I’ll declare a conflict of interest over Stroganoff-gate (for which I will claim credit for coining, and please don’t write in to complain about it — the appellation “gate” is always intended as one of them joke things, see).

It’s not quite up there with Tony Wright’s conflict, since he’s married to the contractor for the Parliament House cafeteria, but it should be declared nevertheless: I can’t abide John Murphy, because he’s the ‘if not, why not?” guy.

In my former life in the Canberra bureaucracy, one of my many torments was to answer John Murphy’s Questions on Notice about media policy. His questions would invariably — invariably — proceed “Is the Minister aware of a report in [insert name of newspaper or magazine or current affairs program here] on [insert date here]. Does the Minister agree with the report? If not, why not?”

So as the Coalition began looking seriously at reforming media laws in its final terms, and the issue was dealt with extensively in the press, Murphy rained a torrent of questions on us, all making the same stupid demand. Some weeks eight or ten Murphy questions would lob in.

Accordingly, I took great pleasure in preparing answers that were as unhelpful as possible, and convincing the Minister’s staff to endorse those answers. Sadly, I never got my preferred answer up, which was to respond to the question “is the Minister aware of…” with a straight “No”, which obviated the need for any further response. I did once manage to get Richard Alston to agree to such a response on another issue, and it remains the highlight of my bureaucratic life.

As for the Parliamentary cafeteria, I won’t hear a word against it and reject out of hand the slurs against it by Murphy, who has now risen to the exalted position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Trade. The food is fine, the service prompt, the prices low, and the portions are more than ample. I do confess I have never tried the stroganoff, but the “Parliamentary Burger” — now, I fear, renamed something less creative — is a meal, not just a snack.

Fortunately, one man’s meat is another man’s stunt, and one can only assume Steve Fielding nailed Nick Xenophon’s door shut to prevent him from racing to a photo opportunity in the cafeteria that secured him a Herald-Sun front page. Fielding was presumably taking his monumental serve of stroganoff back to the office for distribution to Melbourne’s senior citizens. Look for Xenophon to top it by marching into the Reps chamber and tipping a plate over the head of Murphy.

It’s comforting that our political system and media can reduce complex issues such as retirement incomes policy to the straightforward contrast of an overflowing Parliamentary cafe plate with a rather sad looking banger and butterless bread. And John Murphy should take his custom at dinner time elsewhere. If not, why not?

Peter Fray

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