Tanya Plibersek – Minister for Health
Eric George: Tanya Plibersek has been referenced often in these scorecards as the gold standard for QandA performances, and last night’s performance clearly lived up to the hype. The Member for Sydney was set a difficult task in appearing on the panel: defend a difficult portfolio of a floundering government for a full hour. But simply put, she crushed it, along with an at-times dazed Peter Dutton.
I’m not sure anyone’s strengths play better to the QandA format than Plibersek, she has an apparently innate ability to deliver policy explanations in clear language, always seems particularly relaxed on set, and makes a clear effort to connect to the audience members seated in front of her. This final trait was most obvious during a string of emotionally-charged questions targeting palliative care and organ donation. Each time, Plibersek defused the question with an apology and acknowledgement to the questioner, then slowly worked her way back to the Labor platform on each respective issue. Most importantly, she seemed convincingly invested in the issues discussed throughout the night.
It’s worth noting that Plibersek was given a long leash last night, as she regularly interjected during Dutton’s answers and often ran over-time with her own. Although it’s tempting to point to some form of left-wing or Labor bias on Tony Jones’s part, I think the reality is that in QandA, as in sport, when you’ve got the momentum you get some leeway from the adjudicating official. Plibersek certainly held the upper hand throughout last night’s proceedings. Save for a facile attempt at debating broadband infrastructure, it was a flawless performance
10 Tony Joneses out of 10
Hannah Rabe: I think you’re right on the mark with Plibersek’s performance last night. She left Dutton for dead, making him hot under the collar and forcing him to continually defend himself and his sources. Indeed one thing that constantly amazes me about Plibersek is her ability to whip out figures on absolutely any aspect of her portfolio and put them forward with such certainty and conviction that the audience has no doubt she is right.
This leads into what I thought was her key strength on the night: her ability to speak and act with great humlilty. The respect and genuine empathy that she showed when responding to questions on palliative care and organ donations, as you’ve mentioned Eric, was outstanding. There was no doubt she felt and meant every word she was saying.
Going off her performance tonight I think the only way to describe her would be the cliché “cool, calm and collected.” Unlike Dutton she appeared to have thought about her answers before responding and put them forward in such a way that her point was clear – there was no skirting around the issue. Her smooth talking and somewhat motherly nature had me from the start – I’m on team Plibersek.
10 Tony Joneses out of 10
Peter Dutton – Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing
Eric George: Under normal QandA circumstances, Dutton’s performance last night would have been an entirely adequate one. But the nature of the head-to-head format is that the only point of comparison was Plibersek’s imperious reign over the discussion. In this context, Dutton was found significantly wanting.
From go to woe Dutton continually seemed flat and over-rehearsed in comparison to his colourful colleague, simply playing the role of the straight man throughout. He never seemed callous or insensitive, but Dutton did seem to struggle to engage with last night’s material on a personal or emotional level – an important requirement when the audience started raising heart-felt individual concerns. Perhaps it was nerves, but he just never seemed to settle into any sort of rhythm (this was no doubt due in part to Plibersek’s interjections) until the program began to wind up.
To be clear: the Member for Dickson was dealt the easier hand last night. All he had to do was seem relateable while he kept the focus on Australia’s struggling health system. But he wasn’t even able to take advantage of a soft serve question that attacked Plibersek’s apparent disregard for local GPs.
In fairness to the man, Dutton did not make a single significant error: the night was conspicuously absent of the boos that often seem to dog conservative participants on the panel. On a normal night, his performance would have been a capable one, but last night he finished up a distant second by comparison.
6 Tony Joneses out of 10.
Hannah Rabe: Dutton clearly put the childish blame back into the blame game. It’s as though he was determined to “win” a battle for the sake of it. He took sly jabs at Plibersek and repeated himself to the point where Tony Jones had to reinforce that he’d “already said that a moment ago.”
Despite the “time limits”, Dutton wasted most of the night rambling on, seemingly pulling figures out of thin air before being forced to defend them. He was constantly skirting around topics and talking purely for the sake of it. At one point he stated so many consecutive figures on indigenous health gaps that it appeared he just wanted to show off that he’d actually done his research.
There’s no doubt Dutton was grilled by everyone last night – Plibersek, the audience and even Tony Jones.
Plibersek’s representation of Dutton as “lord make me virtuous but not quite yet” is a pretty spot on summary of his performance last night. At times he’s onside with Plibersek almost pleading for her approval, yet then he’s against her showing up her party’s “wasteful spending.” He’s a man in the middle.
5 Tony Joneses out of 10.