Someone’s been binging on the Black label. Black label. Geddit?!?
Alcohol has been the topic d’jour around the traps of Parliament House
the past few days, ever since Greens MLC, Lee Rhiannon, put up her
motion to have MPs evicted from Losers Lounge if they failed the
sobriety test. It was a fascinating debate yesterday as the Government
Whip, Peter Primrose, and the Opposition Whip, Don Harwin, embodied the
best traditions of their English counterparts by saying that rules were
unnecessary and that they were best placed to deal with chaps who might
be under the weather after the dinner adjournment. Lee’s motion was
lost – but events in the “Other Place” later made her case very neatly.

The Legislative Assembly was debating. of all things, the National
Competition Policy Amendments (Commonwealth Financial Penalties) Bill,
dealing with the financial penalties coming from the failure to
sufficiently deregulate liquor sales. And after the events past 10.20
pm last night, the Government was probably minded to have one fewer
liquor outlet on Macquarie Street.

Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Barry O’Farrell, was in the midst of
offering a convoluted assessment of the Premier’s state of health:

“However, if one listens to the Premier and examines this legislation
one would regard him as impotent. I have no idea about the Premier’s
medical condition but I know that this is an impotent piece of
legislation that demonstrates this man’s complete lack of backbone.”

Soon after, what Hansard politely refers to as an “interruption”
occurred. All merry hell broke loose after that. To save the Proprietor
from putting his home at risk, I shall rely on Hansard to tell the
story.

In response to the “interruption”, O’Farrell offered some advice to
Peter Black, the Member for Murray Darling, who has a reputation for –
ahem – enjoying his beer. Blackie had a funny sort of day. During the
afternoon debate on the Easter festivities on Sydney, he chided Ian
Armstrong, the former leader of the Nationals, for taking insufficient
interest in the Royal Easter Show showgirls. But now it was he being
chided by O’Farrell:

“I respect the honourable member for Murray-Darling, but the reality is
that at the moment a debate is occurring in the other Chamber about
whether there ought to be breathalysers in the Chamber. I warn the
honourable member for Murray-Darling about coming into the Chamber late
at night and behaving in that way.”

Neville Newell, the Member for Tweed, who had been christened “Napping
Neville” in Losers Lounge yesterday afternoon, was awake to this
reflection on his colleague. Hansard again:

Mr Neville Newell: What does that mean?

And taking a leaf out of Latham’s Lexicon of Robust Australian Language, O’Farrell told Napping Neville exactly what he meant:

“What it means is that he is pissed, he should not be in the Chamber drunk and that is why we are in trouble with the Greens.”

So Neville took a point of order against O’Farrell, and the Acting Speaker upheld it:

Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr John Mills): Order! The Deputy Leader of the
Opposition will resume his seat. The point of order of the
Parliamentary Secretary is upheld. I ask the Deputy Leader of the
Opposition to withdraw the offensive remark.

Mr BARRY O’FARRELL: I do not.

Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr John Mills): Order! I repeat my request to the
Deputy Leader of the Opposition, under Standing Order 289 and Standing
Order 290, that he withdraw the offensive words.

Mr BARRY O’FARRELL: Mr Acting-Speaker, I regret, with due respect to you, that I will not.

So O’Farrell was named by the Acting Speaker, and Carl Scully moved for
O’Farrell’s suspension. O’Farrell mounted a stout defence. I’ll now let
Hansard tell you the rest:

“Mr BARRY O’FARRELL (Ku-ring-gai-Deputy Leader of the Opposition)
[10.26 p.m.]: I am not happy with what is going on. I actually like the
honourable member for Murray-Darling, but I have to say to you, Mr
Acting-Speaker, that it is unacceptable for people to come in this
Chamber in an inebriated state. I will put the facts on the record. I
will not gild the lily; I will say exactly what happened. I was sitting
with the honourable member for Albury earlier during the contribution
of the honourable member for Upper Hunter. The honourable member for
Murray-Darling came into the Chamber and was clearly in an unsteady
state. He sat next to the honourable member for Mount Druitt, behind
the honourable member for Strathfield. At one stage he went to sort of
jocularly grab the honourable member for Strathfield. She recoiled.

“I rose and went and spoke to you, Mr Acting-Speaker, and said that at
a time when the Greens have a motion before the upper House about
having members breathalysed before they go into the Chamber, it is not
sensible to have members in the Chamber in the state that the
honourable member for Murray-Darling was in. Mr Acting-Speaker, I put
you on notice at that time. I then listened to the honourable member
for Heathcote make his contribution on an important bill. I then sought
to raise my issues on behalf of pharmacy, dentistry and optometry in
relation to that important bill.

“If I have one regret about these proceedings and what is about to
occur to me, it is that I have let down those associations to whom I
wanted to make point after point in relation to this pernicious
legislation brought forward by this Premier, who is so fast and loose
with the truth. But I was barely three or four minutes into that speech
and the honourable member for Murray-Darling started to interject. I
responded, I have to say obliquely, in the first instance. The
Parliamentary Secretary then said, “What does that mean?” I said that
means that if he is pissed he should not be in the Chamber. Like the
Federal Leader of the Opposition I do not recoil from using the
Australian vernacular from time to time. I am Australian; I was brought
up in Australia. I went to Australian schools and from time to time I
use that language.

“I was provoked. The reality is, Mr Deputy-Speaker, had you done two
things this situation would not have arisen. If you had taken my
private warning to do something about the honourable member for
Murray-Darling, at a time when the Greens have media focus on the
behaviour of members of Parliament and their drinking habits, this
situation would not have arisen. If you had taken my suggested
action-it is recorded on camera that I went up to talk to you-this
situation would not have arisen. Secondly, if when I first responded to
the honourable member for Murray-Darling those who were sitting around
him had ushered him out of the Chamber-as they have now done-this
situation would not have arisen.

“I understand what the result of this situation will be, and I am not
proud of it. But I have to say I am more disgusted at the behaviour of
a member of this place who at this time, when the Greens, rightly, have
spotlights on all members of Parliament and their drinking habits,
comes into this Chamber in that state and seeks to interrupt a member
of Parliament. Mr Deputy-Speaker, if you had been in control of this
Chamber, if you had stopped the sort of interjections that the clown
from Bathurst is making at this very moment, if you had stopped the
interjections from the honourable member for Murray-Darling, this
situation would not have arisen.

“I say again this is a matter of regret for me. It is a matter of
regret that when the Parliamentary Secretary stood to take his point of
order, out of party allegiance and with complete disregard to the
discussion that you and I had earlier, you decided to rule in his
favour. You have brought this on; you have brought this to the public
attention. You are making an issue of all members of Parliament at a
time when the Greens have us under the gun about this precise issue.

I hope the Labor Party is happy. I hope the Labor Party Whip is happy.
If he had been doing a proper job, this man would never have been in
the Chamber. Today we had debate about the salary of the
Deputy-Speaker. Mr Acting-Speaker and Chairman of Committees, that was
not you, but I have to say that I wish the honourable member for
Maitland was in the chair because I suspect he would have handled this
matter differently. I understand I am about to be ejected. I apologise
again to pharmacy, to dentistry and to optometry, but I will not stand
in this place and cop abuse from people who are drunk in Parliament.”

There was no response from the Government side – a quick vote along
party lines; and O’Farrell was suspended from the House for two days.
Carl Scully couldn’t move the adjournment quick enough to shut the
place down for the night after the Sergeant at Arms escorted O’Farrell
from the premises. And no doubt in the best Primrose-Harwin tradition,
the Government Whip will be cracking in Blackie’s ear this morning.

Boilermaker Bill McKell can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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