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UC intern gets an insider’s view of one of the hottest weeks in Australian politics

Suzanne Lazaroo

28 August 2018: Elle Conway knew that her University of Canberra Press Gallery internship would be exciting – but nothing could have prepared her for the up-close-and-personal view of history being made during the Liberal Party leadership spill last week.

The final year Bachelor of Communications in Journalism student was in the second week of her internship. She had already spent a week producing stories with the Australian Associated Press.

Last Monday, she walked into the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) newsroom and her world changed.

“I do casual work for ABC’s 7pm news bulletin, which is regional, and I thought that was already fast-paced,” she said. “Then I walked into this. It was a newsroom in full swing, reporters were already doing live crosses with Parliament from the studio.”

The week began with the rumblings of Peter Dutton’s challenge and ended with a new Australian Prime Minister with Scott Morrison ousting Malcolm Turnbull.

Throughout, Ms Conway was in the thick of it, shadowing and assisting ABC’s political reporters as they navigated the maze-like corridors of power.

“Everything really kicked off on Tuesday, with the party room meeting. We started with doorstop interviews at 7am,” Ms Conway said. “I knew the key frontbenchers already but had to learn the backbenchers – it’s amazing how quickly you can learn something when you need to.”

When she got back to the office, ABC News’ federal election producer Gillian Bradford was briefing staff who would cover the events unfolding at a breakneck pace.

“She said to watch the smallest of details – who was walking with whom, who was coming out of whose office, how they all looked. Because we never knew when something might turn out to be significant.

“It was amazing how they could put a situation together from all these cues, it was like building a puzzle. That’s why the journos tweeted anything and everything they saw so urgently, someone watching carefully could see the meaning in it.

“A lot of people had thought that the leadership spill was something that could blow up, but wouldn’t – so after the party room meeting, when it was announced that the leadership was vacant, all the journos were sent into a flurry, doing live crosses on the spot.”

On Tuesday, Ms Conway was shadowing ABC’s political reporter Matthew Doran.

“By the afternoon, people were trying to find out who had backed whom,” she said. “Matthew was at the main entrance and Malcolm Turnbull, Scott Morrison and Julie Bishop left through there.

“Meanwhile, [Matthew] had sent me to the other door, to see who exited that way – Peter Dutton and Bridget McKenzie went out that way, they didn’t want to talk to the press.”

These movements helped reporters understand what was happening in the different camps. One of the things that struck Ms Conway was how fast things could change on the political front.

“On Wednesday, there was a press conference with Turnbull, Morrison and Matthias Cormann, and Morrison put his arm around Turnbull and said, ‘This is my leader’.

“The next day, Morrison put himself forward for the leadership,” she said.

Ms Conway also remembers Turnbull’s farewell speech as an unexpectedly emotional one.

“The way his staff formed a guard of honour behind him, and knowing that many of those people would then be out of a job – it added another dimension to political reporting for me.”

Ms Conway still has another week of her internship to go, this time with Seven News. But she’s already gained huge insights into real-world journalism, watching how journalists work their sources, and seek to proactively cover even the fastest-changing subjects.

“Even when people thought a leadership spill was unlikely to happen, the ABC had already prepped articles on Peter Dutton’s background etc, just in case – so these were ready to go out as soon as they were needed.”

Journalism has always been on Ms Conway’s horizons. It’s the intersection of her deep love for writing and a wanderlust that saw her take four years off after high school to travel around the UK, Europe and Central America.

But where she initially saw herself as a foreign correspondent, or writing technology and human-interest stories, the week she’s just had now has her seriously considering a career in political journalism.

“Being caught up in the thick of things, you develop a taste for it,” she said.

“I really enjoyed learning about the investigative side of things, seeing how the journalists interacted with their sources. I liked the on-the-spot nature of it all, but also the deeper analysis that you can do.

“I would really never have thought that an internship would land me in one of the most hectic weeks ever in Australian politics, but this really lit the fire for my future career.”