The best thing about appearing on Q&A is not hanging out with Tony Jones backstage, or even appearing before 700,000 viewers on ABC1. It’s logging on to Twitter afterwards and reading hundreds of abusive tweets from enraged lefties so that you know you’ve done your job.
This time was no exception. In fact, I even managed to clock up dozens of tweets before the show went to air. Many are not printable in an august publication like The Spectator Australia. When the official Q&A Twitter account announced on Monday morning that due to an illness I would be replacing Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven, the howls of protest began. One tweeter even announced he’d be boycotting the show because someone from the Institute of Public Affairs was appearing. I’m sure the ABC was devastated by the advertising revenue they lost as a result.
After the show I log in to check if I met my KPIs. Marieke Hardy is a writer whose work has been featured extensively on the ABC. She’s most famous for writing on ABC’s The Drum website that she would like to see Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne ‘attacked by a large and libidinous dog’. So I must admit to being quite chuffed that she took to Twitter to label me a ‘douchecanoe’, whatever that is. Craig Reucassel, another recipient of taxpayer largesse via the ABC as a member of the Chaser team, is equally unimpressed. He skilfully manages to fit an attack on me and my boss into just 140 characters, writing ‘Sure James Paterson’s #qanda appearance isn’t great unless you remember John Roskam’s appearance.’ Ouch! Funnily enough his colleague Julian Morrow was much more complimentary in the green room after the show.
Tonight’s panel consists of myself, shadow Attorney-General George Brandis, Chris Evans, the ALP’s recently-retired Senate leader, comedian Corrine Grant and Rachel Botsman, whose biography describes her as a ‘social innovator’ and ‘global thought leader’. I still have no idea what that means.
I’m very glad one of the topics we discuss is freedom of speech and the way the Gillard government’s draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill threatens it. The IPA through our Legal Rights Project has been the leading voice against the Bill. It’s great to see George Brandis use the opportunity to deliver a strong defence of free speech and make it clear the Liberal party will oppose the Bill outright. One of the aspects of the Bill that has not received sufficient coverage is how it reverses the onus of proof and thereby undermines the presumption of innocence. As I point out, if I’m offended that Tony Jones doesn’t give me sufficient air time, under the new anti-discrimination laws I can sue the ABC, and they have to prove themselves innocent!
We move on to the mining tax, and a self-described lifetime Labor voter complains to Chris Evans that the Gillard government hasn’t hit the mining industry hard enough, to the delight of the studio audience. In his answer, Evans suggests that the applause is a good indication of changing community sentiment and perhaps the government should look at reforming the tax to collect more revenue. I can’t resist the opportunity, and point out that if the ALP really thinks a Q&A audience is a representative sample of the Australian community, no wonder they are in such bad shape. It wins me no friends in the audience, who loudly groan. But at least Sinclair Davidson at the excellent blog Catallaxy Files appreciates it — he writes that it was my best comment all night, and Andrew Bolt agrees on his blog.
The audience seems determined to prove my point. At the end of the show, when Tony Jones announces next week’s line up, they again audibly groan when he says one guest will be from the Centre for Public Christianity. It’s as if having a Christian on the ABC is something to be outraged about.
A perennial frustration for Q&A watchers is the amount of time dedicated to the ins and outs of politics instead of policy issues. Corrine Grant is particularly vocal early in the episode about how Australia doesn’t have enough big policy debates. To be fair, this is a pretty policy-dense one. But the final question of the night, in the form of a video, concerns why Tony Abbott will no longer be appearing every Friday on the Today show. I can’t think of a less important topic to discuss than the Opposition Leader’s media appearance schedule and the panellists’ theories of what sort of media management tactics his team are running, so I say so. Of course, Corrine Grant believes this is a deadly serious matter of national concern. And nobody mentions the failure of every Gillard government minister bar Anthony Albanese to appear on The Bolt Report on Ten. Tony Jones doesn’t seem to appreciate my criticism of Q&A for spending time on trivial topics like this and announces in response that they will be pioneering a new format with detailed questions to ministers and shadow ministers in the lead-up to the election.
A sympathetic tweeter asks me why me and my colleagues bother turning up to events behind enemy lines. The obvious answer is that it is a great platform to advocate for freedom. But it’s also true that sending the Left into fits of rage is actually pretty fun. And I think we provide a useful community service. There’s even an online petition with 2,000 signatures calling for the IPA to be banned from the ABC. Without us, what would these people do with their lives?”
This Diary appeared in this week’s The Spectator Australia. James Paterson is the Director, Communications and Editor of the IPA Review at the Australian Institute of Public Affairs.