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Q&A recap: The Barna-baby debuts on Q&A as scandal engulfs the panel

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Q&A is occasionally there to remind of us of very important things in our national life, and on Monday night it served this purpose: could Australian politics be any more obnoxious if it tried?

No it couldn't. 

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Joyce's 'future in danger'

Former Liberal Leader John Robert Hewson says Barnaby Joyce's future has been under question for quite some time, and this could be an opportunity to rein him in.

So let us all rejoice. Or re-Joyce, as the case may be, and at the moment very much is.

To that end, Monday's program brought us a panel designed to annoy the living daylights out of you a lot of the time. Many viewers (or alleged non-viewers, a suspiciously large but Q&A-familiar portion off the population) may say this is not unusual. Many may say this is the program's raison d'être, or to translate to the English: it gives me the living trots. Whatever the case, this latest instalment came replete with a panel designed to make you scream at the television.

Let us be equal opportunity about this.

In the non-politician boxes we had The Australian's associate editor Chris Kenny from the right and the writer Van Badham from the left, a pair of duelling professional opinion-havers who have one thing in common: they manage to pack more self-regard into your average television appearance than the average cast member of the Real Housewives of Melbourne.


In the political chairs we had Terri Butler, being mostly unmemorable for the Labor Party, and Linda Reynolds, a Liberal senator from WA to whom fell the task of explaining to us such Turnbull government delights as Barnaby Joyce, Jim Molan and the dual citizenship fiasco.

The fifth panellist, John Hewson, was the one to whom host Tony Jones gave the blessed designation of non-politician - "you're a non-politician, have been for a long time" - and who managed to stand out from the pack by being mostly sensible, and whose long-ago political past underscored his comments on the Joyce fiasco with some pertinent real-life gravitas.

The Joyce affair was the first and dominant subject of the night - with the panel mostly in furious agreement with the nation at large that the Barna-baby is a sad and sorry business all round.

For Van Badham, noting the deputy PM's enthusiastic poking about in the personal lives of his fellow Australians during the same-sex marriage debate, the matter also exposed Joyce as "a massive staggering hypocrite".

"Hold the front pages," chortled Chris Kenny in response. "There's hypocrisy in politics." But he went on to proffer the national broadsheet's kiss-of-death, declaring: "My view is that his career - Barnaby Joyce's political career - is over."

From Linda Reynolds, Joyce's coalition colleague, came the game defence that there was no evidence of ethical wrongdoing by Joyce beyond the personal betrayal, and urged us to focus on our collective inadequacies as a society. 

"I realise how messy each individual marriage break-up is. In Parliament we are no different … we have to think more clearly about whether we do want to go down the American route where it becomes a bit of a circus."

But a circus it already is, and a circus it will continue to be as long as Joyce remains in his job. As John Hewson noted, it is hardly just in his personal life that the Nationals leader has been a headache for the Turnbull government.

"I thought his future was in danger for quite some time in the sense that he was of the cause of distraction and disruption last year in the government. His team actually led the debate in a whole lot of areas to the detriment of the Government. I don't think he understands unity or the significance of that. And so in the course of last year they played a pretty disruptive role. I guess it is at least an opportunity for Malcolm to get him in line and get him performing for the team."

 And just when does the personal become the political? 

Hewson, this year marking the 25th anniversary of him losing the "unloseable" election to Paul Keating, said: "In my time I took the view that private issues are private issues unless they have significance to the job the individual is supposed to be doing. 

"I've become increasingly concerned in the last couple of decades about the Hollywood-isation of politics in this country, which makes it difficult to get good people, self-respecting people to come into Parliament. I'm conscious of the fallout, the  collateral damage to families when these circumstances break. You need to be sensitive about how you handle them."

On this subject, Hewson knows of what he speaks. Both Hewson and Jones forbore reminding viewers that he, as Liberal leader all those years ago, found his marital issues paraded before the nation when his former spouse fronted up on 60 Minutes with a basket of dirty laundry.

And in that Hewson example, there may be some comfort for the deputy PM. Twenty-six years after that unedifying spectacle, Hewson finds himself widely respected and still a vital voice in public debate. 

Indeed, as we saw last night, it's possible that after a time people will either not remember it happened or simply won't bother mentioning the former elephant in the political room.

So take heart, beleaguered Barnaby: there is life after scandal.