Rudd on Q&A

While we’re waiting for Ken’s dissertation on the ethics of forcing minors to watch the Prime Minister’s appearance on qanda, here are a few comments on the program itself. [Update: more from Mark Bahnisch]

Kevin Rudd and Tony Jones looked like twins, both prematurely white, bespectacled and beaming, standing on either side of the Speaker’s chair in Old Parliament House. Coalition partisans would have been enraged to see the two of them, the Labor PM and the government-salaried Labor propagandist, using public money and airtime to propagandise to an assembly of impressionable young minds.

Rudd obviously enjoyed the encounter. You couldn’t say he had the youngsters eating of the palm of his hand, but the rapport was good. I don’t know how the audience was selected, but see no reason why it wouldn’t have been a representative cross-section of 15-25 year olds, in terms of political background. Rudd clearly sees himself as their kind of guy, and not without justification.

Not entirely, anyway. He is almost as nerdy as Howard, almost as evasive, and almost as ready with an infuriating glib response. He has adopted Howard’s faourire standby: ‘People will make a judgement on that’. And he has irritating mannerisms all of his own: has some adviser actually told him to say ‘Do you know what?’ all the time, or can he simply not help it? Then there’s the phony-courageous ‘I will not resile from my commitment to…’, followed by a statement of some blatantly unprincipled, populist intention.

The difference, which must surely count with young people, is that his mood and message are overwhelmingly positive, rather than curmudgeonly and reactionary. Howard couldn’t possibly have sounded sincerely enthusiastic about technology, ethnic diversity and Barrack Obama. There was no dog-whistling to the conservative constituency. And, in what was probably his most impressive moment, Rudd showed genuine, spontaneous outrage and compassion when a charmless Indian student told of his encounter with racist bullies.

The impression of respect was enhanced by the fact that Jones allowed several of the questioners to ask follow-up questions if they were dissatisfied by the first answer. To the relief of all, this privilege wasn’t extended to a rabid-looking climate denialist, who looked for all the world like a junior Tony Abbott. On the other hand, Rudd was allowed to duck one of the few well-framed questions of the hour, when a sensible young lass pointed out the inanity of publishing school averages for NAPLAN on the My School web site. When he babbled the usual set phrases about transparency, I desperately wanted Jones to let her tell him that he hadn’t answered the question — or indeed to do so himself.

On the whole the questions were not too bad, but generally not very well informed, and not reflective of a high level of youthful idealism. I suppose it’s fair enough for young people to ask about plans for changes to the driving and drinking ages, but these are not exactly burning issues for the future of civilization and the planet. There were no questions about foreign policy or Rudd’s ambitions for Afghanistan, where young Australians are dying; nothing about education funding, except for some whingeing about laptops not being ready yet. Global warming was left to the end, and in the end not a single one of these passionate youngsters asked why the government had opted for such pathetic emissions targets. It was left to Jones to ask why Rudd won’t negotiate more seriously with the Greens, especially given that the latter have now adopted an idea for a temporary emissions tax that was proposed by Ross Garnaut himslef.

That question, as it happens, produced one of the more interesting responses of the evening. Instead of critiquing Greens policy, Rudd noted that Greens support was not enough, and took the opportunity to ridicule Senator Fielding. He’s happy to burn that bridge, it seems, so we can take it that there will be no more serious attempts to stitch a deal, and global warming will be political football at least until the election.

Unfortunately, the atmosphere of meaningful communication was marred at the end, when Jones invited some Young Labor stooge to ask a Dorthy Dixer about the PM’s vision for the future, which opened the way for Rudd to close his performance with an eye-glazing mini campaign speech.

Presumably Abbott will get a similar opportunity in the future. I predict it won’t go nearly as well for him.

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Patrickg
Patrickg
11 years ago

a representative cross-section of 15-25 year olds, in terms of political background.

Ah, there’s the rub, James. Representative of ideology, certainly, but the fact is a large majority of 15-25 are greens/labor voters.

Mind you, I don’t give a toss of Abetz-like sympathiser routing, so I could care less. Rudd was nerdy, and a bit on the boring side I think. But I also think political commentators in general are way too hard on boring. For an incumbent, especially, it’s a welcome quality for most the electorate I wager. He wasn’t playing to those kids, he was playing to the boomers watching.

Tony Abbott’s session will be comedy gold. It will be the televisual experience of sitting on one of those spa-intakes from the seventies that suck your entrails out your butt.

Wicking
11 years ago

If that was Rudd enjoying himself I’d hate to see him getting his toenails ripped out.

Gummo Trotsky
11 years ago

When I hear the phrase “Q & A”, I reach for my remote control.

Francis Xavier Holden
11 years ago

I initially misheard it earlier as the wonderful QI and it took me a few seconds to realise it was QA and with added Rudd factor. Luckily I clicked it off quickly and tidied up the kitchen.

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
11 years ago

OK, I’ll take the next ten or so ‘I hate Q&A’ comments as read. On the other hand, if anyone actually watched it, I’d love to know what you thought.

Yobbo
Yobbo
11 years ago

The impression of respect was enhanced by the fact that Jones allowed several of the questioners to ask follow-up questions if they were dissatisfied by the first answer. To the relief of all, this privilege wasnt extended to a rabid-looking climate denialist, who looked for all the world like a junior Tony Abbott.

In other words they showed a lot of respect to people who already agreed with Rudd and the ABC’s worldview.

More news at 11.

James Farrell
James Farrell
11 years ago

No, Sam. The people who were allowed follow-up questions all disagreed with Rudd on the issues they were pursuing. They were mostly trying to hold Rudd to account on Labor promises. Abbott Jr was just rehearsing denialist talking points that have had ample airtime, and weren’t going to lead anywhere.

Tony T
11 years ago

I guess it’s all down to who you barrack for. Your review sits in stark contrast to those scathing reviews which said Rudd looked like a grumpy sulk as he was hosed by the kiddies.

Eat The Rich
Eat The Rich
11 years ago

Fair summary. I thought Rudd was ok and at times found him engaging. I was surprised by how much I warmed to him, considering I pretty much switch off whenever he comes on TV.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
11 years ago

I thought the heroically condescending, “you know, I believe in something called evidence-based policy” (gee Mr Rudd, what’s that important-sounding shit?) followed by a desperate call for a snap hands-up poll on the drinking age, was vintage Rudd – and comedy gold.

James: every time I read some blogger banging on about “talking points,” I reach for my remote and my revolver – as someone (possibly Gummo Trotsky? Perhaps Eva Braun? Definitely not Mark Bahnisch)once said.

I think you mean – ‘someone offered a point of view that differs significantly from my own.’

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

“I believe in something called evidence-based policy”

If I was in that audience as the young smartarse that I am now (except older), I would have heckled back with “don’t you mean policy-based evidence making”.

I think the one lesson we can all draw from this exercise, regardless of partisan viewpoints, is that when it comes to grilling our pollies in real time, unpaid, untrained teenagers do just as a good, if not better, job than the MSM commentariat.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

I find the whole Q&A setup really scary. Why not real live townhall meetings. I would love to have been alive during the infamous retort by Menzies to the heckler”

‘Ere Proim Minster, whatcha gunna do ’bout ‘housing?

To which Menzies replied:

Well madam, the first thing I;m going to do is put an aitch before it

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Nabakov

Indeed, like ALL that evidence that taxing the crap out of alcopops kills a teenage girl’s desire to get legless on bourbon straight from the bottle instead! :)

James Farrell
James Farrell
11 years ago

Geoff, it isn’t clear whether you dislike the concept itself, or its misapplication. I’m happy to defend both the concept and my application of it here. For my own part, I’m weary of blog commenters who insist on describing their visceral reactions.

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

Um Peter, are you claiming Menzies was a snotty elitist? If so, you go girl!

Though I’m all for pollies putting themselves in unscripted and uncontrolled environments.

Best badinage in such scenario I ever personally heard and saw was when John Hewson in the 1993 election campaign held a public rally in Melbourne. And kudos to him for that.

However one of his staffers thought it would be a cool move to have a plant in crowd chuck a dorothy dixer of an egg at him so he could easily pluck it out of the air then shout “I get the catch of the day”. Oh those brutish Labor barrackers and our quick witted next PM, etc, etc.

It all went according to plan and Hewson triumphantly caught and held up the egg and delivered his line “catch of the day!”- only to have a very loud and distinctly Australian voice say out of the crowd, “Mate, that’s a duck’s egg.”

General outbreaks of mirth and Hewson left on stage looking for a staffer to quickly take away the egg in front of his face.

And I also once saw Brumby on the stump (pretty literally, he was actually standing on an old wooden cable spool) in regional Victoria, speechifying away when someone shouted out “what about my water?”. Brumby without missing a beat said “Can you hold it until after I’ve finished?”

Nabakov
Nabakov
11 years ago

“Im weary of blog commenters who insist on describing their visceral reactions.”

Sounds like a bit of a gut reaction there Jim.

Peter Patton
Peter Patton
11 years ago

Gold.

There is also the famous Churchill response to a heckler.

Woman in crowd: Prime Minister if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.

Churchill: Lady Astor, if I were Lord Astor, I’d drink it.

Nabayarlathotep
Nabayarlathotep
11 years ago

I think you mixed up your quote there Peter.
Lady Astor would never have been found in a crowd.

However this line is real and well sourced.

LBJ: Well jus’ tell ’em he fucks pigs.
Aide: But Senator we can’t go around saying your oppenent does that!
LBJ: Why yes son, we can’t say that. Instead we’re gonna make that SOB try to deny it.