Tuesday, 14 January 2003

Dedicated viewing of the television news would have you believe that parliamentary bad behaviour is left to those in other countries. The odd tangle in Taiwan or rumble in Russia just proves how much of a raging democracy we really are doesn't it? After all it's probably better to have Pistol Pete and Slimey Simon Crean slinging mud at each other over a table than beating each others brains out on top of it (because we all know who'd win).

It's not always been that way, Australian Parliament's have a colorful history of 'going off' over the years. Sadly with the advent of televised proceedings most of the members keep their harshest attacks hidden away, sometimes though they explode and there's nobody there to save them from the media spotlight.

* The first great stoush occured in 1909 when Mr. Lyne disagreed with Deakin's "fusion" with the free traders and called him Judas. Billy Hughes said the next day that this wasn't fair to Judas "who did not gag the man he betrayed, nor did he fail to hang himself afterwards." This kind of behaviour carried on for a while until one night after an especially heated session the speaker Sir Fredrick Holder stood up, muttered "dreadful", collapsed and died.

* In 1919 Michael Considine from Broken Hill was suspended three times in one session. The third came when he said the Hughes Government supported "the champion murderer of the working classes in Russia". This was nothing in comparison to a year before when he was jailed for saying "Bugger the king. He's a bloody German bastard!"

US General Douglas MacArthur might have once told Prime Minister Curtin that "You take care of the rear, and I will handle the front". Australian-American relations had never been closer than that moment, but politicians still couldn't get on with those from their own country.

* 1960 saw the Crimes Bill cause some tension in Labor ranks. So much tension in fact that Eddie Ward, who opposed the bill, threw a punch at Deputy Leader Gough Whitlam. The ALP were so harshly critical of Liberal Attorney-General Barwick that he was reduced to tears and led from the house, his leadership aspirations in tatters.

Later that year list of banned books was released by Senator Henty, minister for Customs. Not only did it contain old favourites like the Kama Sutra and Lady Chatterley's Lover but a curiously titled piece of literature "The Frigging Countess"

* Labor's Les Hayden was suspended in 1963 for interfering with an anti-communist speech by MP Bill Wentworth. He appeared next to the frothing Liberal MP wearing a white jacket and with a stethoscope around his neck, he then announced that an ambulance was waiting outside and some quiet rest and loving attention would do Wentworth the world of good.

* In 1965 Whitlam was referred to by External Affairs Minister Hasluck as "One of the filthiest objects ever to come into this chamber". Gough didn't take the critiscm too well and threw a glass of water into his opponents face. How many times would that have been replayed on TV if there was any footage?

* With debate raging over the site of the new Parliament House one member Sir William Aston failed to attract the attention of the speaker and stormed out shouting "You can shove it up your arse!" Jim Cope immediately interjected "Mr. Speaker. I ask that parliament consider the fourth site proposed by the honorable member."

* In 1986 senior ministers met in the PM's office to discuss the damage Keating had done with his infamous "Banana Republic" comment. Hawke had to speak from Beijing which led the Treasurer to say "Be careful, the Chinese will be listening". Hawkey replied in his usual forthright way "Fuck the Chinese!"

Then there was the fashion attack. Al Grassby appeared in a purple suit with lace cuffs alongside Bill Hayden in a powder-blue suit with white shoes at the opening of Parliament in February 1973. It was the closest Canberra has ever come to erupting into a full-scale disco inferno.

* Attacks on decency also occured in the house, though thankfully not in the chamber. It was 1987 when the wife of Labor's John Brown revealed that she had 'seduced' her husband "on his desk the first day he was in his new office as minster." Furthermore she felt the need to reveal on national television that she "left the undies in his Permanent Head's ashtray". What exactly the 'permanent head' was is still a matter for debate in the sex shops of Canberra to this day.

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