to be here" after 12 tough minutes sounds somewhat forced.
Lesson: Your media advisor can’t help you now.
Christopher Pyne – May 14, 2014
The following night the federal education minister's belief in his mastery of the media led him to make a risky move in his post-budget interview: he tried to mock Ferguson. "Sarah, I’m not going to let you try and put words in my mouth or try to fluster me on television, which is obviously what you’re trying to do," declared Pyne. "Far from it," replies Ferguson promptly, "I’m simply asking for a proper answer to the question." To his credit, Pyne kept on swinging, but his smirk lost its lustre by the end of their exchange.
Lesson: Don’t attempt the Pyne manoeuvre.
Dio Wang – May 29, 2014
Not so much a car crash as the methodical deconstruction of the vehicle the Palmer United senator was traveling in, leaving him stranded in the middle of the road. The discussion with the new party’s upper house leader sees Ferguson encircling the game newcomer with questions about his knowledge of the political party’s campaign spending and a Chinese firm's allegations of misappropriation of funds. At one point Wang said he didn’t know if the claims were true or not, but then announced he was sure that they were wrong. By the end of the excruciating interview the structure Ferguson’s queries built around Wang’s obfuscation was revealed to be a set of gallows.
Lesson: P-plate politicians should think twice.
Clive Palmer – July 10, 2014
"The interview took an unexpected turn," Ferguson said as part of her introduction to the sit-down with the billionaire-turned-balance-of-power-politician. It was a display of her dab hand at understatement. After a back-and-forth in the wake of the initial failed attempt to repeal the carbon tax, it was the ongoing matter of the conflict inside and outside the courts with Palmer’s Chinese business partners that eventually set him off. It started around the point he called Ferguson "madam" and ended with him exiting the frame, only to be followed by the camera and the reminder that public scrutiny comes part-and-parcel of a democracy.
Lesson: We are going to miss Sarah Ferguson.
- with Bellinda Kontominas