Christopher Pyne’s Childhood began when he was born in Adelaide on 13 August, 1967 and christened Christopher Maurice Pyne, the Member for Sturt entered the House of Representatives aged just 26 in 1993.
Since then political wonks have attempted to find out just what makes him tick. Who is he and why is he that way? If we go back to his parents and his formative years we may find a few clues.
He was the youngest of five children in an affluent middle-class Catholic family. His father, Remington, was a distinguished ophthalmologist who was South Australia’s Father of the Year in 1976. Remington Pyne was born on 6 March 1929 and died on 8 April 1988 at the young age of 59. He took a special interest in dyslexia when Christopher’s oldest brother was diagnosed with reading problems and helped found SPELD, a non-profit group to help people with learning difficulties. In his childhood Christopher often visited the hospital with his father. The nuns who used to run the place wore floor-length robes that hid their feet, he says. As a kid, he was convinced they floated along the corridors.
Pyne’s mother, Margaret, has always been a staunch Liberal supporter. Pyne said in an interview with Jane Cadzow, “It’s in my DNA to be a Liberal. I was wearing ‘Turn on the Lights’ Liberal badges to school during the election campaign in 1975, when I was in grade 3.” From the same article, we find that Pyne often sided with his mother in lively discussions around the dinner table. “Everybody had strong views,” he says. “We could argue about everything under the sun.” Possibly unkind was a description of Pyne I found in a comment on a blog post. “Christopher Pyne is the Oedipal son of the celebrated South Australian doctor Remington Pyne.”
In a combination of his mother’s interest in Liberal politics and a need for his mother’s approval we perhaps find Pyne’s political motivation and a need for approval.
Was the first sign of this need for approval when “aged 12 when he fought his first election, in a mock ballot at Adelaide’s Saint Ignatius College. Young Pyne wanted to play the Liberal candidate. When the teacher chose “a less popular boy” to stand against the well-liked Labor candidate, Pyne “smelt a rat”. He started campaigning for the Liberal contender and won.”
Five years later, at 17, he joined three organisations in a single day: the Liberal Party, the University of Adelaide’s Liberal Club and the Young Liberals.
Even now, according to Erik Jensen, “Pyne is always the first to clap after speeches. He is first to his feet for prayers. There is something of the child in his desire to do well. “
Pyne himself has said, revealing, “I’ve almost always been exactly the same,” he says. “I can’t remember a time when I haven’t been the same.”
Leaving the inner workings of the Peter Pan Member for Sturt for the moment, here is a history of his political life. Yet there seems to be a redundancy there. One could make a case for him having no life other than politics.
From Wikipedia we learn that Christopher was educated at Saint Ignatius’ College, Adelaide and the University of Adelaide, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and was President of Adelaide University Liberal Club from 1987 to 1988.
In his first year at Uni he stood in a Student election.
In “On Dit” The Adelaide University Students’ Association newspaper of April 1985 we find that Christopher Pyne was a candidatefor the “Education/Services Standing Committee”
Surprisingly, considering later developments, he stood on a platform opposing Student fees!
(Hat tip to Junkee” for this lead.)of “
He was a research assistant to Senator Amanda Vanstone (it seems this was a bit of moonlighting while still a student) and later became President of the South Australian Young Liberals from 1988–1990.
He was just 20 when his father died in 1988. Almost immediately, he was running for parliament – so young the Liberal Party had him take his face off election posters. Selected as the Liberal candidate for the state seat of Ross Smith – a safe Labor seat – at the 1989 election, Pyne was defeated by the sitting member and Premier of South Australia, John Bannon.
He earned a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the University of South Australia and began practising as a solicitor in 1991. It is worth noting, in light of later developments that both his baccalaureate and his Diploma were gained under the Whitlam “No University Fees” system. So his University education was free.
At the 1993 Australian federal election, aged 25, Pyne was elected to the Division of Sturt in the House of Representatives. He had earlier defeated ex- Fraser Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment and for Aboriginal Affairs, the Anglican Ian Wilson, 35 years his senior, in a bitter and divisive pre-selection battle for the seat.
Sometime in that first term, around 1995, Christopher married Carolyn.
Pyne is a republican and established himself as a member of the moderate faction in the South Australian wing of the Liberal party, supporting then Deputy Leader Peter Costello. In 1994, after serving in the back benches for a period, Pyne was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Social Security. He retained this position after John Howard was elected as leader, and up to the 1996 election.
After the Coalition victory at the 1996 election, he remained in the backbench where he chaired the Australia Israel Parliamentary group from 1996 to 2004.
Pyne Rising in Government
Wikipedia records that in 2003, he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services, where he remained until 2004, when named Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing. As Parliamentary Secretary, he defended the government’s “War on drugs” and established his strong support of illicit drug prohibition, as opposed to harm minimisation.
He is an advocate for mental health, founding the youth mental health initiative, Headspace during his time as Parliamentary Secretary. He remained as Parliamentary Secretary until 30 January 2007 when he was appointed Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing. He held this portfolio until 21 March, when he was appointed Minister for Ageing,
Pyne plotting in Opposition
Pyne came close to losing Sturt at the 2007 federal election to Labor candidate Mia Handshin, gaining just 50.9 percent of the two-party vote. Following the election in which the John Howard-led Coalition government was defeated by the Kevin Rudd-led Labor opposition, Pyne put himself forward as a candidate for Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. In a ballot of Liberal parliamentary members, Julie Bishop prevailed with 44 votes, ahead of Andrew Robb, who won 25 votes, and Pyne 18 votes. Following the election of Brendan Nelson as party leader, Pyne was appointed Shadow Minister for Justice and Border Protection.
Following Malcolm Turnbull’s election as Liberal Party Leader in September 2008, Pyne was elevated to the position of Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training. After Deputy Leader Julie Bishop stepped down from the portfolio of Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey took up the portfolio, with Pyne replacing Hockey as Manager of Opposition Business. Pyne was reappointed as Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training and Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives by Tony Abbott when he became Leader of the Opposition after deposing Malcolm Turnbull.
Jane Cadzow wrote, “During the term of the last (2007-2010) Parliament, the Speaker of the House, Harry Jenkins, ejected him from the chamber 14 times – more often than any other MP. After the federal election last August, Pyne was the first person in the new parliament to be thrown out”.
Following the 2010 election Pyne continued in his roles as Leader of the House and as Shadow Education Minister.
All was not placid in his own electorate in 2011 as News.com reported on October 18th, “TWO staffers of federal Liberal MPs have been expelled from Adelaide University’s Liberal Club. The staffers, who work for SA moderate Liberal MPs Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham, were accused of inappropriate recruitment practices, which has led to rejection of a number of membership applications.They have since set up their own breakaway group, Liberals on Campus, in opposition to the historic conservative-dominated Adelaide University club.Liberal Club president John Bowers claimed the pair and another colleague “appear engaged in a common purpose to improperly exercise influence over the affairs of the club”
His behaviour became ever more outrageous with his catcalling across the Chamber during Question Time which saw him ejected from the house on no less than 45 times during the 2010-2013 Government.
On one occasion, when sent from the Chamber by Speaker Anna Burke, he famously poked his tongue out at her as he passed her Chair.
He continually raised Points of Order and in excess of 100 attempts to raise Suspensions of Standing Orders.
His thin voice – part aristocrat, part magpie – strains in its upper register in a continual reminder that he is different from the majority of people. His easily reddened face is a possible sign of some hidden disease.
Everything he does in public seems to attract derision from those on the opposite side of the political fence.
Unfortunately for Pyne he has placed himself between two fences, one separating him from those on the Left and the other from those on the extreme Right’
The Slipper/Ashby Affair
Two different reports of the same event from 17th May, 2012. James Ashby, Speaker Peter Slipper’s gay aide alleged sexual harassment by his boss. What emerged from this accusation was a murky background which may or may not have involved Christopher Pyne, returning MP Mal Brough and, peripherally, the youngest Member, Wyatt Roy. The truth has never been officially revealed although the orchestrated ‘No Comment’ which was a Pyne/Abbott tactic for some years leads to speculation.
The independent internet news site, The Australian Times reported, “Reports have surfaced that Christopher Pyne has emailed James Ashby, the former aide of Peter Slipper. Ashby has accused Slipper of sexually harassing him. Powerbroker Pyne initially said he did not contact the former aide and that he has no reasons to do so. He also publicly said that he did not email Ashby after March 19. This, however, appears to be a lie as newspaper the Herald revealed an email sent by Pyne to Ashby on March 19. On the same night, Pyne and Ashby spent close to two hours of chatting and drinking in Slipper’s office. They were accompanied by another aide. The time stamp showed Pyne emailed Ashby at 11.03pm. It said, “You see, only aph,” which stands for Australian Parliament House. Thirty minutes later, Ashby sent a reply, “Good having a beer tonight.” The revelation is another blow to the Slipper controversy. Pyne has initially said that he could not remember asking Ashby for his number. He has also consistently refused to reveal the extent of his contact with the former aide.
Meanwhile the News Ltd owned Adelaide Now reported, “THE Opposition says attempts to conjure up conspiracy theories around MP Christopher Pyne’s ‘porky’ relating to contact with a staffer of Speaker Peter Slipper are just distractions. Christopher Pyne had drinks in March with James Ashby, the staff member who has accused Mr Slipper of sexual harassment. Mr Slipper has denied the allegations, which will be heard in the Federal Court tomorrow. Mr Pyne initially said his contact with Mr Ashby had been brief, but media reports said the manager of Opposition business had spent almost two hours drinking and chatting with Mr Ashby in the Speaker’s office. Mr Pyne then clarified he had met Mr Ashby three times – twice in the Speaker’s office and once when the staffer came by the Liberal MP’s office. Later he again clarified that he had sought Mr Ashby’s phone number but had never spoken with him on the phone.Now it has emerged Mr Pyne emailed Mr Ashby on the night they had drinks.
Pyne became famous for his repeated Points of Order during Question Time.
In April 2013, in an interview with Miranda Devine of the Telegraph he revealed that, “my intention, should I be fortunate enough to become education minister, will be to radically alter the way we think about education in Australia, to place competition, the individual and self-reliance at the centre of our education system,” he says. To do any good, Pyne will have to basically nuke the progressive education establishment.”
Back in Government
On 18 September 2013 he was sworn in as Minister for Education and Leader of the House in the Abbott Government.
Almost the first thing the newly appointed Minister for Education did was to scrap the so-called “Gonski” educational reforms.
Under his leadership, University fees have been increased, ignoring the selfish benefits of his own free University education. Almost anywhere you look on the Government benches there are Ministers of the Crown who received their own tertiary education free and are now working assiduously to remove that privilege from current and future generations of students.
Changing Parliamentary Language
In May 2014, Pyne managed to let out a word which can only be one of the forbidden words in a description of the Leader of Opposition Business, Tony Burke. Despite many efforts by a sympathetic media to obfusticate what was said, it was pretty obvious.
Enough said about that episode.
How Pyne Sees Pyne
On his own website is the information that, “Christopher is married to Carolyn and is the father of Eleanor, Barnaby, Felix and Aurelia. To relax he enjoys reading Australian, US and European history, gardening, following AFL football and spending time with family and friends.”
Eleanor’s Godmother is Christopher’s mentor and onetime boss, Amanda Van Stone.
Pyne’s four children are at school in Adelaide, from kindergarten to Year 8. His 13-year-old twins, Eleanor and Barnaby, are dyslexic , (like his eldest brother) and he says his life experience has “given me a particular insight into education”.
Pyne also appears to live in a Pollyanna-type world where everyone likes him. Erik Jensen reported him saying “My wife sometimes says, ‘I don’t think that person likes
you.’ And I say, ‘How could they not like me? What are you talking about?’ And she says, ‘I think you’re missing the social signals.’ I’ve been in [parliament] for nearly 20 years … and if I took the comments that have been made about me personally, it would be hard, really, to keep doing this job.”
His apparently incurable optimism also appears to have an effect on his memory. Speaking with Erik Jensen he said, “Touch wood, but I’ve never been defeated in an election,” he says with unbridled cheer. “I like the process of trying to get people to support you and I like winning.”
This despite the fact he DID lose his first election to John Bannon and he has lost two tilts at the Liberal Party deputy leadership.
How Others See Pyne
Those close to Pyne describe him as obsessed. Yet others say “there is absolutely no balance in his life at all” and, while he is married to wife Carolyn and has four children, his real marriage is to politics. . . . . Some of those mentioned, but not willing to go on the record, say Pyne is known among them as “the politician who developed the art of the double-double-cross”. . . . . (he said) “Politics is a battle of ideas, a passionate business, a zero-sum game and you inevitably pick up both friends and enemies.” . . . . . “He is an extraordinary individual,” one federal Liberal figure says. “He is just so driven it scares the living daylights out of people. He also is so well connected with the media, it scares people.”
In another article it is said that, “. . . no one disputes that Pyne still has a vindictive streak. “He is prepared to use all available tools to wreak revenge on those who attack him,” says Joe Hockey.In Gillard’s case, he focused on undermining her Building the Education Revolution scheme – a $16-billion construction program designed to create jobs and stimulate the economy while modernising Australian schools. It should have been a sure-fire vote winner but Pyne went after it with ferocious tenacity, so successfully publicising isolated cases of waste and mismanagement that by the time Gillard left the education portfolio to replace Rudd as Labor leader, the scheme was widely seen as an electoral liability.”
Cadzow summarised a number of views, “Pyne is prissy, punctilious, irritating,” Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan has written. “Whenever he bobs to his feet or interjects, which is incessantly, I feel like lighting a mosquito coil.”Michael Egan, chancellor of Macquarie University in Sydney and a former Labor treasurer of NSW, is reported to have broken his mobile phone by throwing it at a television when Pyne’s face appeared on the screen. And it seems that plenty of others understand the impulse. When The Age ran an online poll last year asking readers how they felt about Pyne, two-thirds of the 22,672 respondents said, “Can’t stand him.” Even his Liberal colleagues have mixed feelings about Pyne. Beneath his chipper exterior, they say, he is the sort of political enforcer who will do almost anything to achieve his ends. “Ruthless” is the word that keeps coming up in conversations about him.
Is Pyne Gay?
It is impossible to write of this complex person without looking at the continual innuendo about his sexuality. Jane Cadzow wrote “although he is married with four young children, Pyne has been dogged for years by rumours that he is gay. Needling remarks have been made in parliament: Hansard records that in February 2009, the then prime minister, Kevin Rudd, referred to him as “the member for skirt – that is, the member for Sturt”. Soon afterwards, NSW independent Tony Windsor used the same phrase, “member for skirt”.When Pyne was appointed manager of opposition business, Julia Gillard expressed surprise that the then Coalition leader, Malcolm Turnbull, hadn’t given the job to Tony Abbott instead. Faced with a choice between a dobermann and a poodle, she said, Turnbull had opted for the poodle: “In a choice between macho and mincing, I would have gone for macho myself.” The next day, when Abbott was having his make-up removed after a television appearance, he joked that “Christopher would probably want his left on”.When I ask Pyne about the innuendo, he is resolutely upbeat. “No, it doesn’t annoy me,” he says, suggesting that the cause of the confusion might be the way he talks. The Adelaide accent can be quite plummy – think former Liberal foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer – “and, you know, sometimes it’s misinterpreted”. At any rate, he says, “every person is different. And I’m quite comfortable with the person I am.” He dismisses Abbott’s make-up gag as unimportant: “That was just his towel-snapping humour in the locker room.” But a person close to Pyne says he was extremely hurt at the time, “not because of the insult but because the insult came from somebody he regarded as a friend. They were estranged for eight or nine months.” Abbott confirms that they fell out for a while: “It was an ill-chosen jest and, yes, there was a period when he was understandably out of sorts with me.”Pyne’s dealings with Gillard were never warm. Once, when they clashed in the chamber during her term as education minister, he made fun of the way she spoke. “At least I’m not the Kath Day-Knight of Australian politics,” he said. “Good on you, Kath. Look at moiye, look at moiye!” Since the poodle gibe, though, relations have been frosty. Pyne tells me that when the two were members of a parliamentary delegation to Israel in 2009, they exchanged four words in a week: ” ‘Hello, Christopher.’ ‘Hello, Julia.’ She didn’t even say goodbye!”Some say the nastiest gossip about Pyne emanates not from Labor but from right-wingers in his own party, who have targeted him because he is leader of the so-called “moderate” group (in favour of a republic, action on climate change and a compassionate stance on asylum seekers, for instance). “Those from the right of centre have done some pretty terrible things to him over time,” says former Liberal senator Amanda Vanstone, who is godmother to his elder daughter. “They have been relentless in working against him in what I regard as an unforgivable fashion.”One of his oldest friends, Adelaide corporate lawyer John Kain, is impressed by how well he has stood up to the scuttlebutt. “Many people would throw the towel in,” Kain says, “but I think the more of it that occurs, the stronger his resolve becomes.
The still evolving Ashby affair also raises questions which will probably not be answered in our lifetimes.
A Short Anaylsis
After spending three weeks collecting and reading information for this post I can draw a few conclusions.
- His need for approval is still there and he rejects reality to substitute approval.
- He is vindictive and uses his wit to deliberately hurt others.
- He is willing to lie to hide unfortunate or inconvenient truths.
- He was quite correct when he said, “I’ve almost always been exactly the same.”
As additional material becomes available, it will be added.