Q&A – counterpoints, ambush and ripostes

Having only taken a quick look at Q&A partial transcripts rather than watching the whole show (the full transcript should be available at ABC Online’s Q&A page after lunch, video available now), I thought Julia Gillard performed well in what was certainly not a piece of puff theatre for the PM. Her responses to questions about the Allan Jones Ju-Liar episode, the outrage regarding carbon pricing and the latest round of Rudd being out of control claims were calm yet sharp and where possible good-humoured without being flippant.

Then came the Julian Assange video question. My opinion of Tony Jones and Q&A has been trending downwards for the last year at least, and this stunt made it plummet. Assange has more front than Myers, which at some levels certainly has its entertainment value, but is it really the place of the national broadcaster to set up an ambush effort that network tabloid current affairs programs would be dubious about?

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange confronted Ms Gillard via a video question. He said Australian citizens wanted to know: ”Which country do you represent? Do you represent Australians and will you fight for Australian interests? ”We have intelligence that your government has been exchanging information with foreign powers about Australian citizens working for WikiLeaks. ”When will you come clean about precisely what information you have supplied the foreign powers about Australian citizens working or affiliated with WikiLeaks?” Ms Gillard laughed and said: ”I represent this country all day every day. You don’t have an accent like mine and get confused with being someone from another nation.” She said: ”No one in the United States raised with me Mr Assange, no one.”

I seriously wonder how someone as peripatetic as Assange can, with a straight face, claim that he knows what Australian citizens want to know. What he, as one Australian citizen, wants to know is not necessarily representative. The PM’s riposte regarding her accent gave Assange’s effort exactly the level of attention it deserved, in the format that it was presented to her.

If the larger accusation about “exchanging information with foreign powers about Australian citizens working for WikiLeaks” has any basis to it, and on Wikileaks’ previous form then I wouldn’t lightly dismiss it altogether, then that is indeed a serious matter, and one that deserves to be raised with more gravitas than by engaging in a media ambush for stunt value.

Categories: media, Politics

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9 replies

  1. If the larger accusation about “exchanging information with foreign powers about Australian citizens working for WikiLeaks” has any basis to it,

    My first thought when I saw the question was – of course Australian intelligence agencies would exchange information about wikileaks employees with their US counterparts! Its pretty clear what Gillard and the Australian government thinks of wikileaks. I don’t think the point of the question was to determine if this sort information exchange occurs, but an attempt to get a PM to address the issue publicly. And Q&A seems to be an appropriate venue to do that – the way he framed the question was just to take advantage of the feeling some in the public have that Australia is too subservient to the US.

    • @Chris, the first question about the exchange of information is not entirely unreasonable. Assange’s follow-up question about whether Gillard should be charged with treason is an egregious absurdity, obviously done only for rhetorical effect.

  2. I wish the media would get off this idea that the Government should be mounting a white charger and going off to save Julian Assange from his own behaviour. He is receiving the same consular assistance that every Australian who gets in trouble overseas gets. Why should he expect more, because he’s Julian Assange? QandA should have better things to talk about. Would they try to embarrass Tony Abbott in such a way? Tony Abbott wouldn’t be doing any more than Julia Gillard is, nor should either of them.

  3. I must temper my last comment – they did the same thing to John Howard when he appeared on Q&A, except they used David Hicks. Slightly different – David Hicks is now free after being held in Guantanamo Bay and John Howard is no longer PM, but it seems that they probably would do it to Tony Abbott too, maybe with Mark Riley. Interesting to read in The Australian that Cory Bernardi wasn’t impressed either.
    Article here.
    So what exactly is going on with Q&A?

  4. tigtog @ 4 – I agree with you there. I don’t consider it an ambush or stunt though. She was specifically there to answer questions by anyone who wanted to send in a question. The first question is actually quite important and something I would suggest the general public hasn’t really thought about and just leaves those decisions up to the government of the day.

  5. @ Chris, although a lefty, I know enough people who work within Government to think that:

    just leaves those decisions up to the government of the day.

    is actually not a bad thing. I don’t think Wikileaks has necessarily released anything important about the Australian Government, it seemed more designed to embarrass the Government than anything else. I note that nothing about David Hicks or Haneef or Habib has been released for example. Diplomatic communiques talking about how some US Govt employees see Australia didn’t make me feel either surprised or safer.
    I especially found chilling an interview with a former Wikileaks person, Daniel someone who is founding a new Wiki style group and they are planning on using rock paper scissors when they can’t decide whether to release something or not – as opposed to Wikileaks which allegedly had to abide by Assange’s decisions. I felt as if what was proposed was like a group of toddlers with a bottle trying to decide whether to drink it or not. If it’s water, no one gets hurt, if it’s not water there may be no injury or there could be catastrophic injury. But how are they to know? Do we really need to know every little thing the Government does on our behalf? Or is it just the ‘sexay spy stuff’ that people want to know about? Of course our Govt talks to the US about threats. We are allies, I should hope it is what allies do.

  6. I watched the whole thing, and went away dead impressed with Gillard’s ability to address any question, no matter how loaded, with substance. Sure, we saw spin, but we saw no ducking, obfuscation or diversionary tactics. Even on the “what was with that icky speech to the Yanks?” question, she gave a convincing rationale for its worth, and her refusal to flinch at Assange showed grit rarely seen on the public stage. But mostly I love living in a country where the most senior government figure is expected to subject themselves to that kind of grilling, and suck it up. I bet if Obama watched he’d have palpitations and nightmares.

  7. I recall a lesser politician [and person] standing, head rocking slightly, with a fixed almost catatonic stare for a full 1 minute and 20 seconds when unable to respond to a question about which he had been specifically forewarned for some hours.

    The contrast is stark.

  8. Mindy @ 6 – from what I’ve seen Wikileaks has been fairly responsible about what they release. Redacting names to protect people and they have also been working in conjunction with some of the major newspapers who also filter.
    Some of the information seems fairly innocuous, but at the same time they’re probably not in the position to join the dots themselves so I can understand why they might lean towards releasing rather than not as long as it doesn’t appear to be put anyone in danger (other than political damage). And with respect to the cables they did even offer to the US government to indicate which areas would put people’s lives in danger so they would know what not to release, though I believe the government declined.
    Some cables pointed out things that perhaps people in “the know” knew, but the general public might not realise – for example I was surprised that so many of the Arab states were encouraging the US to bomb Iran to attempt to destroy their nuclear program. In public I bet they would have protested if the US did so. It puts into light some other statements that countries in the region have previously made – eg how much is for “show” and what do they really believe?
    And then there are the leaks like the videos of US forces in Iraq doing quite questionable acts. These have much more impact in western countries that just verbal allegations from from civilians on the ground. Much more likely to result in public pressure for real change.

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