Glare of Q&A session exposes PM Turnbull's penchant for 'waffle'

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came under fire for his "meandering" performance during a Q&A session last night. Photo / File
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came under fire for his "meandering" performance during a Q&A session last night. Photo / File

Unable to hide behind the edits of a broadcast package or the nuance of a news story, Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull was last night exposed. Under the bright lights of Brisbane's Powerhouse studio and in front of its live audience for Q&A, his waffle had nowhere to hide.

Twitter users noticed it straight away. Mentions of Malcolm Turnbull's "waffle", "meandering", and "interrupting himself" began to accompany the #qanda hashtag almost as soon as the ABC broadcast went live. Q&A exposed one of the Prime Minister's biggest problems: Mr Turnbull can't seem to talk in a straight line.

Many of Mr Turnbull's answers last night began with "well, I, when, uh, can I just say ..."
Meandering from topics and introducing new arguments mid-sentence saw Mr Turnbull bring up former treasurer Peter Costello's budget record in a question about a 2020-21 return to surplus, clearly distracting from the point.

Stumbling over words in a clumsily formed answer has allowed the Opposition to seize on one of Mr Turnbull's unintended statements today. During the program he admitted there where "big cuts to hospital funding" in the Coalition's 2014 Budget, before backtracking to soften his language, saying he meant "big changes" instead.

The waffle first revealed itself during Malcolm Turnbull's first interview with Leigh Sales on 7.30 when he first claimed the top job. But during the campaign it's proved a real problem.

Travelling with Mr Turnbull's press pack, more than once I've seen a frustrated journalist pull out their earphones in frustration on a post press conference bus trip trying to find a good, succinct quote. At least once I've been that journalist.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came under fire for his "meandering" performance during the Q&A session last night. Photo / File
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came under fire for his "meandering" performance during the Q&A session last night. Photo / File

He'll start to say something and then become sidetracked and excited by another idea, detracting from the strong point he seemed to be about to make. We know what he's trying to say, but it has to be in his words. And I'm not complaining. Communicating messages reporters have the privilege of hearing first hand is a big part of our job.

But it's also supposed to be a big part of his, too. The clear, quick quotes you see inserted into stories or played on the evening news are often the result of reporters painstakingly combing through their notes, tapes and transcripts to find a quote that gets Mr Turnbull's message across clearly.
Last night, the Q&A audience experienced the frustration of having to decipher the meandering, distracted answers for themselves.

The job of the prime minister is not only to make decisions and enforce policy. It is to explain those decisions and communicate to people, clearly, why the government is spending their money the way it is. The job of a campaigning leader is even more reliant on communication. Clear messages and strong communication get people's attention.
They also get into the two minute news story that is about all most of us have the time and headspace to digest when considering which messages and policies we're on board with.

The Prime Minister has 10 days to clearly communicate his messages and convince Australians to vote his way in the election he's already boldly declared his Coalition government will win. For his sake and in the interest of fair decision making by voters, let's hope he finds his voice again by then.

- news.com.au

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