01/02/2016 5:09 AM AEDT | Updated 28/09/2016 9:55 PM AEST

The A To Z Of 'Q&A': What Tony Jones Needs To Focus On This Year


'Q&A' is always getting into trouble. Tony Jones spent a lot of time in the naughty corner last year. So he must be happy that the editorial review of the program (released in December) found it to be "a responsible, professional production" overall.

Of course, there were still a few issues and recommendations, one of which concerned gender balance. The reviewers, Ray Martin and Shaun Brown, found "the representation and participation of females on 'Q&A' panels was significantly below that of their male counterparts."

In September, it was announced that the ABC would be filming a Bill Shorten 'Q&A' special in my home-town of Ballarat. I immediately applied to be part of the audience. After all, politics is my second favourite thing, right after yoghurt. Also, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to be in the same room as the 'Silver Fox'.

A couple of days later I received an email headed "Tony Jones wants your questions!" I considered the most popular topics: the China Free Trade Agreement, Malcolm Turnbull, union hoo-hah. Although these all felt important, I decided that my question needed to be somewhat personal.

This is what I came up with:

Two years ago, I stood in the hail with my two children and a group of other protestors to show the then-premier, Denis Napthine, that we 'Gave a Gonski'. But do you think that allocating government funding for education according to individual student needs is enough, or should Australia look to Finland for inspiration and do away with private schools all-together?

It wasn't particularly pro-Labor or anti-Labor -- it was just an open question about an issue that I felt deserved discussion.

The day before filming I was informed that my question had been shortlisted. I felt very pleased and slightly ill. By the following day this had morphed into slightly pleased and very ill. As I took my seat in the Federation University auditorium, I tried to be calm and 'in the moment' and concentrate on the serious discussion taking place. But the booms were looming, and when it was my turn to stand up and speak I just about vomited onto the man sitting in front of me. I tell you what, it's hard to ask an important question when there is not a drop of saliva in your mouth.

Anyway, I did get through it, after which Shorten gave me a detailed answer about Labor's commitment to Gonski and added that he didn't see any need to abolish the private school system. I wasn't surprised by his view, but hoped that my question might start a few conversations about education in households around the country.

When I woke up the next morning, the first thing I did was watch 'Q&A' (which my husband had kindly taped). Obviously I wanted to see if my hair looked amazing (it didn't) and if my reading was calm and confident (it wasn't), but I also wanted to show my children their mother as political activist. "Look," I said, when my face appeared on the screen, "I'm grilling the Leader of the Opposition!"

After this, I fast-forwarded to the end of the show so the kids could hear Bill Shorten list Labor's "five key ideas"; in particular, this one: "If this nation does nothing else in the next 15 years but treats women equally, we're home. We've got a good future." Now, I'm not an overly sensitive person -- I don't ooh at kittens sleeping on babies -- but these words caused a single tear to drop out of my left eye.

Straight after the viewing, my eight-year-old daughter announced that she was making a list. Under the heading "Things I want to do before I'm 30" she wrote: "Finish my scarf, publish a book, touch a penguin, learn to swim, be PM".

So, 'Q&A', there you go. Invite more women to appear on the program. Hopefully 2016 will be a better year for you -- and maybe Tony will get a gold star instead of time out.