Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Step Right Up Folks! Step Right Up!

Are you following along at home:

On Friday in parliament a Labor member, Kelvin Thomson, gets stuck into former Nationals leader John Anderson, over AWB. Tony Abbott interjects Thomson's speech with a motion - and I quote - "That that snivelling grub over there be not further heard." When the Opposition demands he withdraw the motion, Abbott - ever so witty, ever so droll - says: "If I have offended grubs, I withdraw unconditionally."

The Deputy Speaker - a Liberal - accepts this "apology" as tantamount to a re-wording of the original motion, that the member be no longer heard - the usual form of motion - and it is obviously supported with the government majority.

Later, Manager of Opposition Business Julia Gillard asks the Speaker, David Hawker, asks to clarify if it is acceptable, as in implicit in the Deputy Speaker's ruling, that when asked to withdraw "without reservation" a statement made in parliament, saying something along the lines of Abbott's frightfully amusing retort counts as a valid form of withdrawal. Hawker, obviously saving face for Abbott, does not explicitly rule either way.

So Gillard, cheeky monkey that she is, makes the same original "grub" interjection against Abbott today, and when asked to withdraw "without reservation", offers the same "withdrawal" as Abbott - ie about offending grubs.

The Speaker claims this is not adequate but Gillard, correctly, insists that she has acted in accordance with the Speaker's original ruling. She refuses to re-word her withdrawal.

Naturally, Abbott moves a motion for Gillard to be removed from parliament and is successful.

The AAP report of this claims that Gillard was kicked out for calling Abbott a "snivelling grub" but strictly speaking, that's not correct.

So, Gillard: cheeky? petty? clever? foolish? all? neither?

A fairly silly stunt, one she would have known would likely end up this way, but she does raise a valid point.

Even by senior Liberal minister standards, Abbott is egregiously arrogant when performing in parliament. He can be so because he has the numbers to be protected, both by fellow Coalition members as well as a speaker known to be corruptive, incompetent and shamefully biased in this role.

But it's not like this is unique to the Libs. The trash Paul Keating got away with in parliament with the aid of a compliant speaker was pretty outrageous too.

This is why both the major parties never seriously float or examine the idea of an independent speaker. They know that when in opposition a partisan speaker is a pain in the arse, but when in government, and the speaker's one of theirs, he or she's a positive boon.

South Australia briefly had a good thing going with a speaker, Bob Such, who was an ex-Liberal-turned-Independent nominted to the position after the Peter Lewis debacle. From what I heard and read, Such did the job he was employed to do - to ensure parliamentary rules and procedures were implemented and adhered to by both sides, and with reprimands issued equally or at least based on behaviour, rather than the political affiliations of the wrong-doers.

Hawker's a disgrace, but he's only symptomatic of a broader problem: a steady decline in the standards of our political representatives during Question Time. I don't know when the rot began in earnest - maybe during the Fraser or Hawke years - but it's certainly been exacerbated during the reign of Keating and especially Howard. Even the Senate, which is usually meant to be the more restrained, "professional" chamber, is now a circus since the Coalition majority has ensured no genuinely open and democratic dialogue between the government, opposition and minor parties. Absolute power and all that.

It's a pity Gillard's had to resort to such a cheap stunt to make a point, and I don't think it will actually be picked up by most people - they'll just read the part where she was expelled for "calling Abbott a grub". But this could be the perfect opportunity to float the possibility of an independent speaker, which could in turn be a significant step towards restoring some semblance of decorum and maturity in the House. After all, it couldn't get much worse - could it?


At 1/6/06 10:32 am, Anonymous bazza said...

I think Julia Gillard was testing the water by her action, and accordingly has it recorded.
Bring the woman on!

At 1/6/06 10:48 am, Blogger Splatterbottom said...

Go Gillard.

It was Howard who promised us reform of the speaker's role and independence for the speaker.

As usual he was just lying to get some votes. He never attempted to implement his proposal.

At 1/6/06 10:57 am, Blogger Sam said...

Praise for Gillard, SB? You must be getting soft in your old age :P

You're absolutely right though. It was just another Howard lie, a "promise" that was washed away when it became too hard to implement, much like his ministerial code of conduct which initially led to mass sackings of all his incompetent/corrupt ministers. These days they just seem get a promotion instead.

At 1/6/06 2:40 pm, Blogger Splatterbottom said...

Sam, I like Gillard. She is straightforward and logical.

My favourite jibe to the left is that both they and John Howard would like to see her as Labor leader.

If she dissociates herself from the left faction, she could be quite a successful leader.

I don't understand how anyone who is offended by lying, or racism, or corrupt practices, or targeting of vulnerable groups of people can support Howard.

At 1/6/06 4:28 pm, Blogger Sam said...

But SB, maybe it says something positive about the ALP Left that it attracts such high-quality politicians like Gillard (or for that matter, Lindsay Tanner, Carmen Lawrence etc)?

It's not like she fell into that faction by accident and is now desperate to get out of it (she could after all have defected to the Labor right by now, as several ALP MPs have done over the years).

I think sometimes your frequent generalisations of "The Left", as though it's a singular entity, blind you to its more admirable qualities.

Also, I think you'll find that people who are offended by lying, or racism, or corrupt practices, or targeting of vulnerable groups of people don't support Howard. However, as the last four elections have depressingly indicated, we're currently a voting minority.

At 1/6/06 4:31 pm, Blogger JahTeh said...

These days if you want to be a successful member of either side of Parliament, you have to lower your standards not raise them. Most people will only hear her call Abbott a snivelling grub and applaud it, because he is.

At 1/6/06 5:48 pm, Blogger Splatterbottom said...

Sam, I don't understand the ALP faction system that well. I assume being from the left means there is a greater likelihood that such a person will blow all the money on welfare payments.

I actually think Gillard is smarter than that.

Also glad you mentioned Carmen Lawrence - its a shame her career was cut short.

I like the idealism of the left, but think their policy prescriptions are misguided and often have the opposite effect to that intended.

The left tends towards totalitarianism. It assumes that if it has enough political power, it can implement policies that will benefit most people.

The lesson of the 20th century was that this is extremely difficult to achieve.

The left also doesn't get the idea of free market economics.

Now sometimes blog discussions get a bit tedious, and what is needed is a bracing challenge to the accepted orthodoxy on a particular site.

In those cases it is better to go in guns blazing with a comment like "No leftist has ever contributed to human progress". It wakes people up. It would be a pitiful world if we all agreed on everything.

At 5/6/06 7:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you see the whole thing on Order in the House last night?

I wonder if had it been the deputy speaker in the chair and not David Hawker, and if it was a packed house rather than the 5 rostered on types, if there might have been a different outcome?

If the point was to suggest that Hawker is unfair/Nats speakers inept then they didnt't really make it very well.

Kudos to Gillard for trying, although there were a few other things necessary to make her point, I think.

Phil in Canberra

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