Australia’s politics have been particularly interesting as of late, but perhaps not more so than this week as the current government issued its budget, creating many pained groans from opposition politicians and the Australian public. But today it is the censors who are groaning as explicit language was used during “Question Time” in parliament which was broadcast on live television. The offending speaker was Minister for Education Christopher Pyne, who has been seriously unpopular recently due to his changes to Australia’s education system. As the cameras rolled and caught him using the expletive in public, the Australian Parliament aired the c-word to the masses making it the cherry on top of what has been an interesting news day in Oz.
The YouTube video of Pyne calling the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten a c-word will no doubt be played over and over as people try to decide whether or not he really used such colorful language. The story is all there in Technicolor. Pyne stands up to answer a question, railing against Shorten in colorful, if more elegant ways, when he is interrupted by another member of parliament set to make a comment. Somewhat flustered and put off his rhythm, Pyne backs away from the microphone and utters the words, “You’re such a…” And that is where the controversy surrounding this adult name-calling begins. Many people say they distinctly heard the c-word used. But Pyne and his office are adamantly denying that claim. Instead, they say he used the word “grub,” which is the only other candidate at this time. Facts are facts, however. Pyne used a slur to refer to his political opponent. Deciding which slur he actually used is just spectator sport.
Americans may not be wholly familiar with the use of the term “grub” as an insult, but they can readily catch its meaning in context. Nevertheless, in Australian politics it has an honored place in Parliamentary discourse. Somewhat famously, former Prime Minister (and YouTube sensation) Julia Gillard once referred to Tony Abbott as a “sniveling grub” long before he became the honored prime minister. For such a breach of etiquette she was asked to withdraw her statement, to which she sarcastically replied, “If I have offended grubs, I withdraw unconditionally.” For the name-calling and the witty, if inappropriate refusal to take it back, she was ejected from parliament for 24 hours as punishment.
As this incident shows, the Speaker of the House has the authority to enforce rules of decorum by kicking people out. This is a tradition that the current speaker has taken much part in. On Wednesday, Speaker Bronwyn Bishop ejected her 100th member of parliament for disorderly conduct. But that member was not Christopher Pyne for his deleterious use of an expletive. Instead, it was a Labor member and it was Bishop’s 100th Labor member ejected from the room. In fact, Bishop has never made a member of the current ruling party of Australia leave Parliament, not even for offenses such as using the c-word in public discourse and airing it on live television. Her record raises serious concerns about her impartiality, which is supposed to be a hallmark of the job, and the incident with Pyne is just an added spotlight to the issue, if an amusing one.
Despite all this concern, though, there is at least one man in Parliament who refuses to be caught up in all the hullabaloo. During the unfortunate session of Parliament, Clive Palmer, leader of the Palmer United Party, was caught napping in his seat. The portly Member for Fairfax excused his lapse in consciousness by saying that the Prime Minister Tony Abbott was simply so boring he could not stay awake and that he had been up since the ungodly hour of two-thirty in the morning doing interviews for radio and television. Other than Pyne’s outburst, Palmer’s nap was the most interesting thing to happen in parliament this week, though it is a wonder he was not ejected from the chamber for snoring. Though if he had, it would ruin the speaker’s perfect record for kicking out members of the opposition.
Still, politics in Australia must return to its normal mundane state and will no doubt do so with the speech scheduled to be given by the maligned Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. After being called either a “grub” or the c-word, he will still appear in the chamber and deliver his counter budget proposal with all due civility and seriousness. It will not be nearly as exciting as Pyne’s interjection of the c-word, but it will air on live television from the Australian parliament house, so perhaps something interesting will go on during Shorten’s monologue. Hopefully, Clive Palmer will be able to stay awake this time.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury