“Over half a century in this business, I’ve got to know a dozen Prime Ministers of Australia. But rarely have I seen a leader under such pressure and so little understood as our first woman PM. So it’s time to find out who Julia Gillard really is and whether she can survive.”

Much was made (quite rightly) of Mike Willesee’s return to television as a special reporter for Channel 7’s current affairs program Sunday Night. His journalistic lineage is longer than most in television, and helped make serious weeknight current affairs must watch nightly TV. To have him join the Sunday Night team was a great get, and to have him start his tenure on the show with the biggest interview in the country in Prime Minister Julia Gillard was very smart. The PM, however, was ready for him at every turn.

MW: “Why don’t you just call a showdown in the caucus?”
JG: “Because there’s no need. I’m very confident in my leadership of the Labor Party.”

Willesee was in good form. He asked pointed questions; he rephrased; he re-asked questions when he felt the PM was hiding behing rhetoric or spin. To the PM’s credit she gave him nothing. NOTHING. Extremely well briefed for the interview, you could almost hear her media advisor’s final words hanging in the air: “Remember John Howson”. No matter how much pressure the PM was under, she wasn’t going to say anything that could be read into, especially in light of the continued rumours around another leadership spill.

MW: “Prime Minister, What did you want to achieve out of this interview?”
JG: “Mike, I thought it’d be good to celebrate your return to television and I thought it would be good to start the year talking about the Government, the Nation and what the year’s gonna be about.”

Yes, the PM said “gonna”.

All politics aside, this interview wasn’t the event we were led to believe it would be. Willesee was good but we got nothing from the Prime Minister we haven’t been hearing for a while anyway. The PM was a closed shop. There will be more to come from Willesee and likely they’ll be interviews that offer real insight, but this interview offered none of that.

Mike Willesee knows how to ask a question and his demeanour is deceiving… all a part of the method that has made him normally one of the most dependable interviewers in the country. Not everyone has a 100% strike rate.