Question Time: 31 May 2007, 2:30- 3:35pm approx.
In the first of an ongoing series of reports from the frontline of Federal Parliamentary Question Time, Norm Francis documents the extraordinary rudeness of Government and Opposition MPs a rudeness that knows no bounds of immaturity and lacks any intellectualism. Much of this behaviour is captured in the Hansard each day, but, New Matilda brings you some of what Hansard misses.
House of Representatives, Thursday, 31 May 2007, 2:30-3:35pm approx.
While answering a question, the Treasurer, Peter Costello, was irritated that the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, had turned his back to confer with the Shadow front bench. Later he noticed an ALP Whip blocking the camera which films the Government dispatch box from a position located at the back of the Opposition benches.
The Treasurer quipped, ‘I welcome the fact the Whip is trying to block the camera up. Mr Speaker, could the sightscreen move to the right, please?’
NOT IN THE HANSARD
Just as Government laughter at the ‘sightscreen’ remark threatened to become an avalanche, ALP backbencher Dick Adams a gentleman of not inconsiderable size quickly stood up directly in front of the camera in question. The quick-thinking Adams stole the Treasurer’s thunder. In reaction to Adams’s self-deprecating humour, both sides were reduced to widespread laughter.
House of Representatives, Thursday, 31 May 2007 p 59
Tony Abbott (Minister for Health and Leader of Government Business in the Lower House) angrily sprung to the defence of a fellow Minister. Calling a point of order, he loudly demanded Julia Gillard ‘withdraw’ a ‘foul and offensive’ remark directed at the Minister for Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey.
Gillard ‘withdrew’ her remark to ‘facilitate’ the ongoing business of the House. Not good enough: so terrible was the remark that Abbott rose again to demand that Gillard withdraw ‘without qualification,’ which she did.
NOT IN THE HANSARD
Shortly after Abbott’s principled defence of Parliamentary standards, the Shadow Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett, asked a question of the Prime Minister on climate change. The volume of Government interjectors forced Garrett to accept a number of unacceptable pauses as, yet again, the lacklustre mumblings of the Speaker, David Hawker, failed to control the Government. One of the loudest interjectors from the Government front bench was (astonishingly!) the self-appointed guardian of Parliamentary decorum, Tony Abbott.
After Garrett was forced to begin his question for a second time, he referred to the policies of the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Liberal MP, Bob Baldwin, saw a marvellous opportunity to demonstrate his wit. He audibly scoffed to a nearby colleague, ‘Can you say that? œNegger ?’
This was the second attempt to mock the Governor’s surname. In response to an earlier question, which mentioned Schwarzenegger, the Prime Minister referred to him as the ‘Governator.’
Perhaps, Baldwin’s remark was a marvellously clever reference to the ES ‘Nigger’ Brown controversy of 2002. Brown was a legendary international Rugby League player from Queensland with a stand at the Toowoomba Athletic Oval named after him: the ES ‘Nigger’ Brown Stand. When a number of Aboriginal spokespeople took offence at the use of Brown’s nickname, the relevant Queensland authorities were outraged that anyone should actually complain about the word ‘nigger’ writ large on one of their stands.
The case found its way to the United Nations in 2003, and the UN ruled that the sign was offensive and should be removed. But the Toowoomba Sportsground Trust, Prime Minister John Howard and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie apparently saw no problem with use of the word ‘nigger,’ implying that the kerfuffle was yet another example of ‘Lefty’ political correctness gone mad.
After all, the word ‘nigger’ could only be offensive to a small number of un-Australian troublemakers (read ‘Indigenous Australians’) in Toowoomba and to the millions of ethnic Africans around the world. As Black Africans did not, at the time, have much of a demographic in Toowoomba, the only logical conclusion was: How the hell could anyone be offended by the word ‘nigger’?’
While it was decided that the stand in question would be pulled down for safety reasons and renamed, the Toowoomba Sportsground Trust has vowed to fight on. They intend to erect a memorial statue that includes the nickname ‘nigger.’ Trust Chairman John McDonald said, ‘His name will live on and his name was Nigger Brown.’
Actually, his real name was Edward Stanley Brown.
NOT IN THE HANSARD
Throughout Question Time the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer slumped in his seat like a bored, petulant schoolboy and showed obvious disinterest in taking the process seriously. Apart from his occasional interjections (he eventually received a warning from the Speaker) the Foreign Minister was just marking time.
So bored was Downer that he eventually removed his mobile phone from his jacket and began playing around with the keypad. This was a puzzling thing to do, as all mobile phones are banned from the House. Spectators in the public galleries are repeatedly told by security guards that mobile phones, even turned off, are not allowed. Furthermore, these spectators have waited for a considerable time to pass through security screens where many are forced to remove belts, shoes and other trivial items that set off the metal detectors.
Was Downer’s mobile phone usage for reasons of national security? Perhaps it was an important update from the US President on the latest phenomenally successful achievements of the US-led democracy in Iraq. This might have been the reason that Downer needed to share the contents of his mobile phone screen with the Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson
There’s no doubt about it Australian Parliamentary democracy, as shown by Question Time, is a beautiful thing to behold.
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