Zaky Mallah, the former terrorism suspect at the centre of the Q&A storm, travelled to the studio in a free bus the program puts on to take audience members from Sydney’s western suburbs, an ABC spokesman has said.
The explanation came after Mallah told 2GB he was taken in a shuttle bus from Parramatta.
The spokesman said the bus run was a regular feature to transport members of the audience from the west to the Ultimo studio and carried 30-40 people.
The ABC continued to come under strident government attack over Q&A allowing Mallah to be there and ask a question. Mallah was acquitted in 2005 of plotting a terrorist attack in 2003. He was convicted of threatening to kill ASIO officers.
ABC managing director Mark Scott, who by coincidence was in Canberra on Wednesday to brief the cross-party parliamentary friends of the ABC on regional services, had a torrid day.
Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic attended the meeting to say Q&A should be taken off air and compere Tony Jones should be suspended.
Nationals MP Andrew Broad recounted how he had carried the coffin of a relative killed in the Bali bombings.
Broad said later that he had just wanted Scott “to understand the seriousness of terrorism and the consequences it has on families affected”. He liked Q&A, which had an opportunity to lift the quality of political and policy discussion. But there were some voices the program should not give a platform to, he said.
Earlier, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton accused ABC staff of running a “protection racket” on behalf of Q&A.
“I haven’t heard any ABC journalists say that Mr Jones has apologised, that there is a problem, that Q&A producers do have a case to answer,” Dutton said in an ABC interview. “Instead there’s this protection racket that’s being run.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott continued his assault. He said that in 2005 when Mallah was sentenced, the sentencing judge had deplored the platform that the media had given him. “Now, of course, our supposed national broadcaster is giving a platform to someone who hates us, hates our way of life, supports the terrorists who would do us harm,” Abbott said.
“Again, I say, the issue for the ABC, our national broadcaster, is, whose side are you on? Because all too often the ABC seems to be on everyone’s side but Australia’s.”
As the debate about Q&A raged, Dutton introduced into parliament the legislation to strip citizenship from dual nationals engaged in terrorist-related activities.
Under the legislation, there are three circumstances in which dual nationals involved with terrorism would lose their Australian citizenship.
A person would renounce their citizenship if they engaged in specified terrorist-related conduct.
A person would cease to be a citizen if they fought for, or were in the service of, a declared terrorist organisation.
A person would cease to be a citizen if they were convicted of a specified terrorism offence.
The government has dropped its earlier plan to have the immigration minister make the decision, because that was considered unconstitutional. Instead, the person’s conduct would trigger the loss. There would be the right of court appeal.
The bill will be examined by the parliamentary committee on intelligence and security. One issue to be considered is whether the legislation should be retrospective.
Delivering the Magna Carta lecture on Wednesday night, Abbott said: “The only difference between medieval barbarism and Daesh [Islamic State] rule is that the beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and sexual slavery are now recorded for social media.
"Australians should never abandon our freedoms in order to defend them, but defend them we must,” Abbott said.
“Arguably, the greatest freedom of all is the freedom to live without fear and dread – particularly the fear, and the morbid fascination with evil, that’s at the heart of this darkness.”
Abbott said that stripping citizenship from terrorists who were dual nationals “could mean that up to 50% of those who have gone to the Middle East to fight can’t come back”.
Meanwhile, Abbott has distanced himself from the Victorian Liberals using the threat of terrorism to raise funds.
Fairfax reported that the Victorian party had sent out an email, authorised by state director Simon Frost, saying that with a federal election due next year donations were “critical to allow the Abbott government to continue on with the job of keeping Australia safe”.
A spokesman for Abbott said: “The Prime Minister and his office had no knowledge of the email sent by the Victorian State Division of the Liberal Party. If the Prime Minister had been aware, he would have stopped it.”