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Peter Harvey

I spoke in parliament today about the late Channel 9 journalist Peter Harvey.

Peter Harvey, 13 March 2013

There is no better known sign-off in the Australian media than ‘Peter Harvey, Canberra’. It has resonated down through the ages. It has shaped so many Australians’ knowledge of politics and of this city, Canberra. Canberrans, or people who have recently moved to Canberra, will often choose to use Peter Harvey’s unique pronunciation of Canberra to define our city. It is just one mark of the man, just one mark that he left in a decades-long career covering Australian politics in journalism.

He started as a cadet at the Sydney Telegraph. He covered the Vietnam war, the Dismissal, the fall of Marcos and the Gulf War. He covered Australian prime ministers from Menzies to Gillard. And for much of that career, from 1975, he was part of the Channel 9 family, dealing with the irascible and innovative Kerry Packer in all his various phases, and reporting on a vast range of stories. His two children, Claire and Adam, have followed him in the great tradition of journalism. He is also survived by his wife, Anne, and his grandson, Rory.

Claire Harvey wrote in the Daily Telegraph on 3 March an extraordinary obituary to her father of which she should be greatly proud. It included wonderful stories about Peter Harvey, including his devotion to rock music. She writes that his devotion: ‘… had always been more about Dr Dre than Andre Rieu. From The Boss and Freddie Mercury to Architecture in Helsinki and Eminem; he loved it all.’

Including, she points out, Lady Gaga. She said that Peter Harvey was not just a political journalist, he also loved covering fashion week, Mardi Gras and the Easter show: ‘… if it was fun and full of razzle-dazzle, he wanted to be there.’

She writes about Peter Harvey bucking her up after criticism from politicians and recalls his favourite metaphor: ‘The dogs may bark, but the caravan rolls on’—a good life motto for all of us in this place, I think. Claire Harvey tells the story of how, as a young journalist, Peter Harvey was sent to find Sir Frank Packer’s escaped dogs in Bellevue Hill and how, as a 40-year-old political correspondent, he found himself down on his hands and knees in the backyard of Kerry Packer’s Canberra home measuring out space for a helipad. She writes about Peter Harvey’s great sense of enthusiasm—how he would read them Roald Dahl books, acting out all of the voices. One can only imagine what it would be to be a child being read stories by Peter Harvey’s baritone.

In reporting from Old Parliament House, Peter Harvey played as part of a lunchtime tennis tournament—a reminder that, while this new place may be a little more spacious, parliament has lost some of the informality and collegiality that marked the pre-1988 parliament. Claire Harvey also recalls what it was like when Peter Harvey reported from Vietnam. Apparently the advice he was given at the outset was: ‘Go and get the loudest Hawaiian shirt you can find and make sure your notepad is always on display. You want to look like a journo.’ There was never a risk that Peter Harvey would look like anything else. He was a unique and valued part of the Canberra landscape.

At the end cancer took him, as it does so many Australians; but Claire Harvey writes that her father’s experience was the opposite of that written about by Christopher Hitchens in his book Mortality. She talks about how, in her words: ‘We had a long, sweet, precious goodbye. Everything was said. We had great conversations about memories and the future. Dad cracked bad jokes…”Every day’s a great day…Be of good heart, darling.”‘

He lived a life of which many Australians would be proud and he passed away at the end with nothing left unsaid; an extraordinary life and an extraordinary career. Australia is the poorer for his passing but the better for having known him.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

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