The odd couple: behind Alan Jones and Tanya Plibersek's 20-year bond
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The odd couple: behind Alan Jones and Tanya Plibersek's 20-year bond

When broadcaster Alan Jones takes issue with someone, he doesn't hold back. Likewise, when he's a fan - as he is of Tanya Plibersek - he generally lets it show.

For two weeks in a row on his Sky News show Jones has introduced Plibersek as a future Labor leader. "From her performances on this program you can easily understand why," he said on Thursday night.

Friends despite their political differences: veteran broadcaster Alan Jones and Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek.

Friends despite their political differences: veteran broadcaster Alan Jones and Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek.Credit:Nine

The relationship between the two warriors of conservative and progressive politics dates back 20 years, to when Jones intervened to help secure a pay rise for disability sector workers during an award dispute between the Carr and Howard governments in the early 2000s.

"I rang him up, I wrote to him, I asked him to play a role in that and he did," Plibersek recalls.

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The member for Sydney was then an opposition backbencher; Jones the king of talkback radio. Now a long-serving Labor frontbencher and former deputy leader, Plibersek appears on Jones' Sky News program every Thursday night, usually joined by Liberal Party senator Amanda Stoker. The show is part of the network's so-called "after dark" line-up of conservative-leaning commentary, wedged between Andrew Bolt and Paul Murray.

"A lot of my viewers can't stand Tanya Plibersek," Jones tells The Sun-Herald. "I say to her: that's a good thing. Because it means that you're a bit of a threat to them. They see this woman and say 'my god, we've got to get her off there', because she's winning people's support."

Tanya Plibersek on Alan Jones' Sky News program.

Tanya Plibersek on Alan Jones' Sky News program.

Plibersek and Jones say the robust but respectful debate between them, which can occasionally get heated, is often lacking elsewhere in political discourse.

"It's important for us to be able to disagree well," says Plibersek. The big problem with the current political climate, here and in the United States, is that people simply end up "shouting louder and louder to people who already agree with them", she says, laying much of the blame at the feet of Tony Abbott.

It is tactical as well. "We are in the business of converting people," Plibersek says. "Our job is convince the people who don't agree. It's really important for me to put Labor's case to them.

"If people like me only talk to people who already agree with me, democracy is lost. I don't think Alan's going to change his mind [but] it's not him that I'm trying to convince - it's the people who watch him."

"Tactically I think she's very strong. She's very, very personable," says Alan Jones of Tanya Plibersek.

"Tactically I think she's very strong. She's very, very personable," says Alan Jones of Tanya Plibersek.Credit:Mick Tsikas

Jones counts Plibersek as a friend, describing her as a "lovely human being" and noting that "people are people before they're politicians". Sometimes they will text each other about their views on certain political issues. Jones even invited Plibersek and her husband, NSW Justice Department secretary Michael Coutts-Trotter, to an intimate Christmas drinks at his Sydney home last year.

"Halfway through she looked around at a little bit of colourful language and said words to the effect of, 'I think I'm the only Labor person in the room'," Jones says.

Jones believes Plibersek could be a successful ALP leader because she is experienced and has the rare ability to "cut through".

"When Tanya Plibersek asks a question in the Parliament, the question is always brief, to the point and the answer that she's seeking is in the question," he says. "Tactically I think she's very strong. She's very, very personable, she's got great presence. She does empathise, she genuinely cares."

Jones has attracted controversy at numerous points in his career, particularly for comments about female leaders, whom he once accused of "destroying the joint". More recently the broadcasting regulator censured Jones for his "repeated use of violent metaphors" against New Zealand leader Jacinda Ardern, in remarks which prompted many advertisers to dump his then 2GB radio show (Jones retired from breakfast radio in May).

"He's said things that I really profoundly disagree with," says Plibersek when asked about Jones' attitude to women. "I was very upset with the things he said about Julia [Gillard], for example. He's never been like that with me."

Plibersek says Jones remains a highly skilled broadcaster who has cultivated a loyal audience. "He's definitely good at his job," she says. "Even when I'm sitting there fuming in disagreement, I have to acknowledge that he's really good at what he does."

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