Stephen Mayne is a well-known media commentator, founder of influential website crikey.com.au, and a passionate anti-gambling campaigner, writes Julie Houghton.
Tell me about your early background and what you wanted to do when you grew up?
I have an English father and an Australian mother who met in Burma, where Mum was a diplomat and Dad was second in charge of British chemical company ICI. The 1962 military coup ended all that so they spent five years in Manchester before immigrating to Melbourne in 1969. I was brought up in the Congregational Church and attended regularly until aged 13 when there was a clash with tennis lessons. My mum and two sisters still attend church regularly. At school I loved reading and debating, so journalism and politics were my main aspirations.
What did you do straight after school?
I enrolled in a double degree (Arts/Commerce) at Melbourne University and completed one year-full time before getting a cadetship at The Sun, so it took another four years to finish the single Commerce degree, with a politics major on top.
Why did journalism attract you as a career?
A chance to write, meet interesting people, tell stories, gossip, hold the powerful to account and hopefully make a positive difference in the world.
What led you to leave working for an organisation and strike out on your own?
I first left journalism in 1991 after four years, to be a spin doctor for Jeff Kennett [former Victorian Premier], but that only lasted for 18 months before I returned to mainstream newspaper journalism for another six years before being liberated with the launch of Crikey in 2000 where no advertiser, editor or lawyer could shut me up.
What was your vision for crikey.com.au and how do you feel that has worked out?
Hard-hitting independent journalism covering business, politics and media in a fearless but fun way, modelled on what Private Eye does in the UK. I’m very happy with the outcome 18 years later and proud it remains a vibrant participant in an increasingly fragmented media market.
You have been described as the most unsuccessful political candidate—are you something of a Don Quixote, tilting at windmills?
Yes, after 48 public companies tilts and 11 political tilts (four local government, three federal and four state), I’m well used to losing but ultimately it is about raising issues and putting pressure on for change so it has been a fun ride with few regrets.
Why is it important to have idealism and activism in the political world?
Those wielding political power often get captured by powerful vested interests which need to be challenged by a dynamic eco-system of civil society groups and individuals.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform is a major interest of yours—why is this important to you?
I developed a dislike for gambling when working for the Kennett Government as it rolled out pokies, privatised Tabcorp and licensed Crown Casino. After eight years in local government, The Alliance was an opportunity to put some serious effort into trying to reduce gambling harm and de-legitimise a toxic industry. I’ve always admired Tim Costello and have been really impressed with the whole gambling reform community which has been built around The Alliance. This includes The Salvation Army, represented on The Alliance board through Salvo officer Captain Dr Jason Davies-Kildea so the Salvos provide solid input on a range of deliberations and actions.
What would you like on your gravestone, many years into the future!
Brave transparency campaigner, loved talking truth to power, never shied away from a battle—and loving husband to Paula and father to Philip, Alice and Laura.