The ABC need to decide whether their flagship political chat show is a proper people's forum like the BBC's Question Time or a talking heads show, two weeks ago it was given over to authors from the Writers Festival, and tonight it was handed over to a group of 'wise elders' comprising:
Jane Goodall – Primatologist
Betty Churcher – Art educator
Peter Coleman – Conservative intellectual
Rosalie Kunoth-Monks – Central Australian Indigenous leader
Stuart Rees – Founder of the Sydney Peace Foundation
There hasn't even been a rationale presented for this anti-politician format - as much as I'm interested in Jane Goodall's experiences there is little to no public value in hearing the political views of selected individuals without any politicians to anchor the debate.
I can understand the concept, politician-free episodes can be much better for debate, and nobody misses the politicians spouting the same lines and avoiding every question, but the purpose of the show is for our representatives to answer questions. Very occasionally Question Time would run one of these formats, and they can work very well, particularly if they have a non-political topic like science or religion, but in general if there's current politics discussed the politicians need to be there.
My issue with the ABC is that, in their frequent 'non-politician' Q and As the topics are the standard political questions, but with a bunch of pointless people with their own pointless views answering the questions. I don't even want to start on the views of these people and the typical accusations of bias. I would find a 'balanced' panel completely redundant in these cases, they aren't there as specialists in the field and so the exercise is, in my view, boring, wasteful and indulgent, that's before we even point out the obvious accusations of bias.
Tonight, and last time (and many times before) there were political questions, such as attacking the government over their environmental record (one example from tonight) - inviting such questions to a panel of hand-picked commentators with no links to Parliament is clearly open to bias. Effectively the ABC grant a free-kick to whichever side they wish, typically regarded as 'the left', but by excluding the main parties and simply picking sympathetic commentators they avoid any objective measure of bias. This is why such shows, funded by the taxpayer as a form of political public service, should be stopped.
It's plausible that the ABC think that these shows offer a break from 'Punch and Judy' politics of Australia, and create a more civil dinner table type of experience, but somehow I doubt anyone genuinely believes that, and if they do, they're mistaken. Selecting 'wise elders' based on the views of some ABC staff is unlikely to create a more popular edition and only serves to provide ammunition to their critics, and crucially, it turns the show into a talking heads show, which is a deviation from the aim of providing public political discourse. If the ABC wish to make a dinner table show, stacked with their own choice of public figures, then they should make one and stop allowing a political debate show to be taken over by random groups of 'commentators'.
As an aside, yes some commentators might be of 'the right', and I do like some of the views presented, but the point is that it's a political discussion without any elected politicians, allowing the show to be hijacked by whatever views the ABC wish to present, these could be right, left or Martian for all I care, it ain't their job to pick who answers the questions, it's a medium for the government and opposition. It's a taxpayer funded political debate show, it needs to get politicians engaging with the people, not writers and activists.
If the ABC wish to keep these formats, I suggest they alter the name and clearly announce 'non-political chat show night' each time they do this.