The Truth About Ben Eltham


Today we’re launching a new section at the 20 Questions Challenge. Each week, we’ll be firing questions at notable members of the community: famous people, hard-working people, expert people, people you do see in the news and people you don’t see in the news. We’ll ask social media experts how they take their coffee. Actually, you know that already from Twitter. You’ll find out how community advocates would spend research money and what sports ring the bells of writers. You’ll discover the broken lift fantasies of policy wonks and the karaoke preferences of filmmakers. In short: how the world ticks along, in 20 Questions.

First cab off the rank is’s National Affairs Correspondent Ben Eltham. You’ve read what he has to say about Mark Scott’s new media "vision" and about Coalition leadership strife, but did you ever stop to wonder what image he’d hang on the wall of Kevin Rudd’s office? Ben has written on everything from arms build-up to water policy for In the event of a showdown between us and Rupert Murdoch, we definitely want Ben on our trivia team. Here, he takes time out from writing a PhD at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Cultural Research and being a fellow at the Centre for Policy Development and Eidos to answer 20 Questions for us.

1. If you were given $5 million, what would you spend it on?

I’d put it in the bank and then use the interest to fund a national emerging arts and culture festival in perpetuity.

2. Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

Barry Jones. No, Anne Hathaway. No, Ken West from the Big Day Out.

3. What trivia topic will you beat everyone else in the pub to the buzzer on?

Military history.

4. The headline you’d most like to see on the front page of a daily newspaper.

Eltham gets $5m to start arts festival.

5. Complete this sentence. I’d like to hear Kevin Rudd say "…"

"Constructive middle power diplomacy" in Mandarin.

6. If you could have made one major life move differently, what would it have been?

I probably should have done medicine, like my mum told me to. 

7. You’re on a desert island with only a magical television for entertainment. It only broadcasts sports. It can only broadcast one sporting code. You choose the sport.


8. You’ve been appointed research director for an organisation funded by a hands-off philanthropist. What do you tell your staff to find out?

A computer virus that will selectively attack the broadcast systems of Fox News.

9. How often do you check your email?

Every 5 waking minutes.

10. What annoys you about politicians?

The fact that people often tell me I should become one.

11. Name someone in Australian public life who deserves a promotion.

Steven Conroy, to climate change minister. Oh wait, that’s a demotion. How about Maxine McKew, to a cabinet spot?

12. Name someone in Australian public life who should be out on their ear.

The entire NSW Labor Government.

13. Can we fix climate change?

I sure as hell hope so.

14. If we were in a karaoke club and not online, what song would you sing?

"Africa" by Toto. Or maybe "Rattled by the Rush" by Pavement.

15. Have you ever seen a ghost?

I once saw Philip Ruddock in real life. Does that count?

16. Computers could be improved. How?

Better audio inputs and outputs. Like, gold-plated RCA plugs and MIDI on laptops. Also, batteries that never run out.

17. I’m going to get a coffee — what can I get you?

Latte, one sugar.

18. Do you have a hidden talent?

Modesty. It’s very well hidden.

19. What image should hang on the wall of the PM’s office?

This one.

20. What question should we ask our next interviewee?

What would YOU call the new Kraft cheesy Vegemite snack?

This will be a weekly section and we’d love to hear your feedback. Got a question you want to ask? Or a brilliant candidate to answer all 20 Questions? Let us know via the comments.


Ben Eltham is New Matilda's National Affairs Correspondent.