The best and worst bits of Monday night's Q&A
If you watched last night's Q&A, you're probably entitled to some sort of commemorative t-shirt. “I survived the Great Q&A Protest of 2014”, you'll be telling your grandkids. They won't believe you were really there. OK, so that's hyperbolic, but the latest episode of the ABC’s divisive weekly panel discussion show was certainly an unusual and, at times, uncomfortable hour of live television.
There was trouble brewing from the start with this one. Australia's Minister for Education, had just proclaimed his enthusiasm for the deregulation of university fees and the Commision of Audit's recommendation that “students... contribute more to their own education”. The Commission also suggested lowering the income threshold for repaying HECS loans to $32,354.
As Pyne stressed during the episode, the Commission was “a report to the Government, not a report of the Government,” but that didn't quell the ire of students in the crowd. This was always going to be a tough crowd for Pyne, as well as his wingman, IPA Executive Director John Roskam. Here's our top takeaways from how it played out for them, as well as the less contentiously opposed panellists Anna Burke, Mark Trevorrow and Pallavi Sinha.
1. The spirit of rebellion is alive and well amongst Australia
Well… “Australia's young socialists” is perhaps more accurate. From the second question of the evening, Christopher Pyne faced a barrage of questions (or pseudo questions, as many were actually just declamatory speeches with an upward inflection at the end) from self-identified Socialist Alternative members about his statements in favour of the deregulation of university fees.
Constant back chat and yelling from audience members provoked reprimands from Q&A host Tony Jones, who seemed just a little less in control than usual. A banner was soon dropped behind the panellists, and chanting erupted from a group standing in the gallery above the set. “No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities” seemed to be their favourite. There were a few exquisitely awkward minutes before the broadcast cut (yes, cut) to footage of Karin Schaupp and Katie Noonan's sublime cover of Gotye's 'Heart's A Mess' from a previous episode of Q&A. Considered out of context, this was certainly the most beautiful part of the night, although one wonders what the protesters were experiencing during this “musical interlude”, as Tony Jones called it.
The audience was far better behaved upon the return of Q&A – the rabble-rousers had been seemingly cleared out one way or another – though outbursts of yelling, almost entirely directed at Pyne, recurred intermittently throughout the rest of the live broadcast. The jury is out on whether the ruckus was, as Jones described it, “undemocratic” and undignified or a proportionate response to the Government's apparent impassivity in the face of popular opinion.
2. It’s a little hard to feel sorry for Christopher Pyne
It did pull the heartstrings just a little to see Pyne so thoroughly, for lack of a better phrase, shat on by large sections of the audience. But his compassion-free tone when it came to discussing the cuts to services in the name of solving the alleged “budget crisis” and a possible increase in uni fees did not do him any favours.
Pyne notably refused to speculate on certain matters, and instead intimated that the questions of Jones, fellow panellists and the audience would be answered by the upcoming Budget. The phrase “We'll see next Tuesday” – when the federal Budget is released – became something of a refrain for Pyne. He hinted at big and scary changes to the nature and size of government in Australia, all the while insisting such changes would be necessary due to the size of the national deficit. This was a spurious notion at best, as Anna Burke and multiple audience members pointed out.
Australia’s Eduction Minister did, however, make an endearingly big show of supporting scientists and other researchers who apply for government grants, unlike his neo-conservative buddy, IPA Executive Director/secret Kaiser of Australia/probable lizardman John Roskam, who claimed that the government funds “too much” research.
On the night’s final question – a politics-nerd classic about the dangers of having a party-affiliated Speaker of the House – Pyne praised Burke for her work in this role, which she held from October 2012 until the change of government. During this time, she ejected Pyne from the chambers on three separate occasions, so this was the political equivalent of thanking your high school teacher for giving you a detention. These were hints of a nicer side of him to the one that normally smirks out at us from the newspaper pages, but his 'free market above everything' attitudes left that same old sour taste in the mouth.
3. Mark Trevorrow is a stone cold badass
Plenty of musicians and other entertainers have come and gone on Q&A, and they usually spout the same generically left-wing 'rah the government is bad' inanities. Mark Trevorrow, whom you might know better as 'Bob Downe', also had anti-government sentiments and a quipping delivery, but unlike so many others, pretty much everything he said was on point and thoughtful. Yes, most of it was directed at poor Pyney-Wyney – clearly the night's official punching bag – but it was still exciting to see.
Trevorrow put a cap on the night with a no-frills yet accomplished version of the song 'The Joker' from the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd, which you may know better as the theme song of Kath & Kim. He dedicated the song “to, uh, those lovely protesters... oh and you too, Chris!" Pyne was beaming throughout the rendition. It was showy, but undeniably a little awkward, and I suppose that made it a pretty fitting end to the episode.