Australian PM Rudd is to be congratulated for his willingness to participate in an unscripted free-flowing nationally televised ABC Q&A session with a group of young people at Australia's Old Parliament House in Canberra. He is also to be congratulated for the way the transcript appeared so quickly on the PM's own website (here).
As it happened, today's post on my New England blog, Belshaw's World - crisis in the Westminster system, publishes my Armidale Express column of 3 February 2010. I publish them there with a week's lag because the columns are not included in the on-line edition of the Express. The column was triggered by constitutional events in Canada and deals with the role of Parliament.
As I read the transcript, I thought that Mr Rudd's willingness to expose himself in this way was a sign of continued health in Australia's system.
In some ways, the transcript makes for excruciating reading.
Political debate in this country has become very stylised: keep on message; answer the question you want to answer rather than the question asked; try to tailor the message to the audience; attack the other side. Journalists and politicians alike are caught in this game.
This type of approach doesn't work in the more free-flowing format of an unscripted Q&A with a very mixed audience and Mr Rudd struggled. The opening questions on the failure of the Rudd Government to deliver on its promises caught him off-balance. Twittering began and it wasn't positive. I was interested in the following exchange mid-point:
JONES: Okay. You're watching Q&A. Remember you can send your web or video questions to our website. The address is on the screen, or join the Twitter conversation. And in just a matter of interest tonight - we have a matter of interest here. Apparently tonight's program has peaked as the number one trending topic on Twitter worldwide. That's hard to believe, isn't it? Okay. But apparently it's true.
PM: I'd like to know how you knew that?
JONES: I didn't know that but someone has told me that, evidently.
I am sure that Mr Rudd and his advisers will review the transcript and indeed they need to do so. Mr Rudd became far too involved in the detail and wrong footed himself on several occasions because of his failure to focus properly on core principles.
To someone like me who is interested in the way things work (and don't!) the Q&A session was quite wonderful because, in getting Mr Rudd off-balance, it was just so revealing. I will write on this more in later posts.
I suspect that the reaction of Mr Rudd's minders to the whole thing will be to advise him not to do it again! That, to my mind, would be a mistake. He and we need this type of thing because it forces focus outside the bounds of the stylised Canberra political dance.
Once again, congratulations to Mr Rudd on his willingness to take the risk of participation.
As you might expect, there is a range of opinion on Mr Rudd's performance. Here are a few random blog reactions:
- Rudd with more Qs than As
- Whatever happened to the vision thing?
- Rudd on Q&A
- KRudd Q & A
- At the end of the day, the kids caned Kevin on Q&A
We all have our own perspectives of course. What did surprise me (I may have used the wrong search terms - I have done that before) was the apparently small number of blog responses outside the small number of usual suspects. I include myself in the latter group.