Veteran Australian political journalist David Barnett dies aged 90 | Australian media
Veteran federal political journalist David Barnett, who ran the first official Canberra bureau of the Australian Associated Press more than 50 years ago, has died aged 90.
Barnett became the National Newswire’s first bureau chief in 1971, overseeing two reporters in what is now called the Old Houses of Parliament.
It was just in time to report on one of the most seismic shifts in Australian politics – the 1972 election of Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Barnett died on Saturday at Calvary Hospital in Canberra after a short admission.
His career as a journalist began in 1949 as a copyist for the Sydney Sun, before spending 13 years abroad starting in Fleet Street in London.
He worked for several international news agencies, including Reuters, before returning to AAP, where he first worked as deputy editor in 1966.
Barnett then served as Malcolm Fraser’s press secretary for seven years from 1975, including during the political upheaval that led to the dismissal of Whitlam and Fraser’s elevation from Leader of the Opposition to Prime Minister.
Former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, who was a member of the Fraser government, said Barnett, who wrote his biography in 1997, was an invaluable adviser to Fraser.
He had been a very effective press adviser in every way and his death had removed a very important figure from the ranks of the national media, he said.
“I considered him a good friend.”
In a 2010 book published to mark the AAP’s 75th anniversary, Barnett recounts the story of being assigned in 1971 to cover the visit of an ALP mission to China, which included the head of the opposition of the Whitlam era, along with other journalists from News Ltd and the ABC.
“We were taken to the Great Hall of the People, which had been laid out in a horseshoe,” he wrote in “On The Wire – The Australian Associated Press story”.
” Whitlam and [then-Chinese premier Chou En-Lai] were to sit at the top, with chairs reserved for members of the PLA.
“I took a stenographic note of every word between the two leaders for what felt like a few hours.”
After that was over, Barnett settled into the all-night telegraph office at the Beijing hotel and began writing his story on his portable typewriter.
“My colleagues went to their room. Each time the elevator started running, I typed in “mtc” – more to come – pulled the page from my tiny portable Olivetti and handed it to the operators, effectively blocking the lines.
“The AAP story flooded the newspapers and also ran on Reuter’s threads.”
Shortly after, Barnett was approached by a Chinese guard and got the inside scoop on the first exchange of recognition negotiations between China and Labour.
“If the Chinese could use me to send a message, then I could send a message on behalf of my country,” he wrote.
Barnett is survived by his wife, Pru Goward, former MP for Goulburn in New South Wales and Minister for Social Housing in the Berejiklian government until his retirement in 2019, two daughters – Susan and Alice – and two grandsons .
He was also stepfather to Goward’s daughters from his previous marriage – Penny Fischer and Tziporah Malkah, formerly known as Kate Fischer.