Q&A Tony Jones

If Prime Minister Scott Morrison breaks his seven-year Q&A drought to follow a recent election campaign leaders’ tradition and appear as the single guest ahead of polling day, he’ll be coming in with a lot less practice than his opponent.

The Australian reported this week that Morrison has refused to go on the ABC’s weekly panel show, open to audience questions, since his turn as immigration minister. Morrison had appeared on the program six times, but reportedly turned his back on the show as he thought the public broadcaster gave him an unfairly tough time. Is this a view others share? Crikey took a look at the stats.

The favourites

Peter Dutton, the man who wanted Morrison’s job and is currently responsible for the immigration portfolio as Home Affairs Minister, seemingly has a similar attitude to the show. He appeared on the show five times between 2009 and 2013, but hasn’t returned in the past six years. Among the senior members of the Coalition who are currently sitting and contesting their seats, there are few with extended and recent experience on the program.

The Coalition’s most prolific Q&A panellist has been retiring MP Christopher Pyne, who first appeared in the show’s first year, 2008, and returned for another 24 episodes. Former foreign minister Julie Bishop, also retiring, appeared on the show 12 times, but not since 2015. Kelly O’Dwyer has also been a recent and consistent performer on the show (15 times), but is also not contesting this election.

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Opposition leader Bill Shorten has had no such qualms. According to Crikey‘s tally of appearances over the program’s history up until next month’s election was called, he’s fronted up 21 times since the show started in 2008 — most recently in June last year. The earliest of those appearances was when he was still being described as “Labor’s rising star” as a parliamentary secretary in the Rudd government. And he’s generally been well-received, appearing prepared for the program according to news write-ups of the episodes at the time. 

His deputy Tanya Plibersek, though, has the strongest record of appearances on either side of the current chamber, having taken questions from the Q&A desk 31 times.

Morrison’s predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, of course, was also a very regular guest throughout the program’s run. He appeared 24 times including wearing the now-infamous leather jacket. Former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce made it onto the program an impressive 19 times, but hasn’t been back since he lost the Nationals leadership while providing tabloid fodder about his personal life. His replacement and current deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has never appeared on the show.

While some members of Morrison’s cabinet have clocked up some decent Q&A experience — Josh Frydenberg (15 episodes) and Greg Hunt (13 episodes) — there are more current and senior Labor MPs who’ve been on high rotation over the years. Penny Wong (18), Tony Burke (15), Anthony Albanese (12) and Chris Bowen (16) are all familiar faces for the show.

The new rising stars

The line-ups also reveal a trend in who the major parties might rely on for future panel representatives. Labor MP Terri Butler is cementing herself as a regular, fronting up 13 times since September 2015, and twice already this year (including last night).

Her Labor colleagues Ged Kearney and Anne Aly, who both appeared on the program in their pre-parliament roles, have now also appeared in their capacity as MPs. Current senator and former NSW premier Kirstina Keneally has already been prominent in Labor’s election campaigning, and while she’s only appeared on the program twice before, it’s likely we’ll see more of her taking questions in the studio.

Over in the Liberals camp, MPs such as Linda Reynolds are shaping up as the Q&A go-tos — she has appeared three times in the past 14 months. Senator Jim Molan had also appeared on veteran- and defence-themed shows, before being asked on after his appointment as a senator.