As Q&A starts its seventh year, host Tony Jones remains hopeful Tony Abbott may bring to an end his long-running and much criticised absence from the popular ABC program.
The Prime Minister has made a flurry of appearances across talkback radio and TV in the past few weeks in an attempt to overcome a negative reaction to his government's first budget (not to mention the notorious wink that went viral).
Will Tony Abbott return to Q&A?
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Will Tony Abbott return to Q&A?
The last time Tony Abbott appeared on the ABC program was in 2010 and host Tony Jones says he's hopeful the Prime Minister will return to the show.
Polling has indicated that the budget is deeply unpopular, with the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll, showing Labor leading the Coalition in two-party preferred terms by 56 to 44 per cent.
The Prime Minister last fronted the show in August 2010, but Jones believes treasurer Joe Hockey's solo appearance last week may have sharpened Abbott's appetite for a return visit.
"The Joe Hockey appearance might actually convince him [Abbott] that it is a good idea," said Jones. "To our immense regret he did not come on during the last election campaign."
While Hockey at times appeared uncomfortable trying to sell his controversial budget to the studio audience, Jones said politicians of any stripe who were prepared to answer questions with relative candour would always be given credit by the Q&A audience.
“The direct speakers get a tremendous boost from public opinion," he said. "You can see it reflected in all the social media outlets and in the way the audience in the studio responds.
"We really hope Tony Abbott gets that message because he was once one of the best performers on the Q&A panel because he was a direct speaker. He had views sometimes members of the audience didn’t like but he used to win them over."
Q&A’s profile has never been higher following the Hockey appearance and the now notorious student protest against Education Minister Christopher Pyne earlier this month.
Despite the surge in publicity on the back of the rowdy scenes, Jones remains unhappy about the incident.
"I always regret when someone interrupts the show," he said.
The students missed a prime opportunity to quiz Pyne and publicise their grievances because of their behaviour.
"They had submitted questions to us – very good questions – and we actually chose two or maybe three of them without having a clue that they were part of an organised group," said Jones. "That was the opportunity they had and, to be honest, I think they blew it."
Security has now been tightened with identification checks to reduce the chances of a repeat incident.
Jones said he addresses the studio audience before each recording, asking for civility but also stressing that questioners will get the chance to ask supplementaries if they are unhappy with the answers they receive.
"The program provides the opportunity to be quizzical – not only to ask questions but to ask follow-up questions and, to a certain degree, debate the answers. They are always pretty much the most dramatic and interesting moments.
"[But] this is not a program about who has the loudest voice. A town hall format just doesn’t work if a group of people try to shout down another group of people."