When I answered my ringing phone in early May, I had no idea that I was about to be offered the opportunity that every young politically-engaged Australian dreams of.
‘Hello Yassmin, I am so-and-so, one of the producers from QandA on the ABC…”
Almost had a heart attack!
The opportunity came up to be a part of the panel in mid-May, but a late confirmation from a well known politician (Queensland's own, Bob Katter) meant that I was briefly bumped from the line up. My rig job meant that the next two or three opportunities were also impossible. I didn't know if I should begin to despair: after all, one can only say 'no' so many times...
Eventually, we found a date that worked. August the 5th.
It was only confirmed a little over a week before the announcement: given the responsive nature of the show, panel members are drafted in quite close to the air date. The producers do an amazing job in this sense; sourcing and organising a new panel of people at such short notice week in, week out, must be exhausting.
So it was, on July 29th, the announcement of the 'next week's panel' that my name was announced...Ah! Let the games begin.
The ads were up and the news was out, but I still had no idea what to expect. I frantically began to read and research all manner of topics. I met with migration agents and department officials to learn about the true facts behind our asylum seeker and refugee policy, conducted little surveys via twitter and Facebook. Reading, reading, reading...
We were never given the questions that would be asked, but on the Friday before the show the producers send out an email with a variety of topic suggestions to the audience participants (related to the areas of interest for the panellists). This is to prompt questions from the audience. The topics were extremely varied - from the 'youth vote' (mine) to Fairfax to the umpiring decisions in cricket. My favourite topic of the moment, the PNG policy - not in sight!
At this point, I was simply holding my breath...
By some twist of luck, the election was announced on the Sunday afternoon. Just my luck :)
Monday rolled around and I hopped on the plane to Sydney (with 5 different outfit options to boot!). I dallied around a little, had a chat to the producers on the phone and began to get dressed. Admittedly, it took a few goes to settle on the option I did, but my op-shop-red-jacket is a favourite. The white dove brooch? Totes the statement piece!
So. Dressed. Break my fast (it was still Ramadan). Pray, ask for forgiveness and a little bit of on-screen luck.
Next stop, ABC Studios.
8pm - I head into the make up room. I say hello to fellow panel member Greg Hunt on the way in. 'He seems like a nice enough chap', I think. 'I wonder what he'll be like on the panel!'
The make up lady - Maureen - was fabulous. She was actually married to a race car driver who raced against the likes of Martin Brundle and so on in the UK. Naturally, we talked cars and got on like a house on fire! It was ironic that two ladies in a makeup room were waxing lyrical about Chevvy Stingrays and Fastbacks. She highlighted my cheekbones, left my lipstick as it was and sent me on my way...
8.30pm - Green Room, meeting the fellow panellists.
I was clearly the new kid on the block - each politician had their handler ('media advisor'), and Pamela and Grahame had history with everyone else. I introduced myself to everyone ('shaking hands, hello hello), and they were all lovely. I suspect Morris spent the time wondering when my parents (or babysitter) were going to arrive...
They all had a good yarn. I interjected every so often with not-so-wise pearls of wisdom ('Oh yeh! I know right?!') and wondered what lay ahead. Doug Cameron and Grahame Morris seemed to get on pretty well for ideologically diametrically opposed individuals. The scene reminded me of the idea 'enemies in the house, drinking mates once the business is done'. Ah, Australia! They laughed together and agreed on their roles. 'I need someone to fight with' Morris had said. Cameron was more than happy to acquiesce to be his on-screen-enemy.
(I am not sure everyone is that good natured about it all. Wong vs Pyne - I would like to see their Green Room interaction indeed!).
We were told we had 90 seconds to go. I left my bag, phone (!!) and got in line to head to the studio...
We got into our seating order and were individually introduced to the crowd as we took our seats. I was right next to Tony. This was it!
(Right next to Tony is a button. It's red, and has the label, 'The God Button'. Oh, I wish I got a photo. I wonder if he's ever had to use it? Probably at the shoe throwing incident...)
There were only a few minutes between us being seated and going on air. Maureen and the makeup army came back on stage and 'powdered our noses'... then 5, 4, 3...
Tony Jones' introduction began!
Oh wow. Can I be perfectly honest and say that my heart has never beat as fast as it did during that first question? I don't even remember what it was about or who asked it.
All I could think of was 'right now Yassmina, you're on TV!! Don't do anything stupid! Don't fidget! Stay coooooool!'. I am pretty sure Tony could hear the Da-dunk, da-dunk... In fact, I'm actually surprised it doesn't come up as background noise in the filming.
Off it went. I wasn't asked any direct questions off the bat (thank goodness!) but by the time Hunt had finished his answer to the first question, my pulse had settled down slightly and I had forgotten about the cameras. 'This is just like any other random panel', I told myself 'Except I am surrounded by people that are talking and not making ANY sense! Let me have a word to them about this...'
It was a fair bit of electioneering, as one would expect. Being pretty disillusioned at the moment at the disgusting amount of partisan politics that is going, I had no agenda other than to say - 'no, stop! We (the people!) want wholesome, meaningful answers! Stop treating us without respect!'
A good friend/mentor/amazing woman in general, Anne Summers, who has been on the panel before, had given me the advice not to stay quiet. 'Just jump in if you have something to say, otherwise you won't get any airtime at all'. Another friend had said 'just smile', and my mother cautioned 'don't try be anyone you're not - just be yourself and be genuine, otherwise people will see right through it.'
Those are the three bits of advice I remembered and channeled - and boy, I was so happy to be there I had no problem keeping a smile on the dile Alhamdulilah! (I would actually call it a grin. A smile is much more demure...I was just flashing the pearls with pure abandon!). I jumped in whenever I thought they were talking rubbish (often) and tried to talk to the panel members in the same way that I would argue with the boys on the rig (perhaps with less invective though).
I haven't rewatched the episode or even remember what I said, but I remember feeling more comfortable as the night went on. It only felt like 20 minutes had passed when Tony wrapped it up. 'That's all for tonight...'
It was all over!!
We shook hands and meandered back to the Green Room for liquid and solid refreshment...
The feedback from the panel members was lovely, and Tony Jones welcomed me to the 'QandA family'. It's a family I am darn well excited and honoured to be a part of!
So thank you Allah! Also to Tony Jones and the producers who were so kind - Amanda and Christine. To the fellow panelists, the make up ladies, my parents, mates (Richard from Richard's F1 who came along and supported!) and every single one of my mates - even those on the rigs! - who watched and wished me luck and supported :) I couldn't have done it without you all! Let's see where this crazzzy journey takes us next aye?!
If you missed the episode, you can read the transcript or download it here! :D