After the longest election striptease in Australian political history, the supposed “new paradigm” finally arrived yesterday for the first non-ceremonial day of Question Time.
Some of the new paradigm looked a lot like the old one — the rancor, the forced etiquette, the Dorothy Dixers, the creepy smirks and stony glares, the soporific responses to ho-hum questions — but there also came a striking reminder to the government that the ball game has fundamentally changed and the challenges Labor’s minority government face will be unpredictable and, in some instances, insurmountable.
At The Drum Annabel Crabb described the afternoon as a “polite affair” and expressed some surprise at how restrained the “adults” were:
“Given the atmosphere that pervaded the chamber in the preceding 24 hours – a multilateral pestilence of stiffings and welshings – it was faintly surprising to see the gathered adults playing nicely.”
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The pollies have been made behaving themselves, but that didn’t stop the Coalition from rubbing some salt in Labor’s election wounds. Yesterday heralded a historic vote: the first time in decades a government has been defeated in the House of Representatives. The opposition passed an amendment to the suite of proposed changes to parliamentary rules and procedures and won — after support from independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott swung their way — by a solitary vote.
As Bella Counihan wrote in The Age:
“This parliament is a close one. How’s that for stating the obvious? Yesterday, we had the government defeated on the floor of the House of Representatives for the first time in 70 odd years, only by one vote. When you’ve got the opposition saying they may or may not pair even for the PM when she’s away, things are going to get even more precarious.”
The Australian’s Matthew Franklin offered a spicier appraisal. Under the headline “PM Julia Gillard mugged by ‘new paradigm'” he wrote:
“Julia Gillard has been stung by the reality of minority government, leading Labor to an embarrassing defeat in the new parliament’s first policy ballot. As Labor counterpunched yesterday by labelling Tony Abbott a wrecker intent on driving the nation to a fresh election, the opposition successfully amended new procedural rules governing the conduct of parliament.”
Dennis Shanahan slipped on his headmaster outfit and insisted “the Gillard government was given a lesson in its own quest for parliamentary accountability”. And Mark Kenny at The Advertiser cranked the dial up a notch, labeling the Coalition’s score “a stunning first-day defeat on the government”.
The new paradigm presents a colorful cast of characters. Most of them have been around for some time, but thanks to prominent media exposure (and labels like “the three amigos”, “ten-gallon Bob”, etc) have taken a more central role in the proceedings — or at least in the manner with which they are reported.
Rob ‘Highlander’ Oakeshott has developed a reputation as a windbag, largely due to his excruciatingly long announcement on the hung parliament’s day of reckoning.
Jacqueline Maley at the Sydney Morning Herald won’t be forgiving him anytime soon:
“When Rob Oakeshott gets up to talk, his listeners need to be fully prepared for the experience. You have to think like an Appalachian mountaineer hunkering down for the winter, or a Kansan farmer battening the doors of the hurricane shelter. It’s important to be well hydrated, but not so much that you will need a comfort break any time soon.”
And then there is Peter ‘Slippery Pete‘ Slipper , the Liberal MP and now deputy speaker famous for “resting his eyes” in parliament, combining a cocktail of dental drugs and alcohol and getting trapped in the disabled dunnies at Parliament House. Malcolm Farr at The Daily Telegraph joined Crikey’s Bernard Keane in casting suspicion on ol’ Slippery, and questioned the government’s decision to plonk him in the deputy speaker’s chair:
“It will take some time for the Labor government to explain why it considered Liberal rebel Peter Slipper such an adornment of Parliament as to be a fitting deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.”