In an ongoing series of reports from the frontline of Federal Parliamentary Question Time, Norm Francis documents the extraordinary rudeness of Government and Opposition MP’s 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, Monday, 18 June 2007
The Government maintained its characteristic attacks on the ‘fitness’ of the ALP to govern by focusing on its untried economic credentials and its links to shady union ‘bosses.’ Meanwhile, the Opposition portrayed the Government as nothing more than a gaggle of shoddy, pork-barrel merchants and snake-oil salesman.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect for Australian citizens is the fact that all these adversarial assessments appear to be quite accurate.
Nothing is more certain than the need for an effective broadband service across Australia except, perhaps, for the sad certainties of global warming, carbon emissions and Australia’s ever-dwindling water supplies. However, it still has been remarkable to watch just how quickly the Government have become the true champions of the broadband concept.
In last week’s instalment, I reported that Member for Moncrieff, Steven Ciobo described the ALP broadband plan as communist. Given the near identical objectives of the Government plan, we wait with bated breath for Ciobo’s next anti-communist rampage to be targeted at the Prime Minister.
IN THE HANSARD
A sensational leaked email provided the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, with powerful ammunition to attack the PM. These attacks were well directed and delivered Rudd’s parliamentary confidence is noticeably expanding. With very stern conviction and purpose, the Opposition Leader looked every bit Prime Ministerial. The leaked email showed that the Government had already marked 40 marginal seats as a priority for its new broadband plan. The 40 seats were all Coalition-held marginal seats that are crucial to the Government’s re-election hopes. Without question it was a damaging leak that demonstrated the most blatant pork barrelling imaginable.
NOT IN THE HANSARD
Love him or loathe him, Howard must now be one of the most skilled parliamentary gladiators in the history of the Westminster system. (Whether this is a compliment or not will depend on your point of view.) He can turn day into night, and he can romance right and wrong into a myriad of endless greys. And he does it all with a most judicious choice of endlessly ingenious vocabulary. Repeatedly asked to defend the damaging email, nothing was able to stick to the PM he is pure political Teflon.
According to Hansard, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Joe Hockey, finally lived up to his role as the Government’s industrial relations hard man. Notwithstanding his unsuccessful attempts at wit, and ignoring the taunts of ‘Shrek,’ Hansard shows that Hockey came out fighting, armed with some substantial arguments.
NOT IN THE HANSARD
Prior to Hockey’s arrival at the dispatch box, the Leader of Opposition Business, Anthony Albanese, asked the Prime Minister to table a number of documents maps depicting areas that were to receive broadband under the Government’s latest plan. These documents had been handed to the PM while he was deflecting attacks over broadband and the leaked email. They were used to show the logic of the broadband plan, blunt the thrust of Rudd’s attacks, and mock the significance of the leaked email.
Once the Parliamentary clerks had handed the tabled documents to the Opposition front benches, derisive noise erupted. The maps were passed around and loud conversations ensued over their validity.
In between this noisy chatter and laughter Hockey tried to answer a Dorothy Dixer that had been dutifully delivered by the Member for Hasluck, Stuart Henry . Hockey’s words were strong, the message concise and clear, but no one from the Opposition was even remotely interested. Their conversations and loud comments about the broadband maps continued unabated. Hockey’s words may as well have been directed at the furniture.
One of the more unusual aspects of Parliament is that it provides an opportunity for MPs and Senators to use the Hansard to correct misrepresentations they believe have been made about them. The ‘Personal Explanations’ occur after the Government has moved that all further questions are placed on notice and Question Time promptly ends. This is normally a relatively uneventful time when MPs begin making their way out of the Chamber.
On this occasion, however, what it revealed about the Speaker, David Hawker, was instructive. When the Shadow Treasurer, Wayne Swan, sought to make a Personal Explanation, the Speaker provided him no protection from the remaining Government interjectors. Swan was addressing comments made earlier by the Treasurer, Peter Costello.
Swan was repeatedly interrupted by Government interjections and was unable to complete his Personal Explanation for some time.
NOT IN THE HANSARD
Nearly all of these interjections should have received a warning from the Speaker. But such was the lack of protection that something even more extraordinary occurred. The Treasurer, Peter Costello had begun to leave the Chamber. He had reached the middle stairs toward the Members Entrance when Swan sought leave to make his explanation. The Treasurer stopped and turned about face. He then proceeded to lean against one of the backbench partitions and began heckling Swan.
‘ What rubbish ,’ he said loudly, before eventually taking a seat all the time demonstrating the ineffectiveness the Speaker.
The old ALP warhorse Bob McMullan was astonished by the Speaker’s inaction:
I have a question to you, Mr Speaker. It relates to the interpretation of the Standing Orders. On each of the last two sitting days the Treasurer has interjected while standing in the corridor the last day from over there and today from over there
. In all the time I have been in Parliament I have only seen that done twice without a warning being given and those were those last two days. I ask you to reflect on whether you are going to allow the practice to continue without
At this point, Hockey loudly and courageously interjected against McMullan’s objections.
Once McMullan was able to finish his question, Albanese enquired of the Speaker:
Is it the case that before today 30 members on this side of the House had been asked to leave the House and only one member of the Government?
If this figure is true, one might conclude that the ALP’s behaviour is 30 times worse than the Government’s. However, this is untrue. Their behaviours are identical that is to say, equally poor. The only difference one can see is that the Speaker punishes one side to the letter of the law, while he gives a much more lenient interpretation to the other.
There are actually ignorant fools who hold the absurd idea that an independent Speaker (House of Representatives) and President (Senate) would enhance parliamentary democracy!
What they miss is that Australian Parliamentary democracy, as shown by Question Time, is a beautiful thing to behold.
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