Jun 20, 2017

Condolence – Mr Mark Colvin

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:37): I rise to pay tribute to Mark Colvin, who was a constituent of mine who lived in Lilyfield in the inner west of Sydney. Of all the tributes I read after the passing last month of Mark, I was most touched by a piece written by one of his colleagues, Stephen McDonnell, the ABC’s former China correspondent. Stephen wrote:

You would walk out of the office after PM had gone to air, and there he would be sitting next to a young reporter going through their story.

Stephen wrote that Mark could be overheard going through the reporter’s copy line by line. He would say:

“You could’ve flipped the piece around; what about this question instead? You’ve buried this information; here you could be a bit cheeky.”

This description of Mark as a concerned mentor speaks volumes for the man. Journalists are a bit like politicians; it is a very competitive business. They are all chasing stories and always aiming to be first. Yet here was one of the best-known journalists in the country, finished a hectic work day but still happy to make time to share the benefit of his experience with a young journalist. This does not surprise me. He was indeed a very generous man.

He was born in the UK in 1952. He moved to Australia aged 21 after studying literature at Oxford. He was certainly well read, and indeed, as others have said, he was a Renaissance man. He fell into journalism after stint as a builder’s labourer. In his early years he worked as a cub reporter on Double J. But his talent was quickly recognised. He was promoted to the ABC’s London bureau before he had turned 30. He worked in London and around the world reporting on all the iconic ABC programs, including AM, PM and Four Corners. He was the first host of The World Today when it began back in 1984.

Of course, in his later years Australians knew him as the host of PM. So many of us would end our day driving home or on public transport listening to that very recognisable voice. Throughout the 1980s he covered the biggest stories of his time, including the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland and the break-up of the former Soviet Union.

When he was stationed in Africa in 1984 he picked up a rare virus while covering the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda. The illness ended his career as a foreign correspondent and left him with health problems that continued for the rest of his life. Others have commented about his now famous kidney transplant, which is the subject of a play, titled Mark Colvin’s Kidney that is running, and will continue to run.

Mark was also someone who refused to look back. He was a keen music fan and, unlike many people as they get older, he moved with the times, keeping up with the musical trends of the day. With the same spirit he embraced social media. He was a keen Twitter user and described himself in his profile as:

Lifetime Lance-Corporal in the Awkward Squad.

So many people who use Twitter use it to attack others; Mark used it to pass on interesting information or to praise others, consistent with his generosity.

Another close friend of Mark’s was the former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Service, Nick Warner. He commented on Mark’s passing:

He never took sides, he was interested in presenting the facts, not pushing a particular line.

Indeed, Mark Colvin was universally renowned for being fair, which for a journalist is the gold standard in career achievement.

Mark died on 19 May. I express my condolences to his family, including his partner, Michelle McKenzie, who was a Leichhardt councillor on the former Leichhardt Council in my electorate in Leichhardt, and his sons, Nicholas and William. Vale Mark Colvin.