Q+A host Virginia Trioli rebukes arts minister over ABC funding cuts
Fifty minutes into Monday night’s Q+A, fill-in host Virginia Trioli said what viewers of the long-running panel show have been shouting in the privacy of their living rooms every Monday night for the past decade: “Can I take you to the question? The long dissertations are just chewing up time.”
The recipient of her rebuke was the arts minister, Paul Fletcher, who was invited on the panel to explain the federal government’s recently announced $250m package to support the arts and entertainment industries from economic losses caused by Covid-19.
Fletcher was also asked to stop trying to explain why the ABC had, by his accounting, not had a budget cut, when by the accounting of everyone else, including the management of the ABC and the Coalition’s own budget papers, helpfully waved about by Labor frontbencher and fellow panellist Bill Shorten, it had.
Can Paul Fletcher explain to Matilda why some of the people who work at ABC Me have lost their jobs? #QandA pic.twitter.com/qTiwQavTx2June 29, 2020
He did offer an olive branch by announcing that the government would extend the broadcast licence for community television channels Channel 31 and Channel 44 for another 12 months, to give them more time to transition to digital-only stations.
“That’s the only thing you’re going to get out of me,” Fletcher said.
It was a standard performance from a government minister on a program that has increasingly become a place where the community can ask honest, heartfelt questions of political leaders and receive a talking point in reply.
But to Fletcher’s apparent surprise, the standard responses did not work.
When he dismissed a question from Trioli about why support for the arts was capped, while support for other industries was uncapped as a “Greens talking point”, Trioli replied: “I don’t really care if it’s a Greens talking point, it’s my question.”
When he repeated that the ABC had not suffered a budget cut and cited an ABC Fact Check article from 2018 as the ace in a semantic argument that “an adjustment to future spending does not represent a cut when the overall level of spending continues to rise”, Trioli recited the budget numbers then asked him to be quiet while other panellists spoke.
“Minister, I’m going to move on,” she said. “I have the figures here … We can’t waste any more time.”
Fletcher was not the only panellist told to stick to the question. When a question was asked about branch stacking, Shorten was told not to deflect to activities in the Liberal party, as described in former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s book, of which Shorten says he has only read the free extracts.
“We will get to the Liberal party later,” Trioli said, before suggesting it was unbelievable that significant figures in the Labor party in Victoria – which includes Shorten, as the former federal leader – would have been unaware of suspicions of branch stacking by a Victorian MP before it was revealed by an explosive media investigation.
“I understand the scepticism but what I don’t think that fairly describes is the motivation of most people in politics,” Shorten said. “There will always be people who try and break the rules.”
What was needed, he said, was a national anti-corruption commission. Trioli asked if Fletcher would support that plan.
“We’re committed to a commonwealth integrity commission. The attorney general has made it very clear,” Fletcher said.
“Which decade?” Shorten asked.
“We have plans for one,” Fletcher said.
“That’s another thing people don’t like, which is when we don’t answer questions,” Shorten said.
A question about whether the government’s response to the economic shutdown caused by Covid-19 had been gender-balanced, and the impact of ending the temporary free childcare program, prompted a list of suggestions from the president of Chief Executive Women, Sue Morphet, and writer and youth advocate Yasmin Poole.
Has the Government shown greater support for male-dominated industries in the coronavirus recovery? #QandA pic.twitter.com/4SHGjrqsK8June 29, 2020
When Fletcher said Australia would only know “in hindsight” what the economic impact on women had been, Poole said: “It goes to show you don’t have enough women in your party. I can give you tips.”
“We need a gender-disaggregated data around Covid-19 to understand how [the shutdown is] disproportionately affecting women, and need a gender-based budget, and when we talk about the economic impact of Covid-19 we have to talk about the unpaid work economy and the informal work economy which women disproportionately make up,” she said.
Morphet said the government should look to women “who are capable of lifting our productivity who are staying at home because they can’t afford to leave do the extra work”.
Extending free childcare would solve that problem, she said.
“[It should be] well-funded and very, very slowly drop off over time,” she said. “Taper off so that women can work a full week. That’s number one.”