When Donald Trump was just a “guy with a bad orange hair-do hosting The Apprentice“, Leigh Sales took over as the anchor of ABC’s 7.30.
It was five Australian Prime Ministers ago. She has decided against remaining in the role for the sixth – the incumbent or the contender.
After the looming federal election is over, Sales has decided to step down in her 12th year in the seat.
“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,” she told 7.30 viewers this week.
“The end of an election cycle feels like a good time to move onto something new at the ABC.
“I hope it’s been obvious that I’ve always approached this job with one goal — and that is 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 if they were sitting in my position.
“I’ve tried to shut down wafflers, call out bullshit, hold powerful people to account, expose lies, incompetence and exaggeration in all political parties and on all issues, and present facts even when they’re unpopular or inconvenient.”
She would “never stop being grateful” for the opportunities that came with anchoring 7.30, including interviewing “incredible people”.
She highlighted the interview with Mathew Low whose wife Cindy was one of four people killed on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld in 2016.
“People like Mathew are the ones who stick with you,” she said.
“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’ve met that with strength and clarity and dignity.
“You don’t forget it.”
Interviewing celebrities was also part of the gig, with Sales describing getting a hug from Sir Paul McCartney as “one of the best days of my life”.
“In all the years I’ve anchored, I’ve never had more viewers come up to me in public than after that interview to say how much joy it gave them, and it was so beautiful that people felt like they had shared in that experience with me,” she said.
While hosting 7.30 was an “unbelievable privilege”, Sales said it was a demanding job that came with pressure and scrutiny.
“Anchoring a nightly current affairs show for so long has been a marathon but every day, it’s a sprint as well,” she said.
“When I first started I didn’t have children and now I have two boys aged 10 and eight.
“They’ve only ever known their mum at work four nights a week. They want me home with them before 830pm and I don’t think that’s too much for two little boys to ask. And they’re two beautiful little boys too.”
She thanked viewers for their support, saying it meant a lot when the ABC was “so often under fire”.
Sales looked forward to having a “good break” and figuring out what to do next at the ABC.
“There’s no other show that does what 7.30 does night after night,” she said.
“I’m so proud of what our team does.
“And I know the program is going to keep going from strength to strength as it always has.”
Friends and colleagues paid tribute to the outgoing anchor.
This is going to take a little while for @abc730 colleagues to process. @leighsales you are a class act, the most supportive of colleagues and a bloody great journo. As one of a handful of people who has had the remotest glimpse of what the job involves I am in awe #12years https://t.co/AzIxrVEcWQ — Laura Tingle (@latingle) February 10, 2022
Congratulating my colleague & friend @leighsales on her incredible work for 7.30. She espouses the finest virtues of public broadcasting journalism & I admire her. We’ll make most of her remaining time at 7.30 until June & can’t wait to see what she does next at the ABC. A legend pic.twitter.com/ZrBDMDKgfq — Justin Stevens (@_JustinStevens_) February 10, 2022
Very proud of @leighsales. If this chick were any tougher, she'd rust. Have watched her in awe as she's steered @abc730 through five PMs, personal challenges, public health crises, you name it. I've never seen her wobble. A truly extraordinary woman. ❤️ — Annabel Crabb (@annabelcrabb) February 10, 2022
The best in the biz. What an extraordinary contribution you’ve made @leighsales. A fearless journo & formidable interviewer. Thank you for always being such a great sounding board & source of advice. Can’t wait to see what you do next! https://t.co/PWwbXhev9f — David Speers (@David_Speers) February 10, 2022
Came off air from the first @QandA of 2022 to this news. Well done Leigh and all power to you – it’s the toughest gig in the toughest of partisan times and I know what it’s like for your kid to only know your regular absence. Go have a life, and go well. @leighsales https://t.co/umA8SI5vRQ — Virginia Trioli (@LaTrioli) February 10, 2022
Class. Legend. Thank you for it all @leighsales. https://t.co/68Dk7IxjUi — Gaven Morris (@gavmorris) February 10, 2022
A true legend of the profession @leighsales https://t.co/2G2xlQqghi — Kate McClymont (@Kate_McClymont) February 10, 2022
#Breaking @leighsales has just announced that after 12 yrs she's calling it a day as @abc730 host. Leigh will stay with ABC in new role. For me it's been a huge privilege to work with Leigh – one of fairest, most rigorous journalists I know. And thoroughly decent. Well done Leigh — John Lyons (@TheLyonsDen) February 10, 2022
Twelve years in one of the toughest, most unforgiving and intensely scrutinised jobs in TV journalism. You are all class @leighsales Congrats on an incredible tenure. Can’t wait to see what comes next. X https://t.co/vvhsvPbXuw — Lisa Wilkinson (@Lisa_Wilkinson) February 10, 2022
So proud of @leighsales for a sterling twelve years at the helm of @730. Her commitment to her craft palpable, her work ethic mammoth, her incisive questioning rare, her independence staunch. Can’t wait to see what’s next 🎤✍️💪🙌 — 💥Dr💥 Julia Baird (@bairdjulia) February 10, 2022
Congratulations @LeighSales – what a remarkable tour of duty in the chair at @abc730. Great days ahead for you. Our heartfelt thanks. — Mark Scott (@mscott) February 10, 2022
I know how much scrutiny @leighsales has copped from day in the gig at @abc730. The job is intense in the extreme. Has it really been 12 years? Leigh you are a legend. One of the kindest and talented people I know.. who can even do show tunes! Looking forward to what's next! xx — Deborah Knight (@deborah_knight) February 10, 2022
This woman 🙌 Thank you @leighsales for your commitment to quality journalism, for holding power to account and for being a role model for us all. How lucky we are to have had you at the helm of @abc730 for the past 12 years 🙏 Can't wait to see what comes next. #leighsales pic.twitter.com/RefTopc5zL — Dr Kirstin Ferguson (@kirstinferguson) February 10, 2022