Do we live in interesting times or have the demigods of talk radio gone crazy?

Comment from Peter Saxon  – with apologies to the fortune cookie

With an election looming, the most dangerous place to stand in Australia is between a politician and a microphone. Well, generally speaking, anyway.

It depends which politician and which broadcaster’s microphone. 

In one of his last Captain’s Picks as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott refused to appear on Q & A and banned all his ministers from it too because it was too left wing. Now, the new Liberal PM, Malcolm Turnbull refuses to go on 2GB because it’s too right wing. Or, more to the point he is seen by many of 2GB’s listeners as too left wing for them and much too left of centre to even be in the Liberal party, let alone its leader.

The last time Mr Turnbull appeared on 2GB was on the Alan Jones Breakfast show almost two years ago in June 2014. The interview got off to a poor start…

Jones: Could I just begin by asking you to say after me, this: As a senior member of the Abbott government, I want to say here, I am totally supportive of the Abbott/Hockey strategy for budget repair.

Turnbull: Alan, I am not going to take dictation from you. I am a cabinet minister.

Later on, during the same interview in which Jones was accusing the then Communications Minister of disloyalty to Mr Abbott, he told Mr Turnbull, “You have no hope ever of being the leader. You’ve got to get that into your head. No hope, ever.” 

Obviously Jones was wrong on that score but may still “halve the hole” if  the Turnbull government is ousted on July 2. At just 290 days after Mr Turnbull took office, it would make it the 6th shortest Australian Prime Ministership in history.

Generally it is Labor politicians that tend to boycott conservative talk shows. They see little value in being ambushed and brow beaten for the amusement of an audience that has no intention of voting for them no matter what they say.

Conservative talk presenters sense that their audience has little interest in listening intently to a leftist politician’s policies. They’d rather the host give the pollie a kick in the pants on their behalf. 

Having said that, it seems we live in interesting times. You see, last Friday, Alan Jones gave Labor leader Bill Shorten the kind of interview one would be more accustomed to hearing on the ABC. 

In contrast to the now infamous Julia Gillard interview of February 2011 in which he called her “Ju-liar”, the Shorten interview lacked the kind of personal attack usually reserved for Labor politicians. 

Where the Gillard interview commenced with Jones scolding the then Prime Minister of Australia as if she were a tardy school girl for being 10 minutes late, his introduction for Mr Shorten was far more courteous, telling his audience, “He’s flat to the boards but the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has agreed to give us some of his time this morning…”

In closing Jones turned on the charm, saying to Shorten, “You will be pleased that I haven’t asked you a question on your emissions trading scheme. I’m wondering, if we could on another day, have a yarn about that and what that may do to the economy.”  Shorten could but cordially reply, “Of course.”

The interview itself was tough but fair, focused entirely on policy – Jones was playing the ball – not the man.

Perhaps this is an indication that Australia’s arch conservative station, or at least its foremost practitioner, is leaning towards the middle and is prepared to play politics with a straight bat. Or perhaps it’s more about giving Malcolm Turnbull a bit of a hurry-up by awarding his opponent a free kick.

Either way, with the election so close in both time and polling, Mr Turnbull needs Mr Jones more than Jones needs him. Jones is no longer a sure bet to stick with the Liberals no matter what. Just ask ex-Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

Mr Turnbull needs to get himself on the Alan Jones Breakfast show and fast. It is better for him to suffer the slings and arrows that will likely be tossed at him than avoid the issue and be seen as too weak and timid to be a leader.

As a seasoned politician, Mr Turnbull is well enough trained and capable of dealing with hostile interviews even if it is unlikely to change the vote of an audience whose minds have mostly been made up since Menzies was in power.

As they say in basketball, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” And, you never know, the interview may not be quite as hostile as Mr Turnbull expects.


Peter Saxon


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