Everything you need to know about Q&A

Q&A is a panel discussion program on Australian television which is broadcast on the ABC. The show is hosted by news journalist Tony Jones. The show usually airs on Monday nights at 9:35 and first premiered in 2008.

What is the format of Q&A?

The show follows a similar format to the television program Question Time which airs on the BBC, and the show Questions and Answers which airs on RTÉ.

Q&A studio
Photo: ABC Australia

The format of each episode typically includes a panel of five public figures – usually politicians from the major federal parties (Liberal and Labor). The panel can also be made up of minor party politicians, media personalities, academics, celebrities and other prominent figures. On occasion the show will have a single notable figure on the program, such as the Prime Minister or Opposition leader. The television program is aired live in the Eastern States on ABC TV, it is also aired online. The show is filmed in front of a studio audience.

From 2010 onwards the show also started to be broadcast live across the country although the simulcasts were later cancelled in 2015. The show can also be heard on ABC NewsRadio when Federal Parliament isn’t sitting. The audience can participate in the show through Twitter. Audience participation is a key feature of the show. The show is usually filmed at the ABC studio in the Sydney suburb of Ultimo.

Notable episodes

The show has featured a number of notable episodes over the course of its history.

Shoe throwing

In October 2010, former Prime Minister John Howard appeared on the show and had a pair of shoes thrown at him by an audience member in retaliation for the comments he was making about the Iraq War on the show. The shoe throwing audience member was subsequently removed from the studio. The shoe thrower was revealed to be environmental activist Peter Gray who died of cancer only six months later.

Prior to his death he asked the ABC to auction his shoes and donate the money to charity; the money went to the Red Cross.

The money was to help the people of Iraq. The auction ended up earning $3,650 which was donated. John Howard endorsed the idea and expressed his sympathy and sorrow over the man’s death. Whilst Howard seemed indifferent after the incident and did not condemn the man, his actions on the show were condemned by both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Opposition leader at the time, Tony Abbott.

University student protest

In 2014, the show was interrupted by a group of university students who appeared on the show to protest against proposed higher education cuts. The group of university students brought a banner to the set and chanted at the Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne. They were eventually removed from the studio. The live broadcast of the events was cut and footage of a musical performance from an earlier episode was broadcast. Chris Pyne was also heckled by members of Socialist Alternative in the lead up to the on-air protest.

Zaky Mallah incident

The Zaky Mallah incident occurred on an episode that aired in June, 2015. During the episode Zaky Mallah asked Parlimentary secretary Steven Ciabo a question about terrorism laws. Mallah had previously been convicted of threatening to kill Commonwealth officials back in 2003. He was later found not guilty of terrorism offences in 2005.

Before his appearance on the show, Mallah had tweeted about how he thought two female journalists should be gang raped. He had been in the audience on three previous occasions and had been previously rejected as a panel member on the show. Mallah’s preapproved question was ‘What would have happened if my case had been decided by the Minister and not the courts?’, he confirmed that he had plead guilty to threatening officials. Ciobo’s reply on the matter was that he understood that Mallah was only acquitted due to a technicality and that h would remove him from the country. Mallah later responded that the answer was a justification for Australian Muslims to leave and join ISIS.

The television program was heavily criticised for allowing Zaky Mallah to speak on the show. They received more than 1000 complaints about the incident Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Labour deputy leader Tanya Plibersek both came out to condemn the show. Abbott banned members on the front bench from making appearances on the show.

The ABC came out to release an apology for involving Mallah in the show. The ABC board approved an audit on the show and issued a formal warning to the executive producer, Peter McEvoy. Other people came out in defense of the show, arguing that it was important for diverse views to be represented, even if they were contrary to popular public opinion. The incident was widely reported in the news, with many papers and new programs criticizing the show.

Q&A panel
Photo: ABC Australia

Twittergate qanda

Not long after the controversy surrounding Zaky Mallah, the twitter feed featured on the show displayed a post with the hashtag #qanda from someone with the handle, @AbbottLovesAnal. The incident caused some people to suggest that the show needed to be reined in.

Duncan Storrar

Duncan Storrar, a member of the audience asked Kelly O’Dwyer a question about tax free thresholds on the show. His question was around why poorer people were not getting tax relief from the government in the same way those higher earners were. He gained a lot of attention as the quintessential Aussie battler and received a lot of media attention. Some of the media claimed he was previously a drug addict, the harshness of the media attention was traumatic for Storrar.

Yassim Abdel-Magied

In 2017, a panelist defended Sharia law with the argument that Islam is the most feminist of all the religions. The panelist, Yassmin Abdel-Magied told Jacqui Lambie that Sharia Law was simply about praying five times as day and that it was about following the law of the land.

Q&A host
Photo: ABC Australia

Controversies surrounding Q&A

The show is most regularly criticised for lacking objectivity. The show is regularly accused of being biased towards left-wing beliefs and biases. Julie Bishop critcised the show in 2015 following a debate on criticism when she turned to the audience and said that Tony Jones was interrupting her and stopping her from speaking because he did not agree with her politics. Many people feel that the show consistently shows bias, and since it is tax payer funded on the ABC, that it should make an effort to provide a more balanced panel. Some journalists have gone out of their way to boycott the show over its leftist bias and others have complained that women are unrepresented on the show.

Q&A guests
Photo: ABC Australia

Most frequent panellists on the show

There are a few people who have made regular appearances on the show for example; Tanya Plibersek from the Labor party has made more than 30 appearances on the show, Christopher Pyne from the Liberal Party had made 25 appearances, Malcolm Turnbull had appeared 23 times on the show, Barnaby Joyce, Bill Shorten, George Brandis, Penny Wong, Joe Hockey, Greg Sheridan, Chris Bowen, Greg Hunt, Germaine Greer, Julie Bishop, Craig Emerson, Judith Sloan, Tony Burke, Kelly O’Dwyer, David Marr and Christine Milne have also made regular appearances on the show.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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