In keeping with this theme, Q&A then spent what seemed like an eternity of its post-election edition furiously debating the Safe Schools program – an issue apparently close to the heart of some but, on the evidence of the Victorian ballot box, of little concern to most people not named Eric Abetz.
To Abetz fell the task of explaining whatever it is backbench senators from Tasmania are inclined to explain in the wake of a game-changing electoral result in a state they do not represent.
Abetz was up to whatever that task was.
He was there to defend Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s take on Muslims, vis-a-vis their responsibility to “call out” whatever had lately been deemed a terrorist attack.
“I made exactly what the Prime Minister made of it and I think they are the undeniable facts that a radicalised Muslim undertook an activity that has been described as absolutely horrendous and correctly so, and then for that to be called out for what it is is not a sin by the Prime Minister, but a statement of fact and that some Muslim leaders were willing to deal with that is to be applauded, and others willing to stay away is a matter of concern.”
Blessedly, Q&A also had on hand Tom Switzer, a human fiesta of gleaming hair and teeth, and the executive director of the Centre for Independent Studies. He hails from NSW and posits himself as an expert on American politics, in case we were wondering why he was there in the wake of the Victorian election.
Switzer’s most notable and telling contribution came in a clash with Labor’s Doug Cameron, a senator whose main relevance to the conversation was that he is from NSW.
Cameron and Switzer found themselves in a stoush over the term “socialist”.
Host Tony Jones asked of the Scottish-born Cameron: “Are you talking the same language as Jeremy Corbyn?”
Cameron: “As a socialist, yes.”
Jones: “There aren’t many people left in the Labor Party who refer to them as socialists.”
Switzer chimed in: “There are in Britain. Should go back to Scotland, mate.”
Jones: “Tom, you’re not saying go back where you came from – that would be quite a bad…”
Cameron: “I’m a white guy. Can you imagine what happens to other migrants in this country if that’s the sort of attitude?”
Switzer, with the time-honoured response of the clueless: “Come on. I’m just joking. It was a joke, Dougie. Come on.”
Cameron: “It’s always easy to say it’s a joke. I’ve been told I’ve been incomprehensible by members of the Coalition, I’ve been told to go back to Scotland. And I can stand up for myself. I can. But you’ll get lots of migrants come here that don’t have that capacity and I think they get treated terribly.”
Switzer: “Australia is a very welcoming society, Doug. Why do so many people come here? That was a cheap shot by Doug. That was a joke. This is the problem with identity politics. You guys take it way too seriously. It was just a joke.”
Oh, how we laughed.
It was that kind of night – the kind of night that Jones asked you to fact-check the panellists but you didn’t, out of fear the fact-checkers might die of exhaustion.
Take this, for instance, from Abetz on the rolling of Malcolm Turnbull in the context of the weekend election result in the state to the south of NSW and the north of Tasmania.
Jones: “When you say you’re going to look at the result, will you look at those things, and do you regret your own role in unseating Malcolm Turnbull?”
Abetz, peering about to gather some more butter to melt in his mouth: “We had no idea Malcolm was going to spring that leadership vote on without any notice to the membership of the parliamentary party.”
Jones: “Before you had the chance to do it yourself.”
Abetz: “Oh, Tony, that is the sort of bias that unfortunately gets the ABC in to strife. That’s the sort of editorialising that does you and this show no good.”
Jones: “You don’t think Dutton was angling to take over the leadership prior to the spill?”
Abetz: “No. He wasn’t. He was not expecting that vote, nor was I.”
Jones: “Got your totally unbiased answer now.”
Then there was Abetz’s rumination on Safe Schools and related bullying, in which the Senator lapsed into a reverie of days gone by.
“Bullying,” he declared, “is a curse and should not be allowed in any school. But if you have a look at what is the cause of bullying, usually it is physical characteristics such as weight or height or lack of height, lack of weight, colour of hair, whether you’ve got freckles, whether you’ve got buck teeth…”
Jones: “You left out colour of skin.”
Abetz: “Indeed colour of skin.”
And then came the sharp interjection from people’s panellist Yasmin Poole: “It’s been decades since you’ve been in high school.”
It was sometimes entertaining, but mostly beside the point – and the point was never likely to be found in Tasmania.