Always a fighter, Derryn Hinch is a cancer survivor and now a senator in Australia’s parliament. He’s focusing his combative energies on issues ranging from domestic violence, voluntary euthanasia and organ donation, to ending live exports and setting up a sex offenders register.
Famed both for telling controversial stories and sometimes being at the centre of them, Senator Derryn Hinch has a remarkable professional track record. A firebrand newspaper reporter, he headed Fairfax’s New York bureau during some of the major events of the 20th century, then became a king of the Australian radio airwaves and a prime-time current affairs television host.
All along, he’s been characterised by his loud, unwavering determination to call out and shame society’s scoundrels – from drink drivers and polluters to sex offenders and murderers – a tendency which has occasionally landed Hinch on the wrong side of the law.
Twice jailed for breaching court suppression orders, and also put under house arrest, his most recent career move, being elected to Australia’s 45th parliament as a senator for Victoria in mid-2016, raised many eyebrows.
Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party may have only one elected member, but his familiar rambunctious voice is already being heard on burning issues including the treatment of sex offenders, domestic violence and the legalisation of voluntary euthanasia.
His personal life is no less vibrant. He’s made millions and lost them and been married five times but has four ex-wives (he married actress Jackie Weaver twice). Diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer in 2007, he heard his prognosis as the 60 Minutes cameras rolled.
Hinch’s nose for news had smelled a media opportunity and the chance to increase organ donation levels by telling his own story. The broadcaster underwent a liver transplant in 2011 and believes his campaign for more people to sign up for organ donation has been further boosted by his much publicised move into the Senate.
When he was elected to the Senate last year, Hinch, then 72, was the oldest-ever newly elected member to the Australian parliament. However the newly installed crusader hopes to be in office for several more years, as he told CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley in a recent interview for the TV program In Conversation with Alex Malley and INTHEBLACK.
Alex Malley: Let’s go back to New Plymouth in New Zealand where you were born. I’d like to know about the Hinch household. You were close to your dad, weren’t you?
Derryn Hinch: I was number three of four kids. My dad and I were very close, and my mother was reserved. In my early teens, Dad had a milk run and I’d get up at 5am and cycle in on my pushbike to do the town run with him. We’d leave bottles of milk outside all the shops, then I’d pedal off to school.
Malley: That would have been good discipline.
Hinch: It was. In the middle of winter, it was freezing! When I quit school at 15 and got a job on the local newspaper, the Taranaki Herald, my father made me promise that I’d go back if I didn’t pass my school certificate. By the time the results came out, I’d already been working for a month, there was no way I was going back. You had to get 201 marks out of 400 to get a pass ... and I got 201.
After a couple of years at the Taranaki Herald, I put up my age by three years to get a job on the Christchurch Star before jumping to the Waikato Times in Hamilton where I was sacked for pinching the office car to go to Auckland for a day. My first sacking! I worked on the wharves to make enough money and took a merchant ship, as a passenger to Australia, with just a duffel bag and a few clothes. I managed to get a job on The Sun newspaper in Sydney reporting on the police round.
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New York stories
Malley: You spent many years in New York for Fairfax, eventually heading up the bureau there …
Hinch: Probably the best time of my professional life was in New York. It was an extraordinary period, even before I was bureau chief. My first radio gig was at Cape Canaveral covering the men going to the moon in July 1969. I did it live for almost every station in Australia. It gives me goose bumps and tears in my eyes, even now, when I play it.
I covered Martin Luther King’s assassination. Then eight weeks later, the same mourners are in the St Patrick Cathedral for Bobby Kennedy’s funeral after his assassination. After King’s assassination, I thought, “they’re starting to shoot the good guys”.
Malley: Throughout your career, you have always been one to take on a challenge. Your life has been all about control and driving forward, but you faced a medical challenge you couldn’t control, right?
“The camera was on me when the doctor said, ‘Derryn, you’ve got cancer, you’ve got 12 months to live’.”
Hinch: I got primary liver cancer. I was lucky, because only something like 5 per cent of liver cancers are primary. By the time the cancer gets to your liver, usually it’s somewhere else ... it’s a secondary. That’s why most people who have liver cancer can’t have transplants. Without a transplant, I was going to die.
When I got cancer, 60 Minutes did a story on me and my illness. In fact, the camera was on me when the doctor said, “Derryn, you’ve got cancer, you’ve got 12 months to live.” I treated it like a project. I started a blog that night, and I said, “I’ve got cancer, and I’m gonna tell you about it.” It made me feel like I had control in some way. I feel sorrier for friends and family, because they feel helpless.
I’m getting close to a million more organ donors on the list since I’ve been in the Senate.
The Senate agenda
Malley: Give me your first sense of what you’ve seen in the Senate.
Hinch: People joke about “bloody pollies” and we are extremely well paid – I think it’s a disgrace. In the last half of 2016, there were only 20 or 30 sitting days. But you do work hard on your constituents’ stuff and try to answer people’s problems. I personally answer stuff.
When I ran my campaign to make it easier to take photographs [in the Senate chamber], people said, “Why are you going for all this itty-bitty stuff, what about the economy?”
I’m one senator and I didn’t campaign as a financial genius to fix the budget. I campaigned to get a national public register of sex offenders, to get more organ donors, to try and stop live exports and domestic violence. Those are my issues, and they’re the ones I’ll fight for. I have learned to keep focused because if I start running off on other things I’ll just end up spinning my wheels, and not having any successes.
Malley: From a Justice Party point of view, euthanasia is an important issue, isn’t it?
Hinch: I believe if you had a poll there’d be 75 per cent of Australians in favour of it. Dying with dignity is a right. My mother died 27 years ago, and I raced back to Australia, sat with her alone through her last night. Dignity, she had none.
She was lying there, she weighed about 30 kilos. She was incontinent. I thought, “If she’d been a dog, and the RSPCA official had walked in, I’d have been arrested for cruelty to animals.”
“I believe if you had a poll there’d be 75 per cent of Australians in favour of voluntary euthanasia.”
This is wrong. When I thought I was going to die, I’d made my plans, I would take myself out when the time came, and I should be allowed to have my family and friends around.
All for the cause
Malley: All the work you’ve done towards your national register of sex offenders has caused you to be jailed several times and given home detention ... You’ve talked about being molested by a guest to your family home when you were young, but you don’t believe that’s had a long-term impact on you. Have you reflected on that?
Hinch: I know the psychologists have had great fun with this, but I don’t believe it had any effect on me at all. That’s quite honest … [It came out] years later on the [radio] 3AW morning program: a woman from Geelong called and said being molested as a child was ruining her life. I said, “Look, you can get over it … I’ve got on with my life. I was molested when I was nine.” Then one of the women’s magazines blew it up …
Very close to that was the case of Father Glennon, who’d done a year’s jail for the rape of a 10-year-old girl and was still a practising Catholic priest, and the only adult running a camp for kids in [the Victorian country town of] Lancefield. I went public [in 1986] and named him. People said I was a cowboy because he was facing more charges in the Supreme Court, but, hell, I went to the premier, the attorney-general.
I went to the police minister and to the church, and they all said, “Look, leave it to the courts.” I said, “But he’s not going to be in court again for another nine months, he’s still running this camp.”
As it turned out, he was charged and convicted of molesting children at that camp, at that time. I copped three contempt of court writs for going public with that, and that was the first time I went to jail.
For all the controversy, Hinch is a seasoned journalist who has interviewed some very famous celebrities.
Mae West: “She talked about what made her look so young when she looked a thousand. A daily enema was her beauty secret … She was just amazing to talk to because she’d been around forever.”
Harrison Ford: “Worst interview ever. Before becoming an actor he was a carpenter, and he was a piece of wood. He didn’t want to be there, and I didn’t want to be there.”
Sophia Loren: “She was the most beautiful interviewee, but I almost didn’t get the interview, because they wanted me to go to her hotel. I was being a bit pig-headed then. I said, ‘No, I’m sick of carrying around tape recorders, she’s out here selling a book, or flogging a product or a movie, she can come to my studio.’ And she did.”
Sylvester Stallone: “I wanted a different angle, so I dropped him a note saying, ‘Look, why don’t you host the Hinch show?’, and he agreed. He sat in the host chair, I sat in the guest chair, and we did a reverse interview. It was working like a dream until we came to a commercial break, and Stallone asked: ‘When does this go to air?’ I said, ‘It’s live, we’ve been on air for the last 12 minutes.’ When the break ended, he came back and completely fell apart.”
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