There is no more reliable indicator of mainstream opinion in Australia than the ABC program Q&A. Here’s how it works. You take any issue that receives wild and spontaneous applause from the Q&A crowd, reverse it, and then you know exactly what mainstream Australia is thinking.
So it was when Julian Assange popped up in March last year with a surprise question to Prime Minister Julia Gillard during one of her solo appearances on Q&A.
The crowd went bananas as their boy asked Ms Gillard was it true her Government had exchanged intelligence with foreign powers about the conduct of Australian WikiLeaks activists and, if so, whether she should be charged with treason.
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Why didn’t the Q&A shoe‑thrower Peter Gray toss former Prime Minister John Howard a lamington instead?
Taking his cue from an Iraqi journalist, turned footwear rejecter, who flung his possessions at then‑US President George W Bush, Gray in one unoriginal act exposed the limitations of the Q&A program as an uninhibited experiment in deliberative democracy.
According to the program’s website, Q&A aims to place punters, pollies and pundits together to ‘thrash out’ the hot issues of the week. Think of it as the political equivalent of a WWE steel cage match.
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The showbiz maxim about never working with children or animals was on full display tonight as our Prime Minister arrived for a chummy yarn with a nice bunch of kids only to endure a torrid pummeling about broken promises, weak leadership and political expediency.
In a display which put us journalists to shame, a roomful of young adults gave Kevin Rudd one of the toughest grillings of his prime ministership as he agreed to an hour-long solo appearance on the ABC’s Q&A at Old Parliament House, Canberra.
You could see the clutch slipping from the start as the first series of questions directly accused Rudd of being more talk than action. His body language was awkward and what he had probably envisaged as a friendly bit of to-and-fro banter looked as uncomfortable as an all-in press conference - only more so, as the kids were so civilised in their pursuit of the PM that he couldn’t cry foul over unfair treatment.
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