Andrew Fraser wouldn’t
have lasted two rounds in the old days. The NSW parliament in pre-federation
times really was a bear pit. What started as a debate over a procedural motion
in 1886 developed into something of a free for all:

The opposition, having
incorrectly anticipated the adjournment, decided to treat the sitting as
illegal. Chaos followed. One member sat on the table and shouted: ‘There is no
house!’ and ‘We are a rabble!’ Another crowed like a cock and a third threw
himself on his back and cried ‘Damn the chair!’

And when Jennings walked to the
table to speak, Henry Parkes rushed up to him, shook his fist in his face and
exploded: ‘You damned bugger, you fenian, who are you?’ The speaker, Edmund
Barton … Managed with difficulty to restore order.” (from Alan Martin’s
biography of Henry Parkes).

Shortly afterwards, one member suggested that a
boxing ring be set up in the gardens of parliament house “so that honourable
members can settle their differences like gentlemen” – and also to minimise
the expense of replacing broken crockery and furniture that resulted from brawls
taking place inside the building.

There have been less actual fisticuffs in
federal parliament, though I remember one occasion when a member (Lew Kent,
ALP, Hotham) had to be restrained as he tried to crawl over the benches to get
at an insulter on his own side of the house.

And of course there was the
celebrated incident when Gough Whitlam threw a glass of water over Paul Hasluck
when Hasluck called him “the filthiest thing ever to come into this house.”

In
the early days a verbal stoush over the 1911 fusion of the free-traders and the
protectionists to bring down a Labor government actually led to a fatality: at
the height of the uproar the speaker, Sir Frederick Holder, moaned “Dreadful!
Dreadful!” collapsed in his chair and was dead before morning.

All of which
makes Fraser’s mild grapple rather less than a hanging offence, especially as
the target was Tripodi…

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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