Teenage students school MPs on Q&A

The timing was accidental but also perfect.

In a period when the nation gawps daily at its capital and mutters "Who are the adults in the room?", Monday night's Q&A cut straight to the chase and handed the whole shebang over to the kids.

And the kids are all right.

For the second time this year, the nation's weekly clearing house for political argy-bargy and our most promising opportunity for screaming at the television instead inspired some cheering at the telly and a refreshingly low tolerance for political nonsense. The panel was graced by four high-school students, and the audience was all high-school students.

We can be thankful our education system has prepared them well for detecting the obvious - the elephants in the room. That would be the politicians in the vicinity, on this occasion the Coalition's Simon Birmingham and Labor's Tanya Plibersek, who shared panel duties with the teen brigade but mostly seemed superfluous. This is not an insult to the two MPs - they come across better than most, and were a useful fit for the format - but it was the students' night to shine.

It is not overstating things to say you will be hearing more about this quartet of thoughtful young Australians, so let's put their names in lights now: Geordie Brown, from Oxley High in Tamworth; Nadia Homem, from Burwood Girls High in Sydney; Arthur Lim, from Moorebank High in Sydney; and Lauren McGrath-Wild, from PLC Sydney.

Addressing the main elephant in the room, it was Nadia Homem who made the first cogent point - that she, as a dual citizen herself, would be forced by our 116-year-old constitution to make a choice between a political career and the equally sensible desire to retain her connection to the rest of the world.

Tony Jones asked: "Would you give away a political ambition if you knew you had to give up your dual citizenship?"

Homem: "It's something I would have to seriously consider if politics was a route I wanted to pursue, which at this point it is not. But to renounce dual citizenship would be, for me, personally something significant."

But the most immediately relevant contribution came from Geordie Brown, he being from Tamworth, home of our erstwhile former deputy prime minister and our most surprising Kiwi.

"I'm not necessarily sure it's a referendum that we need," Brown said.

"I think we just need responsible politicians who have the care to actually check if they are dual citizens??? For example, in my electorate, Barnaby Joyce was a member for parliament for 12 years. Over that 12 years, he was paid $2.8 million. And for me, that is just unacceptable. For me, that shows a level of disrespect to the office that he represents."

On this week's revelations of tax-dodging shenanigans by the rich and infamous, the students also held strong views.

Jones wondered just how far the idealism of Arthur Lim might extend.

"What if some rich client came to you one day and said, 'I'd like to put my money somewhere where I pay no tax or very little tax at all'. Probably legal but on the dark side. What would you say to them?"

"I don't plan on working in the tax world."

Jones: "Good answer??? Sounds like you're more into the political world?"

Lim: "Perhaps. I'd like to enter a field where I am confident that the work that I do is transparent, ethical and I'm not doing it to the detriment of other people. I think the tax minimisation strategies used by businesses, I think it falls almost on the dark side."

Remember: you, too, were that idealistic once. And much of Monday night's Q&A reminded us of this, with broad agreement on issues ranging from marriage equality to indigenous recognition. There was, refreshingly, little of the standard political biffo - among the students, anyway.

The Gonski reforms threw Birmingham and Plibersek head-to-head in more traditional fashion.

Plibersek: "How does The Kings School need more money? Seriously."

Birmingham: "If you're going to have a Gonski needs-based formula???"

Plibersek: "This isn't needs-based."

Birmingham: "That is the fourth time you've interrupted me."

Plibersek: "You can't make it up."

Tony Jones: "It's a good idea to let Simon finish his point."

Plibersek: "I've heard it all before. He makes stuff up."

It fell to one of the students to bring the argument home - respectfully - to the applause of the crowd.

Geordie Brown: "I want to interrupt very respectfully??? At the end of the day, the Australian public elected you as the Government and you are in a responsible position now to fix these problems but instead all you're doing is saying if we had Labor in, this would be the case. You weren't elected to play the blame game."

Consider yourself schooled, Canberra.

This story Teenage students school MPs on Q&A first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.