A Toast to Fran Kelly: Reflections on current affairs and politics from behind the mic

Event status:

Fran Kelly with accompanying text: A Toast to Fran Kelly, The Ideas and Society Program, 5:30PM Thursday 9 December La Trobe University’s celebration of Fran Kelly’s achievement represents one opportunity to express our collective gratitude. You are cordially invited to join us in an event that ought not to be missed.

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Thursday 09 December 2021 05:30 pm until Thursday 09 December 2021 07:00 pm (Add to calendar)
University Events
Presented by:
Ideas and Society Program
Type of Event:
Alumni; Community Event; Graduations and prizes; Public Lecture
Free to register
Presentation of Honorary Degree, Doctor of Letters (honoris causa)

On March 30 2020, the La Trobe University Council decided to award ABC Radio National’s Breakfast presenter, Fran Kelly, with one of its highest honours, Doctor of Letters (honoris causa).

In normal times, this award would be presented at a graduation ceremony. However, there hasn’t been a lot of normal over the past eighteen months. When Fran Kelly announced her retirement from RN Breakfast after seventeen years, La Trobe decided to present the doctoral award in a special ceremony, and to organise a panel of two—Gay Alcorn, Editor of The Age and Lawrie Zion, Professor of Journalism at La Trobe—where Fran would answer questions rather than to ask them, and reflect on her career thus far.

Regular listeners to RN Breakfast are aware of Fran Kelly’s truly exceptional qualities as a journalist and broadcaster. She is extraordinarily well-informed about Australian politics and public policy. But she is also a genuine all-rounder with the greatest interest in, and understanding of, popular culture—film, sport and music. Fran’s early career included a range of roles across ABC radio and television since she joined to work on the Triple J current affairs program, The Drum. We are pleased to have discovered that before she became a journalist, Fran once worked as Entertainment Director at La Trobe, booking bands to play in the Student Union.

Listeners know about Fran’s warmth, generosity and humour Fran Kelly with ABC colleagues, like her talented young offsiders—in recent years James Carleton, Matt Bevan and presently Max Chalmers—and also with the regular troupe of political journalists and the incomparable sports commentator cum word-smith, Warwick Hadfield.

Fran Kelly’s audience also knows that she tackles all subjects with energy, critical intelligence and, where appropriate, infectious enthusiasm. As an interviewer, she is invariably courteous to all her guests across the entire political spectrum. But she is also tough-minded and insistent when she recognises evasion. Many of her guests seem to grasp and to admire her qualities. Quite often even testing interviews end with the entirely sincere words, “Thank you, Fran.”

Listening to radio can be an intense individual experience or an experience shared with a partner. However at moments like Fran’s recent announcement of impending retirement from RN Breakfast, it becomes clear that the unusual pleasure and admiration individuals or couples feel about a particular program or presenter is something that is very widely shared. Following the announcement of her retirement from RN Breakfast, Fran Kelly received, somewhat to her surprise, “an avalanche” of emails.

Manifestly, very large numbers of her RN Breakfast listeners will miss her greatly because they understand how exceptional she is not only as journalist and broadcaster but even more as a wonderful human being who has managed, despite everything, to retain her faith in the character of the Australian people and optimism about the country’s future.

La Trobe University’s celebration of Fran Kelly’s achievement represents one opportunity to express our collective gratitude. You are cordially invited to join us in an event where Fran will respond to questions from the panel and the audience.


Fran Kelly

Respected radio presenter, current affairs journalist and political correspondent, Fran Kelly hosted the agenda-setting program RN Breakfast for seventeen years.

From 1984, Fran broadened her experience in arts management as the coordinator of the Statewide Women's Arts Festival for Victoria's 150th Anniversary celebrations, managing 26 staff over 18 months and putting on events across the state.

Her change of tack into current affairs journalism had its seeds in her first foray into radio: also in 1984 Fran worked on Melbourne RRR's Backchat program, which featured women's current affairs, issues and talkback. The experience sparked a desire to embark on a new career.

In 1988, she was invited to take up a three month position in Sydney with The Drum, the current affairs program of the ABC's youth radio station, triple j before moving work on ABC Radio's flagship current affairs programs AM and PM, heard then, as now, across Australia via ABC Local Radio and ABC RN.

In 1993 she moved to the heart of Australian politics, working for ten years in various roles within the Canberra press gallery. Initially Fran remained with AM and PM and within a year was their Chief Political Correspondent and Bureau Chief. In 1997 she swapped studios, joining ABC RN's Breakfast program as the political correspondent.

Another big twist in Fran's career came in 2001 when she took on her first job on Australian TV. In 2001 she became political editor for ABC TV's 7.30 Report. After two years she took up an overseas posting as the ABC's Europe correspondent based in London.

In March 2005, Fran called time on London, returning home to Australia to take up her current position. She revels in Breakfast's wide brief, which has reignited her passion for the arts, sport, issues and travel, and is still in the thick of Australian and world politics.


Gay Alcorn

Gay Alcorn has been the editor of The Age since September 2020. She is a three-time Walkley winner and a previous deputy editor of The Age, editor of The Sunday Age and Washington correspondent. She was a journalist at The Age for almost 20 years before becoming Melbourne editor of Guardian Australia.

Event Host:

Professor Lawrie Zion

Lawrie Zion is Associate Provost, Research and Industry Engagement of the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce and Professor of Journalism. He also leads the ARC-funded research project, New Beats, which is investigating the aftermath of job loss for journalists whose roles were made redundant.

Welcome remarks:

Professor John Dewar AO

Professor John Dewar has been Vice-Chancellor and President of La Trobe University since January 2012.  Recognised as an internationally-known family law researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Oxford and taught at the Universities of Lancaster and Warwick.

Professor Dewar held leadership positions at Griffith University and the University of Melbourne before joining La Trobe. In 2021 he became Chair of Universities Australia and holds a number of directorships and honorary appointments.


Emeritus Professor Robert Manne

Robert Manne is an Emeritus Professor of Politics, Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and Convenor of the Ideas and Society Program at La Trobe University.

He is the author or editor of twenty-seven books, including The Petrov Affair: Politics and Espionage; The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust; In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right; Left, Right, Left: Political Essays 1977-2005; Making Trouble; Cypherpunk Revolutionary-On Julian Assange; The Mind of the Islamic State; and most recently On Borrowed Time. Manne was editor of Quadrant between 1990 and 1997 and has been chair of the boards of both The Australian Book Review and The Monthly.

He has been a regular public affairs columnist for several Australian newspapers and magazines since the mid-1980s and a frequent commentator on ABC radio and television.  He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.



5th Oct 2022 8:03am

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