Spectator Diary

This article appeared in the 8 June edition of The Spectator Australia

My last Spectator Australia diary was filed shortly after a tour of the Colosseum in Rome where, I explained to my sons, the historical spectacle of sacrificing Christians to the lions and often one-sided gladiatorial battles took place. The results of these ancient events were seldom in doubt as the emperor always made the final call. While the gladiators almost always played to script, the lions were loathe to listen and often made their own decisions regarding who was worthy of consuming.

I now find myself invited to enter the modern-day arena equivalent: the ABC building in Ultimo for Q&A, hosted by the Caesar-esque Tony Jones. Accompanying him on tonight’s episode of ‘slay the token conservative’ is an accomplished pride of lions almost guaranteed to disagree with everything I say. Bring it on!

The response to my forthcoming appearance seems to have polarised the online community. What passes for debate within the Twitter cesspit has contributors evenly divided. Half will be tuning in to tonight’s show to see me mortally wounded while the other half can’t stomach the thought of this particular conservative being allowed anywhere near the ABC and are refusing to watch; perhaps the start of a new campaign of ‘Boycott Divest Sanction’ for the perpetually outraged.

Speaking of which, professional climate-change alarmist Bill McKibben is a fellow panellist tonight. He’s trying to convince those Australians with any money left not to invest in fossil fuel companies. Bill helpfully points out that these companies will all go broke as a result of government green schemes and he wants to make sure we don’t lose our money. I never thought that capitalism and green cronyism went so well together.

Rather than a good investment, to me withdrawing capital from the fossil fuel industry sounds more like a sure fire way to lose our base-load electricity supply, destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and prompt a swift return to the Dark Ages. Perhaps when Bill is flying around the world delivering his brand of piety in a wind-powered plane and living on mung beans, I’ll rethink the strategy.

My other fellow panellists are NSW Labor MP Linda Burney, Michael Stutchbury who edits the Australian Financial Review and singer Martha Wainwright. I gather Stutchbury was happy to see me on the panel, lest he be targeted as the conservative. It’s the first time on Q&A for all my fellow panellists and there are whispered confessions from three of them that they have never even watched the show before. If only they knew what they were missing.

Former Labor leader and dangerously random thought-bubbler Mark Latham certainly knows about Q&A. He once wrote (in this august journal), ‘People who despise the show feel compelled to watch it every Monday night. It has become compulsory viewing for media masochists, a self-flagellation hour for political tragics… I’ve been asked to appear… but I’d rather spend time in a dentist’s chair.’ Showing all the hallmarks of his consistent and principled approach to public life, I’m not surprised when told he is a guest on next week’s program. Anyone for a root canal?

The show goes live and proceeds as expected. There are questions on racism, climate change, political hypocrisy, religion and culture. It was good to see a few familiar faces in the audience, and Professor David Flint actually gets to ask a question. With his encyclopaedic knowledge of our Constitution, I felt sure he’d ask about the forthcoming constitutional referendum. Instead, he calls out the high-flying hypocrisy of the green zealots who wing their way around the world preaching against increasing emissions of carbon dioxide. A note to Bill, Penny, Kevin, Greg, Al, Tim: I think he was referring to you.

After a quick make-up stripping session and thanks to cast and crew, I disappear to the local pub to catch up with some audience members who were kind enough to invite me. I am greeted by a small group of young conservatives who share their perspective on the show. Their views are most encouraging. When asked for my thoughts on the past hour, I confess that my own judgment will be tempered by the reaction of my wife. As her viewing schedule is a half-hour behind, time passes over a leisurely beer and spirited conversation.

Eventually the telephone call comes. My much better half laments how boring the show was; son number one wants to know why I didn’t have a full-on go at anyone and son number two says he is proud I kept my cool. I guess that is what makes Q&A such a popular Monday night fixture: people can take from it whatever they wish.

In the aftermath of every show, there is always the regret of the opportunity missed. Watching the online replay and listening to Linda Burney talk about how endemic racism is in this country I regret that I didn’t ask her view of the Australia Day race riots initiated by staff in the Prime Minister’s office. I presume she would have been appalled at this exploitation of indigenous Australians and that we would stand united against such racism emanating from the office of Ms Gillard. Strangely, a quick search of the internet failed to find any public comments condemning the actions of her Labor comrades. Maybe hypocrisy isn’t solely the preserve of the Greens after all.

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