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Q&A panel sent into downward spiral


Australia needs more toasters

Quintessential Aussie battler, Duncan Storrar stole the Q&A show, while Kelly O’Dwyer was keen to extol virtues of expensive toasters for small businesses. Vision ABC

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Duncan Storrar wasn’t about to be patronised, and he wasn’t about to be bullied.

And on Monday night’s Melbourne-based Q&A, holding his ground in the face of attempts to do both, he delivered an early campaign reminder to politicians of all stripes: that the road to victory is strewn with boobytraps – otherwise known as “voters”.

Duncan Storrar on the Q&A panel.

Duncan Storrar on the Q&A panel. Photo: ABC

Be careful not to detonate one accidentally.

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Not that Mr Storrar exploded, or anything close to it, when he found himself the centre of attention in debate with a Q&A panel featuring three politicians – cabinet minister Kelly O’Dwyer, shadow minister Andrew Leigh and Greens MP Adam Bandt – a business leader, Australian Industry Group CEO Innes Willox, and Cassandra Goldie, head of the Australian Council of Social Service.

Mr Storrar had merely come with a question.

Kelly O'Dwyer on Q&A.

Kelly O’Dwyer on Q&A. Photo: ABC

“I’ve got a disability and a low education, that means I’ve spent my whole life working for minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people,” he said, addressing federal minister O’Dwyer.

“If you lift my tax-free threshold, that changes my life,” he went on. “That means that I get to say to my little girls, ‘Daddy’s not broke this weekend. We can go to the pictures’. Rich people don’t even notice their tax-free threshold lift. Why don’t I get it? Why do they get it?”

After a sympathetic hearing from Goldie, the question came to O’Dwyer, whose answer eventually wound its way through to missing the point of the inquiry almost entirely – with Mr Storrar’s eyes all but popping out of his head at the minister’s assurance that when it came to budgetary tax measures: “It’s all about balance.”

Innes Willox, Cassandra Goldie and Andrew Leigh on Q&A.

Innes Willox, Cassandra Goldie and Andrew Leigh on Q&A. Photo: ABC

On the contrary, minister.

“To rich people it is a Coke and a milkshake or whatever,” Mr Storrar said of tax breaks for higher income earners.

“To me it changes my children’s life … People who make $80,000 a year … well, they don’t even notice it, love. We notice that sort of stuff.”

Adam Bandt said a Labor-Greens coalition could help bring clean energy to Australia.

Adam Bandt said a Labor-Greens coalition could help bring clean energy to Australia. Photo: ABC

And it was pretty much all downhill from there.

O’Dwyer helpfully launched into a cheerful monologue about pies – growing the pie, rather than carving it up as the Greens were inclined to do – but the look on Mr Storrar’s face suggested the only thing he could smell was waffle. But the minister soldiered on with her pastry metaphors. It was a bit like watching Mary Poppins trill “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” – the thing you say when you have nothing to say; then before you knew it, she’d taken wayward flight to offer a description of her plans as Small Business Minister.

“We have got a company tax cut for small businesses with a turnover of between $2 million and $10 million. Now, you might say that’s terrible but it’s not because what it does is it creates more jobs,” she triumphantly advised Mr Storrar, by now perhaps wishing he’d gotten tickets for The Weekly with Charlie Pickering instead.

Things didn’t improve; in fact, they got worse. After a lengthy diversion to debate the rights and wrongs of trickle-down economics and company tax rates, the focus eventually came back to Mr Storrar. This was courtesy of Innes Willox, who had apparently resolved to put the audience member firmly in his place.

“Duncan, I’ll be harsh in my message,” was Willox’s opening promise, swiftly fulfilled with an unnerving prosecutory zeal.

“If you’re on the minimum wage and with a family, you would not pay much tax, if any at all.

“Would you? You would not pay much tax.”

Mr Storrar, gamely responding as some in the audience gasped at the aggression in the inquiry: “I pay tax every time I go to the supermarket. Every time I hop in my car.”

This was not, needless to say, an exchange that helped O’Dywer’s already faltering cause, and the minister might have preferred Willox hadn’t nailed his colours to the government mast quite so firmly.

“So we have a situation here where not everyone can win out of every budget every time,” he said.

“It’s not how the system works and the government has made a choice here – I’ll talk on their behalf even though I’m not a member of the government – they have actually made a choice to create a situation where we can create jobs for Duncan’s children, where we can create investment that doesn’t come into the country now, to provide for growth.”

As they say in the trade, much of this was pretty bad optics – with the audio none too flash either – and there was a strong case to be made for quitting while behind. But O’Dwyer had one minor gem still to come – a throwaway line that served as a reminder that just as there are no boobytrap-free voters, there is also no such thing as a safe throwaway line in the fevered atmosphere of a campaign.

Rhapsodising about her government’s tax relief measures for small business, she let slip by way of illustration the write-off bonanza available to one cafe owner of her recent acquaintance.

To wit: the purchase of “a $6000 toaster”.

To which much of the viewing nation responded: “A $6000 what?”

But we’d heard right. And this being a campaign, one imagines the member for Higgins and this Toorak Toaster might now be in for a little light grilling.



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