ABC viewers were shocked when Leigh Sales revealed last week she was stepping down as host of current affairs program 7:30.
But for colleagues who know the longtime presenter personally, the timing of her announcement was not a surprise.
In the months leading up to her resignation, the single mother of two was reportedly struggling to balance her demanding job with homeschooling her children.
In the months leading up to her resignation from ABC’s 7:30, single mother of two Leigh Sales was reportedly struggling to balance her demanding job with homeschooling her children
Insiders say one ‘contributing factor’ to her exit was the NSW Covid lockdown, which forced her sons, James and Daniel, into remote learning due to school closures.
She took six weeks off work in the middle of last year ‘primarily… to allow her to dedicate herself to homeschooling her two boys,’ reports The Australian.
Sales had acknowledged her duties as a parent in her on-air farewell last Thursday, saying her children, whom she shares with ex-husband Phil Willis, ‘want me home with them before 8.30pm, and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask’.
Insiders say one ‘contributing factor’ to her exit was the NSW Covid lockdown, which saw her sons, James and Daniel (pictured), forced into remote learning due to school closures
Meanwhile, Media Diary reports the most likely candidate to replace Sales is Washington-based ‘special reporter’ Sarah Ferguson, who is looking for a more permanent role at the public broadcaster.
She took up a temporary post in the U.S. capital early last year after being unable to begin her planned role as the ABC’s Beijing bureau chief due to poor relations between Australia and China.
In addition to being something of a free agent, Ferguson also has a reputation as a no-nonsense interviewer, which was on display when she hosted 7:30 for six months in 2014 while Sales was on maternity leave.
Sales announced last Thursday she was quitting 7.30 after 11 years because her sons ‘want me home with them before 8.30pm, and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask’
The likes of Insiders host David Speers and 7.30’s chief political correspondent Laura Tingle were named as likely frontrunners last week, but according to The Australia, ‘the smart money’ is on Ferguson.
Presenting ABC’s 7:30, formerly The 7:30 Report, is considered one of the most demanding and high-profile roles in Australian television.
Sales shocked viewers last week by announcing she was quitting 7.30 after 11 years, saying her decision came down to her ‘two beautiful little boys’ wanting to see more of their mum.
The most likely candidate to replace Sales is Washington-based ‘special reporter’ Sarah Ferguson (pictured), who is looking for a more permanent role at the public broadcaster
At the end of Thursday night’s program she told viewers she wanted them to hear the news from her ‘personally’, as she explained she wanted to finally spend evenings with her kids after more than a decade.
She will step down later this year after the federal election.
‘I was appointed to the job on December 3, 2010. This is my 12th year in the seat. That was five Prime Ministers ago. It was so long ago that Donald Trump was just a guy with a bad orange hairdo hosting The Apprentice,’ she said.
The likes of Insiders host David Speers (pictured) and Laura Tingle were named as likely frontrunners last week, but according to The Australia, ‘the smart money’ is on Ferguson
Laura Tingle (left), 7.30’s chief political correspondent, is seen interviewing Josh Frydenberg
‘There’s nothing wrong other than I just feel a strong sense of it being time to pass the baton to the next runner in the race and to take a break. At the end of an election cycle feels like a good time to move on to something new at the ABC.’
She said she hoped it was obvious she had always approached the job with one goal ‘to ask frank questions of people in power, without fear or favour, that a fair-minded, reasonable person with some common sense watching at home might like to ask’.
In a possible first for an Australian TV news presenter, she then used strong language, saying she had ‘tried to shut down and call out bulls**t, hold powerful people to account, expose lies, incompetence and exaggeration in all political parties and all issues and present facts even when they’re unpopular or inconvenient’.
Colleagues pay tribute to Leigh Sales
‘It’s in Leigh’s nature to seek fresh challenges’ – ABC news acting director Gavin Fang
‘Her fairness, integrity, work ethic and journalistic rigour have shone through’ – John Lyons, ABC’s head of investigative journalism
‘Leigh is also an immensely supportive colleague and friend’ – 7.30 executive producer Justin Stevens
Sales said anchoring 7.30 has been ‘the most amazing job and I’ll never stop being grateful for the opportunities it’s given me’.
She then mentioned one of her most memorable interviewees over the years.
‘The celebrities come and go but you never forget people like Matthew Low,’ Ms Sales said.
‘His wife was killed in the Dreamworld roller-coaster accident and found the strength down the track to do an interview and try to ensure no other family would have to go through what his family did.
‘People like Matthew are the ones who stick with you.
‘Every time you interview somebody whose life has been devastated you feel terrified by what life has dished up to them and incredibly humbled by how they met it with strength and clarity and dignity and you just don’t forget it.’
She did single out one celebrity, though, saying meeting Paul McCartney ‘and getting a hug from him is one of the best days of my life’.
Ms Sales also mentioned the viewers and how people would approach her in public and say how much joy her interview with McCartney had given them.
She spoke about what a demanding hosting 7.30 is and that it comes with a lot of pressure and scrutiny.
‘When I first started I didn’t have children. And now I have two boys aged 10 and eight. And they’ve only ever known their mum at work four nights a week.
‘They want me home with them before 8.30pm and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask and they’re two beautiful little boys.’
Throwback: Sales is seen in the earlier days of her presenting role of the 7.30 program on ABC
Ms Sales also thanked viewers for their supportive messages about the ABC itself.
‘The ABC is so often under fire and it means a lot to all of us to know the public supports us,’ she said.
She said that 7.30 ‘is an incredibly important program’ and that it will keep going from strength to strength.
‘I’m looking forward to having a good break and figuring out what I do next at the ABC … I’m be around for a while yet.’
She finished by saying ‘Please keep watching, my friends. See you on Monday. Goodnight.’
Strong audience: Sales (pictured in 2011) is leaving the show in good shape in the ratings
Sales is leaving the show in good shape. In 2021 7.30’s average audience rose three per cent to almost one million total viewers per episode with a 13 per cent share of metro audiences in its time slot and 12.5 per cent of regional audiences.
After her shock announcement, tributes started to pour in for Ms Sales from her ABC colleagues.
ABC Managing Director David Anderson said Sales is an exceptional journalist, respected by viewers and all sides of politics.
‘Leigh’s integrity, intellect and courage are evident in everything she does,’ he said.
‘Our audiences have always seen Leigh as a journalist and broadcaster who challenges her subjects and asks the questions we all want answers to. I’m really looking forward to the next stage of her career here at the ABC.’
ABC news acting director Gavin Fang said the presenter had become synonymous with the program.
Leigh Sales’ busy life
She joined the ABC in Brisbane in 1995 as a junior reporter and went on to hold senior roles, including being NSW state political reporter and national security correspondent.
She has also written three books, contributed to many other publications and co-hosts the podcast Chat 10, Looks 3 with Annabel Crabb.
‘We would love to have her stay in that role, but it’s in Leigh’s nature to seek fresh challenges, and it’s exciting for everyone to see what she’ll do next in journalism.
‘7.30 plays a vital role in the service ABC news provides to audiences and the presenter job is one of the most important in the Australian media – and one of the toughest and most highly scrutinised.
‘We’ll start thinking about a new presenter down the track. For the next few months we’ll just enjoy every moment of having Leigh on the program,’ he said.
John Lyons, ABC’s head of investigative and in-depth journalism said ‘Her fairness, integrity, work ethic and journalistic rigour have shone through.
‘Leigh is without question one of the fairest and most decent people in journalism. Her editorial leadership has inspired both her colleagues and the millions of Australians who have watched both 7.30 and the ABC’s federal election coverage over those years.’
7.30’s executive producer Justin Stevens said Ms Sales represents ‘the finest virtues of public interest journalism.
‘Year after year she has carried the weight and responsibility of fronting 7.30 with fairness, independence, impartiality and a forthright questioning of those in power without fear or favour – and Australian democracy is the better for it.
‘Leigh is also an immensely supportive colleague and friend … We’ll treasure the next four months before she starts a new chapter at the ABC.
‘She leaves this role at the top of her game.’