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Q&A recap: Stan Grant weighs up career in politics as show's season gets powerful start

Q&A spent much of 2015 with a yoke around its neck. It returned for 2016 surprisingly liberated.

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A future in politics for Stan Grant?

Entering politics is a possibility but nothing is 'on the bone' says Stan Grant. Vision courtesy ABC television.

There was Tony Jones - neck unencumbered, without a tie - doing what he does best, deftly corralling a panel and a crowd into a coherent television whole. There was an audience free to toss questions from anywhere. We saw a wide-ranging debate, which included the Australian of the Year calling "bullshit" on our attitudes to an issue of vital import. And we saw celebrated journalist Stan Grant pulling the trigger on a potential political career in a moment that suggested Q&A enters its ninth year in rather rude health.

Who'd have thought? It was quite a night after the year that was, when what Q&A mostly courted was controversy - most of it of other's hysterical making, but with enough fuel added to the fire (hello, Zaky Mallah!) to give the program's critics plenty to go on with. It returned for the new year fresh from two inquiries, with promises of greater diversity both human and geographic, and entered its ninth year as a lightning rod in search of a bolt.

It dodged the strike.

This was nominally the "Australian of the Year" episode. General David Morrison, the most recent bearer of that albatross, was present, as was the splendid Local Hero of the Year, youth literacy advocate Catherine Keenan (a former Herald journalist). Professor Gordian Fulde - Senior Australian of the Year - was on hand, bearing grim warnings about our fondness for the grog, as was South Australia's Young Australian of the Year finalist Manal Younus.


And then there was Stan Grant, fresh from a recent speech that invited comparisons to none other than Martin Luther King. With compliments like that in the air, Grant's modesty was in its way miraculous and his conclusions also logical. Politics? Why not? Well, maybe.

"It bewildered me in the first few days. The ground shifted beneath my feet. If you ask what do I do with that? Clearly there is a responsibility and obligation to the words of that speech. This is not a political answer, by the way,(I'm) not trying to be a politician before my time. But, yes, I would consider something. Is it in my thoughts? Yes, it is in my thoughts."

He continued: "This is a great country and my people still suffer in this country and if I can make a contribution to that, then I think it behoves me to do that."

And he continued further, lest we get carried away: "At this stage there is no flesh on the bone. I'm not saying I'm entering federal politics."

Let's just get a little carried away, Stan, if we may.

Tony Jones knew what he'd just heard and wisely wasn't about to let it go.

"You might get a few phone calls tomorrow, that's all I'm saying."

Grant: "Would I get any votes is the real question."

Jones: "That's what the political parties will be asking, but do you have a particular one you would favour?"

Grant: "No, let me say quite honestly, I'm a very pragmatic guy. I'm not ideologically driven."

Where does Grant go from here? Who knows, and you can bet we'll hear a lot about it in coming days, but Q&A had its first big moment of the year, and it wasn't the only one.

For much of the first half of the show, front and centre and facing incoming fire was General Morrison, the newly crowned acronym whose AOTY headwear may have started to feel like a crown of thorns within about five minutes of it being deposited upon his noggin.

It is now tradition. As the critics have it, you should get this honour not because you have an opinion on anything of remote relevance to anyone living in the modern world but because you coddle the concerns of everyone hankering for the reign of King George V.

It's a tough gig, this - to straddle centuries and attitudes and the advent of both the suffragettes and the invention of Skype, a medium via which Q&A now accepts live questions. Morrison, who seems to attract the equal opprobrium of both the right and left and therefore is probably generally on the right track, handles it well.

He opened with a game-changer - "I don't feel qualified to answer" - something you don't often hear on Q&A, or for that matter anywhere in the opinionated free-for-all that constitutes the modern media. That answer was in response to a question about changing the date of Australia Day, and it may have been contagious. At least four times across the night, panellists preferred a non-opinion - a variation on "I don't really know" - and what a relief it was.

"Don't know enough about it, sorry," said Professor Fulde on one issue.

Could it be that Q&A in 2016 might deliver a genuine revolution - the notion that you might appear on television and confess to not being qualified to hold forth on the matter at hand?

That alone would make the year ahead worthwhile. As did this moment, at the other end of the spectrum, when Morrison called time on an issue in which the nation can wholeheartedly agree. As the heir to Rosie Batty's stupendous engagement of the nation as Australian of the Year, he walks in a difficult shadow. Best to be blunt, then.

"There are people dying and people whose lives are absolutely ruined as a result of domestic violence and what's more, we are all as a society the victim. That's bullshit," he said.

It was as Australian as you could get: calling a spade a spade, while also calling for light on the shade.

Some blunt talk - and some blunt admission of shortcomings, including not being sure of the answers - suggests a sane way forward after a crazy year now blessedly gone.