CRITICS will ridicule Paul Murray’s ‘Pub Test’ – a pleasingly Australian term for what Americans have taken to calling ‘town halls’ – but what they hated is what made it refreshing. Yes, the crowd at the Sky-hosted event was friendly, partisan, sane and middle-class. The absence of angry trans-midgets and MeToo man-haters would have disappointed what remains of the old Q+A cohort but – matey backslapping aside – this was how interviews used to be conducted in more civilised days. There are some good examples with John F. Kennedy on YouTube. The reporters were deferential certainly but the subjects were as weighty as life ever gets. Kennedy emerges as a man with a first-rate mind. He could have emerged as an idiot.
Last night, answers and insights were simply elicited, allowing judgements to be made by us about the Prime Minister. No vainglorious ABC traffic cop – ruining with gotcha harassment the quiddity and therefore readability of the principal – was needed. The questions were not aggressive but they were not soft. They required detailed knowledge of specifics on a range of ‘hot button issues’ – any one of which could have stumped or beclowned Scott Morrison. See Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for what happens when politicians know next to nothing about everything.
The PM proved himself – not for the first time – as a master of many briefs; he knows more about levees and weirs than Harris knows about Europe. His joke about still wearing the same specs and the same suits – and the same pounds – was his only rehearsed answer. That tells you it’s a theme. A funny but pointed ribbing of the newly made-over Anthony Albanese, the message is that he, at least, knows who he is and doesn’t have to become somebody else in order to lead. Self-confidence is saleable in hard times but I can’t help thinking Australians crave something more: an existential hope that neither he nor the Opposition Leader can deliver.