The footage of the tsunami in Japan is wrenching and horrifying; coming so soon after the Christchurch quake, and the Australian floods, television has become the opposite of its usual dumbly reassuring self. Last night, TV exercised at full tilt another of its metiers — live intercourse with an important public figure, our PM.

On the ABC’s Q and A, Tony Jones conducted a fully swinging orchestration of PM v audience, PM v video questions, PM v tweeter feed. It was a rush: the audience questions were a lively mix of the stupid jokey and the pointedly provocative. (Not least Julain Assange’s surprise video appearance.) Jones’ follow-ups were to the point, indeed he kept bringing the PM back to points in the questions (as many were multi-pointed). At the start the audience before Gillard was anywhere but behind her. There was regular applause for questions that put her on the spot, especially ones about the evening’s main topic, “the carbon tax” and her election “lie” about bringing one on. The camera kept cutting away to disapproving faces.

Porcelain Queen

Gillard did her white ice queen routine, her pale complexion heightened with a makeup that placed her in a medium between porcelain and that smooth glossy plastic you see on expensive homewares and label accessories; one could detect a certain quantity of brittleness. Her manner was poised and superalertly conscious of audience reaction — she was trying hard. She used a trick that male politicians wouldn’t get away with — she constantly laughed off questions — a light, modulating, glassy laugh with which she deflected some of the questions’ dislike and malice. (I won’t recap, watch it all on see it on ABC iView.)

She also displayed a kind of possession and refusal to rise to the bait — to become riled and macho — that Important Male Politicians often succumb to. Her humility was on display — asked by a farmer (a video question: from a paddock, astride a bike with a Heeler pillion) about Labor’s obligation to the Greens, she pointed out that governing required the acquiescence of not only the Greens, but Denison’s Andrew Wilkie, and Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, the last two representing regional (ie rural) Australia. It was around this time that the tweeterfeed ribbon along the bottom — distractingly irresistible — featured a tweet from someone called LaurieOakes, something like: You may or may not agree with her, but she’s putting on an impressive show.

(At least one reader thinks I’m dissing the PM in this piece; as it happens I think she did very well, and against a hostile audience. By the end she seemed to have won it over to some extent. See comments below.)

Keeping up with the Jones

Tony Jones was dazzlingly on the mark and the PM couldn’t footfault him. (An IMP would have wanted to punch him.) When Jones asked whether her view of Labor (contra her fawning speech to the US Congress) took in the anti-Vietnam marches, she tried to flip him with a sly, laughing: I have to be cruel, I wasn’t there, I’m not as old as you, Tony. (I think she even touched his arm for effect.) Whereupon Jones had the wit and front to say: Not that much older, PM. Which was sharp enough to give everyone a nanopause to reflect on the techniques on display.

The program ended with a not fully clever animated parody of The King’s Speech with Gillard as the subject of the speech therapy. Still, and whatever. In yesterday’s Crikey, Margret Simons wrote a piece critiquing the 7:30 Report in its new format; she made this passing remark “… that kind of irreverence is more likely to show up on Q&A, which is breaking some new ground.” After this episode, it’s hard to disagree. Q and A is way hot right now.