Two people have pulled out of tonight's Q&A panel in the wake of the Zaky Mallah affair

And then there were 4 – two panellists have withdrawn from the original line up for Q&A tonight.

Tony Abbott’s parliamentary secretary, Alan Tudge, has become the first government MP to withdraw from the ABC’s Monday night live talk panel show, Q&A, in the wake of last week’s controversy over convicted criminal Zaky Mallah being allowed in the audience.

Tudge announced his withdrawal via an opinion piece in The Australian today, saying “I don’t think it’s appropriate I attend while a formal government review of last week’s program is in progress.”

Now, Nick Cater, executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, and a former editor at The Weekend Australian, has pulled out of tonight’s show saying he has to protect the reputation of the conservative think tank.

In a letter to the show’s executive producer, obtained by The Australian, Cater said “Given that the ABC has failed to apologise unequivocally for giving an open microphone to a convicted criminal and terrorist sympathiser on last week’s Q&A, I will no longer be participating in tonight’s program.”

Cater told The Australian that Sunday’s heated interview between journalist Barrie Cassidy and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull on ABC TV’s Insiders program was “the last straw”.

Yesterday Turnbull said Cassidy had “lost the plot” after he asked the minister if there was a difference between allowing Mallah in the studio audience and a shopping centre.

The two withdrawals have left the program with just four of the usual six panelists: Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, NSW Labor MP Tanya Plibersek, counter-terrorism expert Dr Anna Aly and physicist Lawrence Krauss.

The ABC approached Malcolm Turnbull to appear on the show tonight after Tudge withdrew, but he has also declined. A snap review by Turnbull’s department into the program is due to be handed over on Tuesday. The ABC is also holding a review into the issue, but prime minister Tony Abbott said he fears it will be a “whitewash” and said “heads should roll” after the show was aired for a second time last Wednesday.

In his column today, Tudge said Mallah “sounds remarkably like” Lindt Cafe gunman Man Haron Monis.

“When given the microphone on Q&A he used it to his advantage, providing a chilling justification for terrorists that came perilously close to incitement. This is exactly what extremists across the world seek: media attention to magnify their message,” the MP wrote.

“Look back at the NSW Supreme Court case against Mallah and you see that the judge warns against giving him media exposure, saying that placing such a person in the spotlight is likely ‘to encourage him to embark on even more outrageous behaviour’.”

“A mistake of this magnitude and seriousness requires more than an expression of regret, a weak justification from the managing director and silence from the board,” Tudge wrote.

Last week, defence minister Kevin Andrews said he would boycott the show.

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