Q&A recap: Canadian astronaut inspires audience as Donald Trump labelled ‘dropkick’

Q&A host Tony Jones directed this audience question at the panellists: ‘Do Donald Trump’s views reflect ignorance, misogyny, or is it clever political marketing?’ Photo: Q&A ‘How do you face up to danger in your life?’ … Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield, left, was both inspirational and insightful on Q&A. Photo: Q&A

Breaking the government’s Q&A ban … Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg made a low-key appearance on the ABC program despite labelling Donald Trump a ‘dropkick’. Photo: Q&A

There was an astronaut. There was a conservative politician, returning from service defending Planet Boycott and Planet Bronwyn. And amid the high science of outer space and the low atmospherics of local politics, there was an unexpected guest from another planet altogether: welcome to Q&A, Donald Trump.

To wit: “Donald Trump seems to suffer from chronic foot-in-mouth disease, especially with his appalling comments regarding women. Do his views reflect ignorance, misogyny or is it clever political marketing?”

The Donald made his Q&A debut from nowhere, alas in question form and not in person, but he served a varied purpose, as he is wont to do. For starters, he’s entertaining. His juvenile weekend antics also prompted a question more relevant to local conditions than might immediately have been apparent: how offensive can you be on live TV before freedom of speech considerations give way to the old “shouting fire in a crowded theatre” rule?

In recent times Q&A has been deemed by our federal government to have essentially set fire to the drapes at the national movie palace. The story in short: a Zaky Mallah bombshell that prompted a Tony Abbott boycott that prompted an okey-dokey backdown by the ABC, which acted swiftly in both its apology and in last week’s board decision to shunt the freewheeling debate program into the carefully monitored world of its news and current affairs division from 2016.

Deal done. So could this scalded atoll of Monday night debate follow up its nuclear period by confronting the ultimate challenge: defying gravity? Or would the penny drop early that it may not ever again be what it once was, BZ? (Before Zaky)

Yes it could, courtesy of three veterans from other planets.

There was Trump, whose mention gave rise to the enticing possibility that Q&A could avoid further local controversy by raining mockery on crazy American space-cadet politicians who make no sense, thus sparing our vastly inferior local products from the weekly torment.

“He’s a dropkick,” was the earthy verdict on Trump of Josh Frydenberg, extra-terrestrial representative of a government recently alien to this program who had to reacquaint himself with the atmosphere after weeks batting off space junk from planets Boycott and Bronwyn.

Tony Jones: “We’ll remind you of that when he comes here on a state visit.”

Frydenberg: “I’m sure my colleagues will remind me tomorrow.”

Poor Josh, the Abbott lieutenant returning from those intergalactic battles with barely a scratch on him, yet knowing every one of his colleagues would be watching and having to defend the chopper-blade wounds sustained by lesser combatants.

No doubt aware he was being closely watched as the first soldier back from the front, the boycott-busting assistant treasurer arrived low of key and high of tone. On pollie entitlements, he was diplomatic, declaring himself sorrowful over recent events but in agreement with his Labor counterpart on the panel, Sharon Bird, that it was best to let the inquiry sort things out.

Frydenberg to a sceptical Tony Jones: “Sharon and I are on a unity ticket about your cynicism.”

Jones: “I suspect I’m on a unity ticket with the Australian voters.”

The host delicately refrained from asking the obvious follow up – how many thousands this unity ticket might cost us, by what mode would they travel and on which planet they expected to land? But this was no time for showing off, for Jones or anyone else – not with Colonel Chris Hadfield in the room.

If you’ve ever envied the astronaut – and there are few enough of them to make them worthy of envy – Colonel Hadfield rubs your nose in it further by arriving super-smart, handsome, eloquent, thoughtful and with bragging rights to 26 million hits on his YouTube cover of a David Bowie song. That he sang Space Oddity – in outer space, mind you – as a kick for his son and popped it online for a hoot might make you want to take an even longer good, hard look at yourself.

But the Canadian colonel doesn’t inspire envy so much as he inspires imagination. He had his thoughts on Trump – and looked like he wished he’d never been asked: “You are asking me this question. We’re in Australia.

“The American election isn’t for a year and a half,” Colonel Hadfield said. “None of us are voting in the American election and he’s not the person who’s going to get elected. Yet we’re talking about him here tonight, which makes no sense at all.”

One’s first thought was: if he thinks this is silly, lucky he doesn’t know what we were talking about last week and the one before that.

Second thought: continue, Colonel. The thing with Hadfield is that you could listen to him talk all night, about anything. But when time is tight, it’s better that it’s about matters further beyond our horizons than the solar system occupied by Donald Trump’s hair.

Hadfield called the Trump campaign “theatre, it’s lovely summer theatre”, but it was his descriptions of epic vistas from above that delivered the grandest show – of what he saw and felt and learned and of the perspective he gained. Of the risks – half of it, dying in the first nine minutes; the overall risk of catastrophe, one in 38 – and of the rewards.

“I decided when I was 9, Neil (Armstrong) and Buzz (Aldrin) are the coolest human beings ever … I’m 9 years old, what do I do next?”

He spoke of the need to “separate danger from fear”. He asked: “How do you face up to danger in your life?”. He challenged: “How do you change yourself from just hiding behind an amorphous fear … to digging in to it, to figuring out that this is something worth taking a risk for?”

Everyone was inspired, enraptured even, even if in Canberra you had to think this was indeed a message from another planet. You could hear the answer: “You want brave, Colonel? Look at us. We went back on Q&A.”

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