If anyone knows her way around Parliament House it’s Annabel Crabb.
The political journalist, known for putting politicians in the hot seat and also in front of a hot plate in Kitchen Cabinet, is back again with a new show titled The House, which takes us behind the scenes, revealing never-before filmed parts of our government’s main hub.
Speaking to Starts at 60, Crabb shares what inspired the show and what she discovered along the way.
“People who work in Parliament House know what it looks like and how it works but it’s actually quite significantly hidden from people who don’t have passes,” Annabel Crab said. “It’s always seemed a bit sad to me that there’s this extraordinary structure and lots of things that go in there that members of the public can’t see.”
All that is about to change, thanks to Crabb and her Kitchen Cabinet team watching the BBC series Inside the Commons.
“Why can’t we do that for our parliament?” she asked, after seeing the documentary exploring the House of Commons in the UK. And after years of negotiations and ten months of filming, she has.
“We had to convince the Parliament House authorities and presiding officers that we were serious about the project. It was a labour of love.”
A labour that brought about a few surprises along the way.
“I thought I knew Parliament House pretty well but I found out a bunch of things that really surprised me.”
Australia’s Parliament House is unusual for a lot of reasons. Crabb explained that unlike other countries it was purpose built, so they were able to include some design specifications that other’s don’t have. With 1100 rooms, industrial kitchens, a whole carpentry workshop, trades people living in and all sorts of laundries, there were lots of places to explore, but it was the underground of Parliament House that fascinated her.
“When I worked there you could take a lift to the basement and look out. It’s like a sci-fi movie down there; underground tunnels, and they’ve all got street names, electric cars that buzz around down there. It’s totally crazy.”
“The corridors down there are like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. You go through a couple of quite nondescript doors. Then you step out through this final door into this completely huge unfinished space. It’s called The Cathedral. It’s used for nothing. It’s just a bit of Parliament House that remained unfinished. It’s huge, the size of a church cathedral, it’s just dirt on the floor and building materials everywhere and it’s just this bit that they couldn’t afford to finish. It’s spooky down there.”
The show is not just about the building but also about the people who work there, from the political names we know to those who work behind the scenes who have their own fascinating stories to tell. Christopher Pyne for one. “That man is very very funny. There is quite a lot of Pyne comedy gold in there. The world is his stage so there were a few funny moments.”
Getting to know the person behind the politician has been Crabb’s specialty.
She described looking through the office of Nola Marino, who keeps all of her clothes, shoes, and everything she needs there, in cupboards she’d had converted to accommodate. “It gives you an idea how organised you have to be if you have that sort of job.”
In contrast is Nick Xenophon’s office. “My gosh, it’s like a teenagers bedroom. You can see how busy he is because there is paperwork everywhere.”
Even on the show Kitchen Cabinet she got to discover their cooking talents, citing Senator Nigel Scullion and MP Tanya Plibersek as talented. Not so for Joe Hockey. “That man can’t even boil an egg, but he’s still a great host.”
The House with Annabel Crabb screens on ABC television from Tuesday, August 8 at 8pm.