Shooting Turnbull’s end: how you almost missed it
The turmoil of the opposition leadership spill made Parliament House an eventful place to be for a press photographer. But it has become harder than ever to satisfy the appetite of the news-hungry populace, as the increased bureaucracy is madder than ever.
The feuding within the Liberal Party highlighted the antiquated and ridiculous rules that dictate where photographers and TV cameramen can go and what they can shoot at any given time.
In an attempt to deliver a professional product to our millions of readers and viewers, we were forced to break all the rules, and it has got us into all sorts of trouble.
But if we are the keepers of the light and the guardians of the “decisive moment” how else are we to capture and honestly and professionally document the events unfolding before our eyes?
As any journalist will tell you, there’s no greater feeling than getting in among the media pack - or “scrum” as it’s known – and coming out the other end with “the goods”. It is always tight, shoulder to shoulder, and there’s always the feeling that you’re walking blindly backwards, hoping to god there are no obstacles that will bring the pack crashing down on you.
And, of course, there is always the chase to get the blood pumping. When Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy attempted to sneak quietly out of the building after his defeat in the party room, all hell broke loose. With the media pack in hot pursuit, the furtive nature of their escape could not be concealed. Already furious at losing the crucial vote, the usually affable Turnbull turned on the pack. The pictures captured in that stairwell will, in time, be seen as part of the story of a leader’s demise.
The parliamentary guidelines for filming within the building have not kept up with the demands of the voters. With the advent of the web, Australians have come to expect their news online, moments after it happens.
Unfortunately for us, these are some of the rules we are required to abide by. In accordance with the “General guidelines for Press Gallery members” the following rules apply:
- Members of the Press Gallery may not linger in the corridors in the vicinity of the Cabinet Room, other Ministerial Wing corridors or corridors in the vicinity of party rooms or individual Senators’ and Members’ suites. In these areas, members of the Press Gallery may not seek to engage Senators or Members in conversation.
- Filming, photography and sound recording is not permitted in the Mural Hall, the Members’ Hall or any other private access area in the central body of the building without the explicit approval of both Presiding Officers.
- Filming, photography and sound recording is not permitted in any corridor, except the corridor of the Press Gallery itself, without explicit approval from the relevant Presiding Officer. It is not permissible for interviews of any kind to be conducted in corridors or other private circulation areas of the building without explicit approval from the relevant Presiding Officer.
- Filming, photography and sound recording is not permitted within the Members of Parliament car parks. Journalists, photographers and camera crews must not impede the access of Senators, Members or others to any of the entrances of Parliament House. They must comply with the directions of security staff at the entrances.
Breaches of these guidelines are determined by the Presiding Officers on a case-by-case basis.
During the leadership crisis, not only were we up against it with the hall monitors - parliament house security officers - but also the Liberal Party MPs and their media managers and senators, who suddenly when the spill was announced - and uncharacteristically - became camera-shy.
Working around these conditions in an attempt to capture the decisive moment is indeed challenging. But beating the bastards at their own game is always rewarding.
The first pictures of Turnbull, as he emerged from his office to walk towards the party room, were a triumph. The opposition had three people attempting to block my line of sight as I sat patiently outside the building, looking through the windows. The expression on the face of the Deputy Sergeant at Arms, when she realised I’d got the shot, was priceless.
To capture the pictures over those hectic few days was indeed a challenge, both professionally and personally. The Deputy Sergeant at Arms is a stickler for protocol, and appears to go out of her way to ensure that the media has as little access as possible.
Whenever she receives a complaint about us gathering for a shot, she promptly appears and orders us to move on.
It seems that when the politicians want their message to be heard by the voters they never complain about the bustling media packs, but when the shoe is on the other foot and they are cowering in their trenches, they are lightning fast to complain, resulting in us being moved on.
But the Australian public is the biggest loser, missing those crucial and often historical shots.
While politicians crave the best of both worlds, the humble hacks and photographers and TV men and women of the press gallery are calling on those in charge to sit down and have an adult conversation with us about the access – or rather lack of access - we’re given.
The people of Australia depend on us to provide accurate reporting of the everyday workings of Parliament House. We have the privilege of being granted permission to occupy space and continue to work alongside both political parties in the building, but for how much longer?
Will the right to know for the Australian people win over, or will the power of a few outdated rules and over-emotional politicians win the day?
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