“Behind every great fortune, there lies a great crime.”

Balzac, prolific 19th century novelist, probably wrote something like this in one of his books but, as there’s more than 90 of the things, no one’s found the time to check for sure. Apocryphal or not, the statement is one for which we might find frequent use. I, for example, plan to yell it throughout the banking royal commission every time the criminal fortunes of the finance sector are shown to be lawfully stolen — this will be often. It is also handy to scream at the television during Q&A.

The great fortune of this show is that it has remained on the telly for a decade. Its great crime is one of stupidity, and is obvious to any viewer not persuaded by the idea that “democracy” is simply a case of representation. People believe this, you know. They believe it very earnestly on Q&A. If things look equal in elite places, such as parliament or the ABC on a Monday night, then they are equal.

If you watched the thing last night — and I did, as Crikey’s editors find it amusing to occasionally enforce this activity to spare you the trouble — you’d have endured a lengthy discussion on just how representative/democratic the program is. Panellist Van Badham, a columnist beloved by Guardian editors for her long commitment to identifying male sex organs as the origin for all injustice, pointed out that there were no people of colour on the panel. Panellist Chris Kenny, a columnist beloved by News Corp editors for his long commitment to identifying Political Correctness Gone Mad as the origin for all injustice, pointed out that she was playing a game of “identity politics”. That he did this, having just chastised the ABC for its failure to represent an adequate number of persons who identify as opponents to Political Correctness (which has “gone mad!”, apparently), was a misstep host Tony Jones did not point out. This is, I suggest, due to Jones’ ongoing, perhaps necessary, delusion that his program is, per PR claims of the ABC, itself “democracy in action”.

This is what now occurs routinely not just on Q&A, but much of what passes as news. A group of people fresh from the Qantas Club Lounge think about themselves, and the medium they inhabit in that moment, as democracy itself. This is easy to do only if you believe, as nearly every guest does and as the producers of Q&A certainly do, if democracy is representation.

Democracy, I’d say, is much more than something that can be practiced in an ABC studio. It is a complex of events and organs. The only panellist who appeared to have any commitment to amending any part of it at all was WA Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds, chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM). Reynolds enumerated all the conditions, beyond that of dual citizenship, that prevent ordinary Australians from running for political office. Reynolds explained, in actually bipartisan fashion, that high-income earners from the private sector face no obligation to quit their jobs before seeking election, while a range of government employees, including nurses and defence personnel, do. Needless to say, this clear case of injustice was not broadly discussed. Its origins, after all, were neither Kenny’s Political Correctness Gone Mad nor Van Badham’s penises.

By my watch, the longest discussion of the night concerned Barnaby Joyce. This was all “blah blah blah ethics women” and a bunch of Business Class Democratisers pretending to be shocked by the possibility that political insiders sometimes get good political jobs. Our Badham persisted in suggesting that Joyce’s personal life should be up for public scrutiny because those of her LGBTI allies were so recently, and then, at some point, we segued into a discussion about new Senator Jim Molan. The politician’s decision last year to post propagandist material by the group Britain First was something Our Badham took personally. Such hate-speech, she said, meant that she received many death threats. I’d have thought the threat to her Muslim allies — I’m presuming she has collected several — was greater. Still. This is what you get from just about everybody on Q&A: democracy misunderstood as “me”.

At some point, John Hewson said something anodyne to recast himself as a champion of democracy, and not the architect of one of our most regressive taxes. At some other point, Chris Kenny reasserted his belief that Political Correctness Gone Mad is a force for evil that eclipses all others, presumably including cyber-warfare, a new era of nuclear proliferation and a time of wealth inequality. And then, Labor’s Terri Butler said something about political “discourse” and how it was trivialised, and then Hewson said that what we now faced was the “Hollywoodisation” of politics, and everybody agreed to talk about real issues for real people, even though no one but Reynolds actually did.

Badham returned to declare that Joyce was justly and internationally shamed for his affair due to his intolerance for her LGBTI allies. I was not previously aware that Joyce had garnered international news attention. If this is the case, I am sure that this has at least as much to do with the Deputy PM’s stoush with Johnny Depp as it did with Badham’s own allies. Of which she has many.

Anyhoo. If you’ve been tempted to return to Monday nights, I can tell you, nothing has changed. It’s still a bunch of people talking about their own experience of injustice. This is “news” and “debate” now: the political and the democratic is understood only within the context of a Kenny or a Badham life.

The fortunes of Q&A are now available only to its participants. The crime is that it is broadcast at all.  

Peter Fray

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