Hamish Macdonald’s return to The Project forces Ten to dump Peter van Onselen from show
Just 18 months after he quit Network Ten to host the ABC’s Q+A, Hamish Macdonald is going back to The Project – forcing Ten to dump Peter van Onselen from the show to make way for him.
Macdonald, 40, had a bruising experience in the high-profile ABC role, which saw him replace founding Q+A host Tony Jones, and he retreated from Twitter and Instagram last year saying he had “never had more abuse”.
“And the abuse has come from leftwing people who don’t like you asking difficult questions of Dan Andrews, and it’s come from people on the right who don’t like you asking difficult questions of the federal government,” he told News Corp.
Two days after the surprise ABC announcement he had quit, Ten announced he would return in September as co-host with Lisa Wilkinson of The Project on Fridays and Sundays, as well as a roving reporter role.
“I am over the moon to be returning to 10 and thrilled about the opportunity to make great local and international content with this dynamic group of producers and presenters,” Macdonald said.
“It is also a total joy to be heading back to the desk with Lisa, Tommy and the people I love so much.
“Finding innovative ways to tell stories from Australia and around the world is what I love doing and I can’t wait to get stuck into it.”
Dogged by flagging ratings as Q+A struggled in a new time slot on a Thursday, Macdonald had enough and asked to be released from his contract. The ABC agreed, an unusual move in the middle of the TV season. ABC viewers, used to 12 years of Monday nights with a news and current affairs line up of Australian Story, Four Corners, Media Watch and Q+A, complained loudly about the change.
Van Onselen, who filled Macdonald’s seat at the Project desk when he defected to the ABC in 2019, was told by Ten news executives last week he was to be moved aside for the prodigal son.
Sources say he was happy not to work on Sundays and had earlier asked to cut back on his workload.
The Australian columnist who has numerous academic roles, remains as the network’s Canberra political editor but will only appear on The Project occasionally.
Although the ratings for Q+A fluctuate according to Covid lockdowns and the political climate, the show did attract higher ratings when Macdonald was absent and there were fill-in hosts including Virginia Trioli, David Speers and Stan Grant.
The program was targeted for poor ratings in 2021 when it was coming off a high for the show in 2020 during Covid. However, in 2019 the numbers were higher with Jones at the helm in its original Monday night slot.
The head of popular factual at Ten, Sarah Thornton, said Macdonald was “part of our family here at The Project, and we are thrilled to welcome him home”.
“Hamish is an outstanding journalist and his skill and passion as a broadcaster make him a valued addition to our hosting line-up on The Project,” she said.
It’s the third stint at Ten for Macdonald who returned from overseas to work with George Negus on a news program after winning the British Royal Television Society’s young journalist of the year award in 2008 for his work at Al Jazeera English.
Macdonald is an accomplished broadcaster who was widely praised for his coverage of the 2020 bushfires and his radio interviews on Radio National’s Breakfast.
He also hosted the Reef Live event, filed for Foreign Correspondent.
ABC news director Gaven Morris said Macdonald’s experience and versatility was obvious during the difficult Covid conditions. “At one stage during the lockdown he was presenting a live panel discussion program that wasn’t allowed to have either an audience or panellists in the studio,” Morris said.
Q+A will continue this year with rotating hosts depending on what city it is broadcast from. It will return next year but a change of time slot is under consideration if it doesn’t stabilise.