Tony Abbott tells minsters to boycott TV talk show

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Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has told ministers to boycott a popular television talk show.

The Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC) was criticised after a former terror suspect was allowed on live television show Q&A two weeks ago.

Agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce, who was due to appear on the show last night has cancelled his slot, according to reports ­locally.

Mr Joyce’s office cited the prime minister’s order as the reason for the cancellation, it was reported in local media.

“The prime minister has communicated that he does not want any frontbencher to appear on Q&A,” a spokesman for Mr Joyce said yesterday.

The Q&A programme has prompted debate in Australia about national security and freedom of speech.

ABC last week conceded it was wrong to let Sydney man Zaky Mallah appear live on the programme to ask a question.

In 2005, Mallah was convicted of threatening to kill government officers but acquitted of terrorism charges.

From his position in the Q&A audience, he confronted parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, Steven Ciobo, about the government’s plans to strip dual nationals of citizenship if they supported terrorism. Mr Ciobo, who was a panel guest, told Mallah he was pleased to be part of a government “that would say that you were out of the country”.

Mallah angrily replied the government had “just justified to many Australian Muslims in the community tonight to leave and go to Syria and join [Islamic State] because of ministers like him”.

The ABC show allows audience members to put questions to a panel of figures from all sides of Australian political and social life.

High-profile politicians regularly appear on it.

Mr Joyce had said on Sunday he would be appearing on Q&A, before being told not to.

Speaking yesterday at a National Press Club address, Mr Joyce said “no threat was made” by Mr Abbott’s office, but it would have been nice to have received more notice.

“That’s life, you take it on the chin, he said, adding that Mr Abbott did not want ministers appearing on the show until an ABC review had been ­completed.

After Mallah appeared on the programme Mr Abbott said “heads should roll” and questioned ABC’s allegiance.

A self-styled media critic and Muslim activist, Mallah had previously been interviewed by several major Australian media outlets and international broadcasters.

More recently, his regular social media posts have attracted criticism, in part, because of crude and sexist references to several female journalists.

A government review led by the department of communications found the producers were aware of his criminal convictions but not his more recent derogatory social media posts when he was selected to ask a question.

Labour frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said that it was extraordinary for Mr Abbott to pass such an order.

He also urged Mr Joyce to stand up against the decision. “This is not Soviet Russia or even modern-day Korea, this is Australia, a democracy,” he said, adding: “We’ve got to ask ourselves why the prime minister is doing this.”