We listened to Australian politicians’ podcasts so you don’t have to

Crikey listened to as many political podcasts as we could stomach to put together a consumer guide.

(Image: Gorkie)
(Image: Gorkie)

Politicians — they really are just like us, at least to the extent that they are constantly starting projects like podcasts and then abandoning them. But which are worth your time? Crikey listened to as many political podcasts as we could stomach to deliver a consumer guide. We look at the music, sense of personal grandeur, and, where relevant, just how batshit their choice of guests are.

Defending Democracy with Malcolm Turnbull

  • General vibe
    • Turnbull gets smart, interesting experts on democracy and geopolitics (Theresa May also comes on) to discuss threats to democracy around the world. You can set your watch by how long it takes him to bring up the distorting effect of the Murdoch media.
  • Music
    • 6/10. Fine, but overplayed, frequently pulsing away in the background seemingly to give the illusion of narrative.
  • Grandeur
    • Let’s just say Malcolm likes to make sure his own insights get a decent airing. For example, he interviews political scientist Barbara Walter, who presents the work she prepared for a CIA task force about the potential civil war coming for the US. She describes a genuinely chilling scenario about how it would start, and who would start it, before Turnbull immediately returns to his thoughts on Australia’s state senator allocations.
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • Turnbull, a few minutes into his first question to Theresa May: “And of course the way Fox promulgated the lie that Joe Biden had stolen the election really gave the mob its casus belli…”

Based with Senator Alex Antic

  • General vibe
    • Antic’s podcast is altogether more considered than a lot of his other media movements, and despite some of the dispositions of many of his guests, he doesn’t delve into many of his more outlandish political views (notwithstanding a consistent chain of climate denialism). Podcast guests for Antic are altogether more restrained than their usual personas online as well. If you’re looking for “cutting-edge conservatism”, as he brands the podcast, you might not find it here. 
  • Music
    • No music, 0/10 not based.
  • Grandeur
    • What’s with politicians and doing podcasts in their parliamentary offices? Antic tends to host guests in his office, and in later episodes turns his office into a neon-lit dungeon for interviews with American alt-right figures such as Jack Posobiec.
  • Guest insanity level
    • Antic has had a wide range of guests, from former prime minister Tony Abbott to right-wing former NBA player Andrew Bogut. In terms of the range of guests, Antic might take the cake among any current politicians. 
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • Antic doesn’t have a single moment that sums up his podcast — it is all exceedingly polite conversation in muted tones in parliamentary offices. You’d hope from his brash Senate persona that it would bring entertainment, but alas not. 

Keep the Bastards Honest with the Australian Democrats

  • General vibe
    • One of the more regularly updated podcasts we consumed (I guess they’re not too busy?), it’s a mix of explainers and interviews with various Democrat candidates.
  • Music
    • 4/10. Starts promisingly with a bright podcast classic piano line reminiscent of Silverchair’s “Straight Lines”, but swiftly shifts to some garbage anonymous programmed beat, the kind that would fail to be picked for a government initiative aimed at young people.
  • Grandeur
    • Mostly it’s fairly straightforward and chatty. The most grandeur comes in host (and the party’s national vice president) Elana Mitchell’s intros, which break every sentence into musical lilting syllables like she’s auditioning for NPR.
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • Chris Simpson, candidate for the 2023 Fadden by-election: “So what brought me to the party is the relevance, the relevance of what happened 45 years ago…” (He’s referring to the Dismissal).

I’m Usually More Professional with Sam Dastyari

  • General vibe
    • The phrase “nightmare blunt rotation” comes to mind. Across two seasons — including a second season co-hosted by journalist Alice Workman, which brings a sense of coordination to the wild rollercoaster of Joe Hildebrand’s stream of consciousness — the show can best be described as “disjointed”. 
  • Music
    • A higher production value courtesy of gambling dollars means a grand introduction, pulling the orchestral “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. A classic, and the lyrics from the 1867 play for which it was produced, Peer Gynt, reflect a certain brutality that perhaps mirrors that of politics in New South Wales.
  • Grandeur
    • Any sophistication gained from centuries-old orchestral introductions is lost by the sponsorship of gambling company Sportsbet. And in the latter season of the show, the focus on American politics results in gaudy star-spangled banners strewn across the studio. 
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • A moment discussing Donald Trump’s famous hair during the 2020 US election leads us to a slightly disturbing learning. Anyone who has wondered about the mystery of how Joe Hildebrand maintains his greasy locks can now rest easy. Inspired, he says, by a Richard Glover segment, Hildebrand claims he hasn’t shampooed his hair for years, saying it strips the hair of its natural oils. Hildebrand recalled how makeup artists at Network 10 would have to wash his hair for television appearances, having put years’ worth of hair product in that was never washed out with shampoo. Everything I learn about this man is against my will. 

The Yarn with Senator Andrew Bragg

  • General vibe
    • Mostly amiable and distinctly wonkish, Bragg speaks to an array of journalists, academics and former politicians around no obvious theme except that most guests have some fairly strong ideas about Labor’s failures, and the furthest to the left he will venture to find them is former senator Rex Patrick.
  • Music
    • 5/10 bouncing little bassline that doesn’t seem to know what genre it wants to be, usually interrupted after five seconds or so by Bragg’s intro.
  • Grandeur
    • He has former Mackellar MP Jason Falinski who, pretty hilariously, concludes that, since Labor won, Australia has become like an Eastern European country just after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But for all his efforts at conjuring a sense of crisis, or any of the more reasonable criticisms of Labor from various guests, it’s all a little too easygoing to be grand.
  • Moment that sums it up
    • Bragg’s episode with Falinski is billed as “a candid conversation”, but if there’s anything in it more personal or revealing than a bunch of sour jokes about superannuation funds and the teal independents, we must have missed it.

Weatherboard and Iron with Matt Canavan and Barnaby Joyce

  • General vibe
    • A smorgasbord of Coalition politicians, and with the podcast ending in 2021, it’s somewhat of a time warp. If you want to hear George Christensen’s musings on the January 6 US Capitol attacks, you can have that. If you want Matt Canavan and Greg Sheridan on the coronavirus, you can have that too. 
  • Music
  • Grandeur
    • Low budget, with a cover photo taken straight out of MS Paint’s finest, and a title of “Weatherboard and Iron” doesn’t inspire images of grandeur in the mind’s eye. 
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • Perhaps the last episode in the series, number 20 — “COVID zero is dead”. Canavan goes through several articles he feels “helped slay the dragon”, leading with his own op-ed in the Financial Review. Navel-gazing deluxe is apt for a podcast about regional Australia that never seemed to spend much time talking about regional Australia. 

Dan & The Doctor with Dan Repacholi MP and Dr Gordon Reid

  • General vibe
    • A bit like one of those tacky novelty beers with a politician’s face on them. Bland, without any sort of compelling reason to continue consuming it beyond the ostensible attraction of having paraphernalia related to “your team”. I guess if you’re really into the idea of the greatest hits of political platitudes, there might be something in it for you.
  • Music
  • Grandeur
    • Minimal. Always in a parliamentary office, although the definition of grandeur in this regard is perhaps subjective. 
  • Guest insanity level
    • With only three episodes so far, the insanity level is also minimal, having had Anthony Albanese and crossbencher Zoe Daniel on. Points for bipartisanship.  
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • Anthony Albanese’s interview starts with the same lines he’s used for years. His three faiths of the Rabbitoh, Catholic Church and the Labor Party; raised by a single mum in public housing; and how good an Albo Ale down at Willie the Boatman in St Peters is. Much like the rest of the podcast, these lines are surely only appreciated by Labor Party employees at this stage. 

Pyne Time with Christopher Pyne

  • General vibe
    • Former Liberal MP Christopher Pyne always gave the impression of the politician who would be the most fun to have a cocktail with (low bar though that may be), and his podcast accordingly delivers chatty, anecdote-laden talks with politicians and media figures of all stripes. Look, there’s a reason he stuck at this for three seasons — it really suits him! The guy manages to elicit some genuine chemistry with both Scott Morrison and Richard Marles.
  • Music
    • Fun little soul-styled number, 7/10.
  • Grandeur
    • It was what made Pyne likeable (or hateable, depending on who you ask) that he never seemed to attach too much grandeur to his role as a politician. Interviewing then shadow defence minister Marles about the shock Liberal win in 2019, he approaches it like he’s mocking a rival football fan. “Would you stop smiling Chris?” Marles says as he tries to describe his colleagues’ grief.
  • Moment that sums it all up
    • After a longish Morrison answer about his connection to the Pacific, Pyne drifts into a story about the two jobs he fantasised about after politics: “information officer at the airport, so I could wear one of those red jackets with ‘i’ on the pocket, or a dancer on a cruise ship…”

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