Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s appearance on Thursday’s panel of The Project began with a clumsy rap and a joke about Tupac. Then things took a turn for the awkward.
Host Waleed Aly asked the PM about whether he thought pop singer Macklemore should be allowed be sing his hit song Same Love during the Grand Final show at the NRL this weekend, a choice which former Prime Minister Tony Abbott openly rallied against this week.
“He should perform whatever he wants to perform,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It’s the halftime entertainment at the Grand Final. They have got a great artist. He will sing his top hits, that’s one of them, that’s great.”
The pop singer’s song choice has been yet another hot button topic setting the same sex marriage debate alight with opinion and outrage, thrusting it directly into the AFL and NRL and the Grand Final weekend.
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It seemed like the conversation was going smoothly. Sport. Music. Banter.
But then things changed. When Prime Minister Turnbull asserted he is “a free speech person”, Waleed went in for a line of questioning Australians have been wanting to hear for weeks.
“At the start of this process, I recall you saying you really believed Australia could have a civil debate. Why did you think Australia could have a civil debate when your own party couldn’t?”
Turnbull started his answer with: “Waleed, that is so wrong.”
(Prime Minister, we’re sorry, but Waleed is never really ‘wrong’.)
“There have been a few ugly incidents in the debate about legalising same-sex marriage. The vast majority of people — the vast, 99.99 per cent — have dealt with this issue respectfully and civilly as Australians do.
“I have enormous respect for the good sense, the common sense, the respect, the decency of the Australian people, their maturity and they are demonstrating that and confirming that by having a sensible discussion about same-sex marriage.”
That's when things got less chirpy.
“I have to say, I really disagreed with you when you basically said Australians weren’t grown up enough to have a say in whether same-sex marriage should be legal," the Prime Minister told Waleed. "We will see what the people have to say. I respect the people."
Waleed wasn't having it.
"If we're going to do this, let's get serious," he began.
“We have seen assaults over this. We have seen people waking up daily, people who have gone back to counselling, people who have said they feel like they were back in high school.
"I didn’t mean to go down this path. Since you are attacking me. Don’t you have to own up to that? Don’t you have to say; 'that stuff is going on, it’s real, and it’s directly caused by the fact that we are having this conversation'?”
It's a question hundreds of Australians have been asking since the moment the national same sex marriage survey was confirmed to be going ahead.
And one the Prime Minister struggled to answer.
A message for Malcolm Turnbull about the same-sex marriage plebiscite. Post continues below.
"You're saying that because a tiny percentage of Australians will behave uncivilly and disrespectfully, that means the vast majority of Australians aren't entitled to have their say," the Prime Minister said.
Waleed fired back: "I never said people are not entitled to have their say, but I said the consequence of doing this will be some real nastiness."
The Prime Minister tried to compare this nastiness to the 'nastiness' seen at federal elections. He cited the democratic process - that every one should have a vote. And, though he admitted the same sex marriage survey "doesn't have a precedent" he still believes the "vast majority of Australians have embraced it with enthusiasm and good humour".
Waleed didn't have a chance to respond - time was running out - but all of us were left wondering:
Just where is this "vast majority" the Prime Minister keeps referring to? And what about the people waking up to bullying and abuse and seeking out psychological help - not because of their political leanings, but because of their sexuality? The Prime Minister never really gave an answer.