Veteran Aussie TV political journalist and presenter for the Oz edition of “60 Minutes” Richard Carleton died May 7 of a heart attack on assignment in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. He was 62.
Carleton began his career at pubcaster the ABC in 1967 where he worked on the current affairs skein “This Day Tonight” as political correspondent, which kickstarted a lifelong interest in politics that came to dominate his career. While at the ABC he started Oz’s first ever series to deal solely with politics called “State of the Nation.” This political leaning morphed into an obsession with the world’s trouble spots and upon leaving the ABC in 1976 he produced two non-fiction features dealing with Indonesia and the Middle East. Carleton then left Australia in 1977 and joined Blighty’s BBC in London where spent two years travelling the world with the “Tonight” program.
In 1979 he returned to the ABC as a political journalist and later host of the “Carleton/Walsh Report” and it was during this time he asked Bob Hawke — who deposed his friend Bill Hayden as leader of the Australian Labor Party in 1983, “How does it feel to have blood on your hands?” The resulting explosion from Hawke, who went on to become Prime Minister, is one of the country’s most infamous TV political exchanges.
Carleton’s reputation was as a tough journalist and interviewer. He was once deported from East Timor for gaining entry via a tourist visa rather than a journalist visa and was allowed to interview hostages during the 2000 Fiji coup.
He took this style to the Nine Network in 1987 when he joined “60 Minutes.” From here he covered the rise of Thatcherism in Britain, the end of apartheid in South Africa, The Gulf War, the Bosnian War and Australia’s recent involvement in Iraq. Since joining “60 Minutes,” Carleton put more than 100 stories on air each year, earning him five Penguin Awards and three Reporter of the Year Logie kudos. John Westacott, exec producer, “60 Minutes” said, “At work or at play Richard was always a force to be reckoned with. Nothing was ever done by half measures. There are few people in this business who you can say are irreplaceable — Richard is one of them.”
Carleton had been ill for some time, having heart surgery in 1988 and he collapsed on assignment in 2003, which resulted in a second heart bypass which he allowed a “60 Minutes” crew to film. Asking the tough question till the end, his last assignment was the story of two miners trapped down a shaft in Beaconsfield in Tasmania, Carleton collapsed during a press conference after challenging the mine manager over a previous rock fall in the area.
He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and a son.