LABOR powerbroker Mark Arbib cancelled a scheduled appearance on national television last night on the orders of Julia Gillard.
The influential right-wing NSW senator was due to appear on the ABC’s Q&A program but was pulled by the Prime Minister, who said now was “not a time for campaign analysis”.
Senator Arbib was due to join former Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, independent MP Tony Windsor, Labor identity Graham Richardson and The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen on the panel.
It was likely that Senator Arbib, who helped organise the numbers against Kevin Rudd in favour of Ms Gillard in June, would have been asked about the coup and whether that hurt Labor’s election chances. Ms Gillard said she had offered backbencher David Bradbury, who holds a narrow lead in the western Sydney seat of Lindsay, to represent the Labor team on the panel.
“I have made it clear that this is not a time for campaign analysis,” the Prime Minister said in a statement.
“The focus of Labor’s ministerial team must be on providing stable and effective government and discussing Labor’s positive plan for the nation’s future.
“Consequently I have requested and Senator Arbib has agreed to not appear on Q&A . . . I have requested Labor backbencher David Bradbury to represent the Labor team on the panel.”
Mr Bradbury did not respond to the The Australian’s request for comment.
The ABC told The Australian it would have breached the broadcaster’s editorial independence policy to accept Mr Bradbury as a replacement, given the government had directed that he be the replacement.
Q&A executive producer Peter McEvoy said in a letter to the Prime Minister last night that Senator Arbib would be “represented by an empty chair at the Q&A desk”.
The ABC said Q&A host Tony Jones received a call from Senator Arbib at 4.06pm — 5 1/2 hours before the live broadcast.
Jones told The Australian this was the first time in the program’s three-year history a political party had pulled one of its members off the panel.
“At this late stage it’s somewhat distressing and obviously hard to work around,” Jones said.
“It doesn’t say a great deal for public accountability . . . we can see from this that public debate has been restrained.”