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Twirling towards freedom

Best in Show

This week’s return of QandA was met with great anticipation. Fairfax syndicated a piece about “the faces behind the faceless tweets,” The Age’s Ben Pobjie told us that his blood was pumping in expectation, and people all over the country tweeted about what they were going to be eating on Monday night while they yelled at the television.

The first panel of the show’s sixth season followed the traditional formula perfectly. There was a member of the opposition for everyone to get upset at (Christopher Pyne), a little-known Labor politician to reiterate the party line (David Bradbury), a straight-talking shit stirrer (Amanda Vanstone), a well-regarded social commentator who isn’t allowed to talk nearly as much as the guests who don’t make sense (Anne Summers) and a bewildered musician to mumble their way through the show, grimly hanging on for the prime time performance slot at the end (Urthboy). An earnest university student was there to ask the first audience question, but this was when things started to unravel.

The first question of 2013 was posed by Hannah Guilfoyle, a young woman who votes in the Lindsay electorate and wanted to know why David Bradbury felt that the Labor Party and its policies had become so unattractive to Western Sydney communities. It was a good, reasonably-phrased question to Bradbury, but one that Tony Jones – who is normally so deft at keeping the dialogue moving – should never have posed to the rest of the non-Western-Sydney dwelling panel. Anne Summers and Urthboy muddled their way through as best they could, Jones took another question from the floor, then another audience member rephrased the original question. How does the ALP plan to gain that heartland in Western Sydney? It wasn’t until Jones noticed Amanda Vanstone staring at her watch, 14 minutes into the hour-long show, before he moved the discussion along. “I didn’t realise I was coming on the David Bradbury show,” Vanstone said testily. Well, neither did we.

There’s much to be said for the public democracy, transparency and egalitarianism that QandA prides itself for, but when it becomes another platform for politicians to spout rote-learned rhetoric, it’s hardly groundbreaking television. After five years, most audience members are yet to master the art of the well-phrased question. This week, a gentleman asked the panel’s politicians to “give some insight into their recipes” ahead of “the Big Bake off in September” and share their plans to “add icing to the cake.” Christopher Pyne obsequiously murmured, “Yeah, good question,” but even Tony Jones looked as if he would rather be re-watching an old episode of Kitchen Cabinet.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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