Sometimes, just sometimes, Parliament surprises. Like this morning, when both sides of politics supported legislated recognition of indigenous Australians.

Today, Julia Gillard had nice things to say about Kevin Rudd:

“I speak here today, as I always do, in a spirit of friendship and respect for the First Australians, and with honour to elders past and present. I’m also conscious that on this special anniversary, we acknowledge the courage that enabled Kevin Rudd to offer the apology and the generosity of spirit that enabled indigenous Australians to accept it. We are only able to consider this act of recognition and constitutional change because the apology came first.”

And Tony Abbott had nice things to say about Gillard:

“I rise to follow the fine speech of the Prime Minister and I really am pleased to have this chance to join with her in supporting this bill … So much of what happens here passes people by. Sometimes it even annoys them. May this be an occasion when the Parliament lifts people’s spirits, makes them feel more proud of our country, and more conscious of our potential to more often be our best selves.”

But then there was this sorry little scene in a Senate Estimates hearing last night. As Hansard records:

SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Senator Conroy, I listen to your diatribe in silence.
BILL HEFFERNAN: Full of shit.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Thank you.
STEPHEN CONROY: You’ve obviously been drinking. Go somewhere else and annoy somebody else.
BILL HEFFERNAN: Excuse me …
STEPHEN CONROY: Go somewhere else.
BILL HEFFERNAN: You can withdraw that if you like. (Senator Conroy laughs.) I haven’t been bloody drinking.
DOUG CAMERON: Senator Heffernan, will you withdraw that remark that said that Mr Quigley is brain dead? (Sound of Senator Heffernan speaking in the background.) Will you withdraw, will you withdraw?
BILL HEFFERNAN: I think he should withdraw …
DOUG CAMERON: You should withdraw — thanks. Senator Birmingham …
BILL HEFFERNAN: But I’d like to hear him talk. Can you talk?
MIKE QUIGLEY: Bill, please.
DOUG CAMERON: Mr Quigley, do not engage with Senator Heffernan.
MIKE QUIGLEY: OK.
DOUG CAMERON: It would be totally counterproductive …
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: How many new customers has NBN Co signed up in Tasmania in the last 12 months?
STEPHEN CONROY: Ah …  I’m happy to take that on notice. (Laughter.)
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: You did take it on notice and we didn’t get a bloody answer!

Sometimes Parliament might annoy us, Abbott said. Sometimes indeed.

Peter Fray

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