DEBORAH Knight, Leichhardt mother of three and one of Australia's most recognisable broadcast journalists, begs to differ from the widely expressed opinion that the leaders' debate two Sundays ago was a hot mess.
One of three journalists on the panel quizzing the two men vying to be Australia's prime minister after May 21, Knight says that far from being a shambles, it was in her view a passionate debate.
"I don't agree with the criticism that it was too much and it was messy," Knight tells Inner West Review. "We wanted a contest of ideas, and that is what we got; we got two leaders who showed how passionate they are about winning this thing, and how much is at stake.
"They were prepared to step aside from their well-rehearsed lines that the parties trot out and to really engage - and I thought it was really good that they did."
Knight, a self-described news and political junkie, is an election campaign veteran - as a Canberra Press Gallery member, a television newsreader, a breakfast show presenter and radio host. But her vast experience was no guarantee against the jitters in the pressure-cooker situation of a nationally televised leaders' debate.
"It was very nerve wracking - I was really nervous doing it. I did a hell of a lot of prep and I was nervous as hell, but in the end it was fascinating to see the way that it all played out," she says.
And who won, out of PM Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese?
"I think it was really line ball, pretty much 50-50. They both landed blows."
Deborah Knight has been delivering the news and, more recently, her opinions to a mass audience for more than two decades. She turns 50 this year ("I'm not freaked out by it - it is a milestone worth celebrating," she says) and is as busy as ever, living up to her reputation as one of the hardest workers in the biz.
The only woman in the 2GB radio daytime line-up, she hosts Afternoons from 12pm-3pm every weekday, delivering a ratings boost in the timeslot after she took it over in 2020. Then, every Fridays and Saturday, she fronts up for hair and makeup at the Channel Nine TV studios to present A Current Affair.
They are the latest gigs in her jam-packed career in the competitive, fickle, often ruthless milieu of network television, a nerdy kid from Coffs Harbour with a love of English and reading who rose to the heights of her chosen career, with some very public lows along the way.
And yet, Knight describes herself as "just a suburban mum" with three school-aged kids - Darcy, Elsa and Audrey, the younger two at the local primary school - who are used to having a parent in the public eye.
"It is just my job, and I am just their mum," she says.
"I don't live a glamorous lifestyle; I just live a working mum's lifestyle. I go with them to their sport, I don't wear make-up or have my hair done or wear fancy clothes when I am not on TV. I am just a suburban mum doing my thing."
Knight and her husband, graphic designer Lindsay Dunbar, moved to the inner west in 2005, initially renting in Leichhardt before buying their own home.
"It had a great sense of community. In the street that we were renting in, we became really good friends with our neighbours, had street parties, Easter egg hunts ... It was a really lovely community, and a lot of the kids went to the local school.
"Despite the persistent aircraft noise, we thought that it was a great place to live and raise a family."
The couple came direct from the United States, after Knight's stint as an overseas correspondent wound up. Still in her 20s, she had been in Washington DC in 2001 as part of the Canberra press pack covering then prime minister John Howard's US visit when terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
READ ALSO: Meet your Grayndler candidates
"That was quite a pivotal career moment because it changed the world, and also then led me to become the US correspondent for Channel 10 for three years, which was a quite a shift from a career point of view," Knight recalls.
Back in Australia she became co-host of Channel 10's flagship Sydney news bulletin, a role she held until October 2011, when network bosses unceremoniously replaced her with Sandra Sully. "It was a quite a shock when I didn't have my contract renewed, but then it led me to move to Channel Nine, and that opened up a whole new career path - one door closed, another one opened," she says.
"I don't focus on the lows - I move on from the lows and focus more on the highs. I have never let the challenges I have faced put me off and I am proud of that."
Last federal election campaign, Knight was co-host of Nine's national breakfast show Today, having replaced Karl Stefanovic upon his controversial sacking in late 2018. For the whole of 2019, the media was fixated on Today show ratings as they fell to record lows. By year's end, both Knight and her co-host Georgie Gardner had been axed.
But Knight, again exhibiting the cool professionalism that is doubtless key to her career longevity, will focus only on the positives of that excruciatingly public experience.
"For me, [being on Today] was a real career highlight, and one of the best jobs that there is," she says.
"The scrutiny on the ratings and all of that was a challenge, but I have always focused on the positives of life, so I tried to put that to one side and look at all the great opportunities that it gave me.
"I loved it, working as a co-host during the federal election, and I was the one who did all the political interviews - again, I am a political junkie - so I got to interview the PM and the Opposition Leader on a regular basis."
At the end of the day, politicians are all human, and I think as a voter it's good to get a sense of who these people actually are.- Deborah Knight
During this year's campaign, Knight on her 2GB radio show has been interviewing politicians every day, and having a "regular chat" with the Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon every Friday. She has also been hosting Deb Knight's Pollie Waffle podcast, a "policy free" zone where she looks to unmask the person behind the politician.
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles, Liberal MP David Sharma, his Independent rival in the seat of Wentworth Allegra Spender, and Labor's education spokesperson Tanya Plibersek have been among the featured pollies sat down at the microphone beside her.
"The aim is we want to learn a bit more about the people who are the politicians, and find out what drives them and what their interests are, and we do it over a plate of waffles of their choice," Knight says.
"At the end of the day, they are all human, and I think as a voter it's good to get a sense of who these people actually are."
She says there have been no great surprises brought forth from the incumbent and would-be MPs, but what they all share is an aim and a desire to make Australia a better place. Their waffle selections, on the other hand, have been all over the place.
"When I enjoy a waffle, I like it with chocolate and ice-cream and the whole catastrophe; some of the pollies like theirs with fruit and berries, a slightly healthy approach, and others were more minimalist with Nutella or bananas, or maple syrup.
"But I think Tanya Plibersek was the girl after my own heart, and it was a waffle sandwich with cream and Nutella and everything in between."
It's some lighthearted fun against the backdrop of a serious campaign where Knight's listeners, she says, are most concerned about cost of living pressures.
"People are worried about how they are going to pay the bills, and which party is going to ensure the economy is running as well as it can and ensure they can have as prosperous a life as possible.
READ ALSO: What the voters of Grayndler say
"Listeners that I hear from very much look at the track records of both these individuals and that is what is guiding their vote. A lot are unsure about Anthony Albanese because they don't really know who he is even though he has been in the public eye for 26 years. A lot of people don't particularly like Scott Morrison but at least they know what they are in for, is what a lot of people say."
Knight believes the election will be close but Labor will win, either through forming a minority government, or just getting across the line with a majority.
"Albanese has made a lot of errors along the way but I think there is a degree of feeling that Scott Morrison has not delivered as effectively as people hoped, so with him as the leader, I think Labor will win."
When Inner West Review catches up with Knight for the cover shoot, it's in North Sydney near the Channel Nine studios, in a gap she has between her radio and TV gigs at the time of day when she will often be running around after her kids.
"I am knackered a lot of the time like everyone is," she says. "The COVID lockdown period, while it was so overwhelming for everyone, was also a bit of a wake-up call for many people, including myself and my family, that I guess not doing as much as we had done was refreshing in many ways."
Post-lockdown, Knight is just trying to strike that balance between work and home life "which is the continual challenge that we all face; I think everyone is questioning a lot of things about what is important in life, which I think is a good thing".
Not that that means she might step back a little, professionally. "I'm loving what I'm doing at the moment," she says. I've never had a road-map that I have followed, I have just taken opportunities as they come my way. I've always taken the rule that you never say never to any opportunity. I am very bad at saying no in fact. If people come to me and say, 'We'd llke you to fill in on this', invariably I say yes; even though it might be a juggle."
She can't really imagine being anything but a journalist - "I just fundamentally loved stories, so I think going into journalism was a natural fit" - but hopes her own children don't follow in her career footsteps in such an uncertain era for the profession. So far they don't show any signs of doing so. "My daughter is very creative and into a lot of art, she takes after her dad, and my son is very sporty. And Audrey just loves singing and dancing like every five-year-old.
"But I will be supportive of whatever they choose to do."
"We eat out a lot at the Tramsheds in Glebe, and a family favourite there is Fish and Co, and a Messina ice-cream for dessert. In Leichhardt, Rakuen on Norton Street is a really good Japanese restaurant that we often go to.
Ragamuffin on Norton Street makes great coffee, and we go to Annanadale quite a bit, there are some great cafes there too.
The Royal Hotel, also on Norton Street, is a great place to go for a catch-up with friends. And if we ever get the babysitter in, we go to the movies at the Leichhardt Palace Cinemas.
We spend a lot of time in all the parks - Pioneer Park is always a favourite for the kids to go, because it's got great open space and the playground; and we go around the Iron Cove Bay Run quite a bit with the kids on their push bikes."
Have something to say? Send a letter to the editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.