For a show whose panellists regularly erupts into shouting matches over relatively trivial policy disagreements, ‘Q&A‘s decision to try and tackle the death of Bill Leak seemed like a pretty daring one.
The highly controversial cartoonist passed away from a suspected heart attack at the age of 61 last week, provoking an outpouring of tributes from conservative media outlets and politicians, and apparently eliciting celebration from a small number of his more extreme critics.
Leak was viewed by many on the right as a champion of free speech and he dedicated much of his final years to fighting against section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Leak himself was the subject of an 18C complaint over a cartoon that was viewed by many as racist and a large number of his other cartoons were criticised as being racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and insensitive to domestic violence victims.
On tonight’s panel, theatre director Neil Armfield said that he respected him but did not support his work:
“I knew Bill and I enjoyed his company, I respected him. I thought those cartoons in ‘The Australian‘ were despicable. I think that, as he grew older, he became more and more – for whatever reason – narrowed into a corner.
“I thought that he was playing into an attitude that was completely the attitude of the racist and the powerful, and that he was ignoring the inheritance of rage and pain that those social situations that he was excoriating in his cartoons are the result of. It’s a much more complex idea. I don’t celebrate his death.”
Kim Williams responded by saying that he didn’t believe Bill ever deliberately played into this and that the way it was received was perhaps not his intention:
I knew Bill for a very, very long period of time, I dont think Bill… Bill may have done some things in haste, but i dont think he ever did things for reasons of deliberate exaggerated… I don’t think he meant it that way. The impact was quite different.
At this point, the show was interrupted by members of the crowd who are off mic so kind of hard to hear but you can clearly make out “Bill Leak is racist” and “We won’t stand for it.”
The incident is very classily dealt with by guest host Tom Ballard, who tells them that he respects their passion and understands why they would object to this, but that they have to go on with the show.
You can catch some of the protest in the last 30 seconds of this clip:
And a bit more at the beginning of this one:
Source and photo: ABC.