‘Bias’: Senator lashes Q&A host
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz stepped in at the last minute to fill a seat on the ABC's Q&A; program on Monday night after a colleague bowed out. He may be regretting that decision.
Mr Abetz was peppered with hard questions and forced to defend his party following a Victorian election result that many say is a rejection of the party at a federal level.
Daniel Andrews was re-elected in a landslide victory in Victoria on Saturday. The election result was blamed by some members of the party on an outspoken group from the Liberal right wing, including former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Abetz.
The senator acknowledged the role Federal Government turmoil had played in Victoria.
"The simple fact is the Victorian election result was not that which the Liberal Party would have wanted from either a federal or a state perspective," Mr Abetz said.
"Cool heads need to prevail and we have to analyse the result, why we had this result in Victoria. Yeah, look, federal issues may have played a role."
But he soon became defensive. Host Tony Jones asked Mr Abetz if he "regrets" his own role in unseating Malcolm Turnbull.
"Malcolm was unfortunately the architect of his own demise," Mr Abetz responded.
He said the party had "no idea Malcolm was going to spring a leadership vote without any notice". Jones quipped that Mr Turnbull called the vote "before you had the chance to do it yourself".
Mr Abetz suggested the ABC host was taking sides.
"Oh, Tony, that is the sort of bias that unfortunately gets the ABC into strife. That's the sort of editorialising that does you and this show no good … that is the sort of bias that gets the ABC into strife."
To that, members of the studio audience let out a collective, audible groan.
Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi told Mr Abetz that "state elections don't happen in a vacuum".
"Whatever was happening at the federal level, this revolving door of politicians and, you know, knifing PMs and creating chaos, obviously did not play well for the Liberal Party in the Victorian election."
An audience member asked Mr Abetz whether it was a mistake for the Libs to appeal to conservatives instead of the centre.
"The true conservatives in Australia make up only 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the population and even if all of them voted Liberal, this would not be enough to win a general election," the audience member said.
Mr Abetz questioned where the audience member got her stats from.
"I don't know where you get your statistics from," he said. "The simple fact is that the Liberal Party has done exceptionally well from opposition into government when it has had, in general terms, conservative leaders."
He said former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott were conservative and that worked out fine for the party.
"With great respect, your analysis is not one that I would support," he said.
Another member of the audience turned the topic to another area of concern for Mr Abetz - transgender children in schools.
" The Liberal Party campaign of fear of misinformation about transgender children and Safe Schools in Victoria has failed spectacularly," the audience member said.
"I see a PM, who makes disparaging comments about young transgender children like my son, that are very concerning. Do you think the Federal Government will take away anything from the Victorian election and decide to treat children like mine with respect and support those who endeavour to make them safe?"
Mr Abetz said he "shares" concerns from "mums and dads" about the Safe Schools.
"While I understand the difficult circumstances of your child, if we look at it objectively, what toilet, what shower facility does that child then use? And is it appropriate, for example … where you could have at a high school a prepubescent girl being required to share bathroom and shower facilities with a bloke that's shaving? That is the reality."
Yasmine Poole, the "people's panellist" on the program and recent Australian youth delegate at APEC, told Mr Abetz school had changed significantly since he was a student.
Ms Faruqi said she could not "believe I'm sitting here hearing this in 2018".
"Eric, you need to come out of the 19th century and start listening to people," she said.
"Truly. But I'm not surprised that this is what the conservatives in the Liberal Party say because we have a PM who voted against same-sex marriage. We have a PM who said he wasn't concerned about it, it wasn't an issue, gay conversion therapy wasn't an issue for him."