Tony Abbott will rue the day he let Alan Jones take over Q&A

Comment from Peter Saxon

It’s been a month since the ABC’s Q & A made the blunder of giving convicted criminal Zaky Mallah, who advocates gang rape for female journalists with whom he disagrees, a platform from which to taunt the government by telling panelist Steve Ciobo, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade, that he is the one who should have his citizenship revoked.

In another one of his growing list of “captain’s calls” our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott decided his government should boycott the program. That’ll show ‘em eh!

If that means generating an enormous amount of publicity for the program, which has resulted in a ratings spike, then it’s been a spectacular goal for team Abbott – just at the wrong end of the field.

Worse still, the boycott has prevented Coalition members such as Barnaby Joyce from appearing on an episode to coincide with major agricultural initiatives which he was keen to spruik. Instead Barnaby found himself sitting on the couch at home watching as the focus shifted away from all his hard work.

If a week is a long time in politics then four is an eternity. And for four weeks now, no member of the Abbott government has made an appearance on Q & A. Malcolm Turnbull, another Coalition minister, invited but prevented by his boss from appearing on the show, commented that it is important for all politicians to take every opportunity of a platform to speak to the Australian public. 

Some time ago Mr Turnbull also made a comment to the effect that you can’t win an election just by talking to your own supporters, you have to convince some of those from the other side to come with you. Which is why no politician of any stripe can afford to refuse an invitation to Q & A. 

Whether one believes that Q & A is biased or not, it is a rare opportunity on television for people from all sides of the political spectrum to express their point of view on the same question. But the clincher is simply that it is the highest rating panel show of its type (last Monday it attracted 776,000 viewers according to OzTam) and regardless of how that audience voted in the last election, just about all of them will vote in the next.

One of John Howard’s biggest mistakes in his last election campaign was that he avoided popular breakfast shows on FM radio and TV shows while his opponent, Kevin Rudd, was cracking jokes with Rove McManus and reaching an audience that saw Howard as disconnected and out of touch.

Q & A, currently under investigation into its perceived bias, seems to have gone out of its way to prove its critics wrong by finding conservative panelists not on Mr Abbott’s banned list.

Enter Alan Jones 

If there’s a perception by the right that Q & A is biased to the left then there’s an equal and opposite perception from the left about Alan Jones. That was borne out by the last questioner of the night who, reading from notes asked Mr Jones, “On your program you often abuse, berate and belittle callers with whom you disagree. On Q&A, however, you are reasoned and respectful of the people asking questions – to the extent that I sometimes think you are not as bad as you’d like us to think. Is your radio persona pure entertainment and if so who is the real Alan Jones?”

Jones replied, ”I find that, if I might just say to you, an extraordinary question because you obviously don’t listen to my program.” 

Obviously he didn’t. Jones continued, “I’m not sure anyone listening to this broadcast could cite any listener that I have abused, shouted at or disagreed with. Plenty of politicians but not listeners.”

This was, no doubt, a revelation to the questioner who had, most likely, long ago pigeon holed Alan Jones based on hearsay and the popular “shock jock” stereotype. Bob Francis and the late Stan Zamanek regularly abused listeners. That was their schtick but not that of Alan Jones.

In conservative media, which has been running hot with criticism of Aunty ever since the Mallah incident, the same blinkered views about Q & A were coming from people who obviously never watch it – some of them even  admitting it yet, like the man who put the question to Jones, quite happy to judge the program from a position of ignorance.

Neil McMahon commenting in Fairfax Media about the exchange between and Jones and the Q & A questioner wrote: “And there it was – unintentionally, but in a nutshell: the Alan Jones defence of not just himself but of the very program he was on. A broadcast, offering people the chance to ask questions and proffer opinions, and with politicians held to account.”

In any case, if perception is reality, then the selection of perceived “arch conservative and Liberal Party cheerleader” Alan Jones to fill the vacant seat that would normally be reserved for a Coalition MP would have seemed like a masterstroke for both Q & A and the LNP. 

If this government’s weakness, as Mr Jones himself suggested on the show, is it’s ability to communicate and sell its policies to the public then surely the articulate and persuasive broadcaster would be a potent advocate for the LNP cause.

As it turned out, it was a disaster for “the cause”. Alan Jones was anything but a cheerleader for the Liberals. Although he did support Liberal policy against wind farms and he wasn’t about to give Labor’s Shadow Minister for the Environment Mark Butler a free kick, he remained resolute and highly critical of the government’s approval of the Shenhua mining project on prime agricultural land in the Liverpool Plains. 

Since this government’s election in 2013, Jones has been demonstrating that while he is not about to embrace Labor, he is not prepared to blindly support Liberal ideology either. He has already stated his opposition to coal seam gas extraction by “fracking.” His support for medical marijuana has forced the NSW health minister to rethink her government’s pevious opposition to it. He stunned the Queensland Liberal Party by railing against the Campbell Newman government which was subsequently booted out of office earlier this year. And he has come out in support of marriage equality.

On Q & A, Jones and Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie seemed to develop a mutual admiration society of two and, together, easily neutralised any argument from the rest of the panel including the highly respected and much liked past National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister in the Howard government, Tim Fischer.

JACQUI LAMBIE: First of all, the most important thing is the future of our national food security. That would be first off. But, secondly, 

ALAN JONES: He’s only done – Greg Hunt’s only done that under pressure in an interview that I had. Tony, this here…

TONY JONES: Hang on, hang on, hang on. 

ALAN JONES: This here…

TONY JONES: Hang on, I will come back to you. Jacqui Lambie was…

ALAN JONES: Oh, sorry, Jacqui.

JACQUI LAMBIE: I love you so much, you can have my time.

ALAN JONES: Jacqui, no, my apologies. Sorry.

JACQUI LAMBIE: I’ll just have a few words. 


JACQUI LAMBIE: First of all, I think what we have noted here is when it comes to the Nationals, the blue heelers of the bush have no doubt become the lap dogs for the PM. There’s no doubt about that. They sold out the people in the bush. They sold them out for a Deputy Prime Minister and a couple of Ministers and that’s what they gave up. So they’ve turned their backs on the bush. There is no doubt about that and that’s about all you can say about the Nats and I reckon they’re finished in the next election. There’s, yeah, so to hold that power…

TIM FISCHER: We shall see. We shall see.

JACQUI LAMBIE: …I hope – I hope the power and you people wanting those power positions in Parliament were worth turning your backs on the people in the bush and that’s exactly what you’ve done and thank God there’s Independents up there fighting like hell and moving into your spot.

TONY JONES: All right. Now, Alan Jones, I interrupted your interruption but…

ALAN JONES: Sorry, but Jacqui is right. Look, here, this is just A – this is just A…

JACQUI LAMBIE: I was warming you up.

Essentially, the sophisticated Alan Jones, ably assisted by the plain talking Jacqui Lambie succeeded in simplifying a complex issue to one of struggling Aussie farmers versus foreign multi-national miners. It was one that all Australians could understand. By the end of the program, the representatives of both the major parties, Fischer and Butler, found themselves on the wrong side of the argument.

The latest Newspoll shows the Prime Minster with an approval rating of just 33 percent. The opposition leader, Bill Shorten even worse at 27 percent. It’s fair to say that both leaders are on the nose with voters. 

On the other hand, according to Newspoll, if an election were held tomorrow, Labor would win comfortably 53 – 47 per cent, two party preferred. That’s with the grossly unpopular Bill Shorten at the helm. 

What does that suggest? Pretty much the same as what happened in 2013 when the LNP came to power and Tony Abbott was made PM. Unlike Kevin Rudd in 2007 who enjoyed high approval ratings at the time, Mr Abbott’s were quite low in 2013 which meant that voters weren’t so much keen on seeing him as PM, as they simply wanted to get rid of Labor. They thought that after six years of turmoil within Labor ranks, anything would be better. Now they feel that perhaps they were wrong. That doesn’t mean voters want Labor back in power and certainly not with Shorten as leader. People seem increasingly frustrated with the limited choice available to them. 

Every indication I get is that people are sick and tired of both major parties and the career politicians they breed. They’re tired of partisan politics that stifles meaningful debate on important issues in favour of a contest between combatants hell bent on winning an argument rather than finding a solution.  

People are looking for authenticity and integrity. They’re warming to people like Barnaby Joyce (who openly opposes the Shenhua mine proposal) and independents like Jacqui Lambie who, after an inauspicious start to her career with the ‘I’m looking for a man with a package between their legs’ interview on Hobart’s HEART 107.3 is taking the job seriously. Unfettered by party politics she is choosing causes that reflect the real needs of everyday Australians while not going out of her way to be divisive.

Q & A may consider dumping serving politicians altogether from its panel. Apart from a few exceptions they normally add very little to open debate, all too often spending more time tearing down their opposition than explaining solutions of their own. 

Like John Laws when he was at the top his game, Alan Jones can sense the changing mood of an audience. Without changing his own persona, he can adapt his tone from his 2GB Breakfast show to the audience on Q & A. Many of the tweets I read on this and his previous appearance on the program show that he has been a big, pleasant, surprise for many regular viewers who aren’t his listeners and has gone a long way to win some hitherto haters over.

Like John Laws before him Alan Jones has tried, but so far has been unsuccessful in becoming a mainstream television star. That spare chair that Tony Abbott has left vacant for that past month at Q & A could become his. 

Right now with most of the conservative media gunning for Q & A, it needs all the friends it can get. Alan Jones could turn out to be the best friend it ever had.

Peter Saxon

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