HAVING invested its money in 22 episodes of Crownies, an entertainment Mark Scott regards as “great Australian content”, a cash-strapped ABC is said to be mulling some very hard economies. After tonight’s Q&A, one obvious target must be that show’s booking department, which clearly let the team down. The panel was stacked, as usual -- they got that bit right. But somebody made the terrible mistake of inviting the ferocious Brendan O’Neil from Spiked, and his fellow panelists’ discomfort at encountering an actual, ardent defender of free speech was palpable. There were moments when a seething Tanya Plibersek was caught in hatchet-faced profile, narrowed eyes casting daggers at the tormenter who kept taking apart her fuzzy fascism, one euphemism for censorship at a time.
On O’Neil’s other side, ABC favourite Stephen Mayne did a better job, most of the time, of hiding a rising gorge. But O’Neil and his sentiments eventually proved too much, prompting a series of ejaculatory eruptions about the wicked Murdochs. Eventually Mayne just had to blurt it out, couldn’t hold it a second longer – free speech and an unfettered press really do need hard scrutiny and, quite possibly, a few controls. This from a journalist, mind you, a journalist whose particular loathing for News Limited blinds him to irony. What might have happened to Jeffed.com, Mayne’s original exercise in ego and annoyance, if then-Premier Kennett had been armed with the right tools for swatting gadflies? If that thought occurred to him, it was driven very quickly from mind by the irresistible lure of taking Rupert down a peg or two. Mayne made a sad spectacle -- all the sadder for knowing in his heart that he would trade free speech for the pleasure of a good, old-fashioned pile-on.
And it just kept getting better – or worse if you happen to be the worker who opted to include that question emailed to Christine Nixon, the one asking if she enjoyed dinner as Victoria went up in flames. She’s a broken creature, you could tell by her limp admission of “mistakes” and the sagging, defeated way she didn’t even bother to try the nobody-loves-a-chubby routine. The former police commissioner was ever a font of bright and shiny words, except last night they sagged limp and empty, an old woman’s drawers being hung out with their owner to dry.
If Q&A could match tonight’s effort just a bit more often, that would be the best argument for its retention. It won’t, of course. Next week, expect orthodoxy’s return – and that will surely be bad news for one booker and one email-sifter, who are almost certain for the chop. Pity about those pink slips, but as Stephen Mayne was telling us, such disrespect for that which you and all your best mates hold dear really is beyond the pale.