Asking the same questions, expecting different answers

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After watching last night’s effort, it’s past time for a tired ABC Q&A programme to be given a rest, says Ash Kelso.

After watching last night’s lame effort, I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the ABC’s Q&A is now a tired formula — and that the producers are basically flogging a dead horse. Now, I’m aware of the irony of complaining about a show that is essentially about complaining, but my real complaint is that the show didn’t have to develop this way.

The formula of the show is plain to anyone watching.

Each week, they wheel out largely the same bunch of politicians, chain them to the good ol’ proverbial whipping post, and let angsty idealists from the audience take turns at giving them six of the best with the same old questions each week — about how the failure to legislate same-sex marriage is causing climate change because it’s such a hot issue.

Really, the show is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

On the one side, we have strong party discipline that won’t allow politicians to think, answer, or vote, according to their own consciences.  As an example of this, Joe Hockey’s unfortunate remarks about same-sex marriage, while sharing the panel with Penny Wong seem like a shining example of party discipline forcing a man, who is essentially a jolly teddy bear, to say extremely ugly things.

On the other hand, we have audiences week after week who’s interest in the issues extend only so far as the finding of an excuse to take aim with rotten fruit. Surely, it’s plain to anyone that the questions are almost word for word the same questions that the politicians have been asked all week by the media — and invariably follow the same structure as year 12 essay questions (‘with the rise in [some issue I have taken out of context] please confirm my prejudices in a manner disfavorable to yourself’ or ‘given [insert wild approximations of the facts taken from a newspaper I found on the train] please confirm that the country is doomed and we shall all soon have to start devouring each other brains for food’).

Perhaps I’m being harsh, but my contentions are these: one, that the march to the moral high ground on an issue is far easier when one is not burdened with actual responsibility for it and, two, any society that is more impassioned by the opportunity for a witch hunt than it is about actually solving its problems is cutting its nose off to spite its face.

It is, indeed, a great shame that Q&A has gone this way, it could have been an excellent opportunity for the general public to pick the brains of a wider spectrum of accomplished individuals and sprout new thinking into the public square. What if audience members actually floated questions about how a problem might be solved rather than complained about? What if the panel were limited to including no more than 2 politicians each week, to minimise the time spent on point scoring and ‘staying on message’? And what if, dare I suggest it, parties developed a convention to let members off the leash on such occasions to answer according to their own conscience?

It is genuinely unfortunate that a show with such potential had shown so little ambition. In doing so, it has painted itself into a corner to the point where it functions as little more than a complaint hotline for pretentious audiences to thrash politicians who they surely know by now have about as much freedom to offer insight as McDonald’s staff do to vary the Big Mac recipe.

(Access all managing editor David Donovan's research and writing on the ABC Q&A programme by clicking here.)

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