On Monday night’s Q&A, the panel debated whether footnotes should be attached to public statues – and in the case of Tony Abbott, whether footnotes should be attached to public siblings.
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This is the particular challenge that confronts Christine Forster, the panellist whose lot in life is to be a leading marriage equality advocate whose brother Tony carries with him an air of modernity roughly on a par with that of Captain Cook.

One is long dead, one is very much alive, but both men are set in stone with feet of clay – and when it comes to dealing with the stone-cold reality of Captain Abbott, Forster is forced into displays of great dexterity.

Sometimes it gets confusing.

Christine Forster says brother Tony Abbott is ‘scaremongering’ over the marriage equality vote. Photo: ABC

On Q&A, she found herself with a Tony to the left of her (Tony Burke, of the Labor Party) and a Tony to the right of her (Tony Jones, panel wrangler).

She also had a George to deal with, this being Attorney-General Brandis, with whom she was in agreement on the question of religious protections in any legislation that results from the nation’s much-loved postal survey on marriage equality.

It began with this point from Tony Jones: “Tony Abbott, he says the advocates for change haven’t finalised what they think are fair protections, so he’s clearly laying the groundwork for an argument about the protections during the course of this debate.”

Forster dived in bravely. “George has covered that off,” she began, before accusing her brother of “scaremongering”, and then adding: “Tony is 100 per cent right”.

Tony Jones: “Which Tony?”

“This Tony. The one that’s on my left, not the one from my right, who’s not here. Not you.”

Jones: “It’s a bit confusing, isn’t it?”

Forster: “Too many Tonys. But this is a simple question about whether or not you agree that all ns should be equal before the legislation that we have in place that governs marriage. Nothing more than that. That’s the end of the story.”

The panel clashed over public statues and Day. Photo: ABC

End of the story? Not if Tony has anything to say about it. And while there may occasionally be too many Tonys in this debate, there is only one who seems hellbent on making the life of everyone around him – his colleagues, his sister – a misery.

Not that Christine Forster describes him this way.

She somehow summons the grace to separate Captain Abbott – perhaps the most divisive political figure of his time – from her brother Tony, of whom she can say: “The point about Tony and I is we are family, we’re siblings.Family relationships, I think, generally speaking transcend politics.At the end of the day, we’ll still be family, still love each other and we’ll continue to live together.”

Good luck to the Abbotts. But what about the national family, whose divisions were also laid bare on Q&A as the panel debated questions of Day, and of those statues that are suddenly front and centre of discussions over how we deal with history and national identity?

There was the questioner who had recently returned from living in London to find herself shocked that people speak foreign languages.

“On the trains I’m surrounded by non-English speakers and buildings named in foreign languages with English subtitles. I’m concerned my seven generations of family and history has been pushed aside. How can we ensure the Aussie spirit and culture that made this country great is not lost?”

Jacquie Lambie is worried white is losing its culture. Photo: ABC

This was a question incoherent enough to warrant an equally incoherent reply from Jacqui Lambie, the senator from Tasmania: “I, too, I am like you – I’m worried about our culture, our ethics, our grassroots, our moral upbringing and all the rest because I think we’re starting to lose that. I think it’s becoming wafer thin. It’s scares the hell out of me. I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t know what my kids are going to face in 20, 25 years, when they get to my age.”

It was not entirely clear what she meant but Lambie’s fellow panellist, the indigenous singer Dan Sultan, had a stab at it.

“Yeah, heaven forbid you lose your culture,” he said.

Lambie: “You know, I mean, you know, you can go on about Anzac Day, and you are right, Anzac Day is a big day to celebrate. But, you know, what are we going to have for these guys? It’s like Vietnam Veterans Day, Borneo Day, enough. We should celebrate this once. If we lost men and women to war, then we have one one day, Anzac Day. Day is the same, everybody needs to put their differences aside. You know what – someone else will pick another day and then someone, there’ll be a minority group say, we don’t like that day. When is this going to stop? When are we going to stop fighting and arguing??? “

Sultan: “When we start talking about it, when we come together. January 26 is the wrong day.”

Lambie: “We have been talking about it. We have been talking about it for years. It’s like reconciliation. And I don’t agree with you. That is the Day. That’s the way it goes. Just because it doesn’t suit a minority, the rest of us should not have to pay the price.”

Pay the price for what?

Lambie did not say. In modern , it’s apparently polite not to ask.


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