Armando Iannucci and his team of writers at the British political satire The Thick of It work hard to come up with their material that, to paraphrase actor Miles Jupp, requires that you “either laugh or crap yourself.

But if ever Iannucci and his crew run dry of material for their next series they could do worse than trawl through the Hansard of the 2013 Estimates Committee hearings of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.

The Northern Myth has had a quick squiz at this year’s hearings and presents this selection of greatest hits. Hopefully you’ll follow the former not the latter course of Miles Jupp’s advice.

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This comes from an exchange on 18 June between Independent MLA (and proud chook-farmer) Gerry Wood, Opposition MLA Michael Gunner and NT Treasurer Dave Tollner and refers to a recent trip by Tollner and others from Darwin to China on a private jet.

Mr GUNNER: I have just one question for the minister. We ask for a breakdown by class, obviously economy, business or first. What class would you qualify a private jet as?

Mr WOOD: Elvis class.

Mr TOLLNER: John Robinson told me that jet was originally built for the Queen of Jordan.

Mr GUNNER: So you were in Queen class.

Mr TOLLNER: It was rejected by her and Mr Paspaley managed to pick it up for about a third of its value.

Mr GUNNER: Queen class or Pearl class?

Mr TOLLNER: Pearl class, yes. There is no point trying to hide it; it is a very nice little jet. Government really needs to assess this type of travel, given the number of people – well I am quite serious …

Mr WOOD: That is all right, I did not know you were going to buy one, that was all.

Mr TOLLNER: If you want to talk …

Mr GUNNER: Should government buy a private jet?

Mr TOLLNER: If you wanted to put one of two ministers on it alone and fly it somewhere, you clearly would not make any sort of economic sense whatsoever. But …

Mr WOOD: Travel the world with Tollner.

Mr TOLLNER: Yes. Well, with 10 or 12 people on board, it really does become highly competitive with similar class of travel such as business class travel on a commercial airline. The added advantage, of course, is you are not spending countless hours sitting in airport transit lounges. On our way over, and certainly the way back, had we have gone via Singapore we would have had at least a nine-hour transit time sitting in the Singapore airport …

Mr GUNNER: If you start Tollner travel though, you go in to competition against Qantas and Hainan Airlines, which you are trying to attract to the Northern Territory …

For a number of reasons this year Estimates hearings dragged on into the wee small hours. This brief exchange on 20 June again stars Gerry Wood, NT Chief Minister Adam Giles and a rather testy committee Chairwoman.

Madam CHAIR: It is 10.01 am.

Mr GILES: It is not about gagging or shutting down debate. We were open for these questions last night.

Mr WOOD: It was physically shut down. It is stupid to be asking questions at 2 am.

Madam CHAIR: Member for Nelson …

Mr WOOD: No, the minister stated he wanted to go all night. The reality is that …

Madam CHAIR: Member for Nelson, I have to stop you.

Mr WOOD: You are always stopping me.

Madam CHAIR: That is because you are always speaking out of turn.

Mr WOOD: Yes, Madam schoolmaster.

One of the joys of trawling through the transcripts of this year’s Estimates hearings is reading the wonderful mess that some politicians make of the English language.

The following excerpts give some idea of the quality of political debate in the NT parliament.

Ms LAWRIE: The shareholding minister has publicly stated that Power and Water was a basket case. He described it as bloated and used a variety of colourful expressions.

He said it has too many cars. Is there work being done to reduce the size of the Power and Water fleet?

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Member for Karama, you cannot use offensive or unbecoming words towards a member of the Assembly.

Ms LAWRIE: I did not.

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Well, a basket case is referring to what a member of the Assembly.

Ms LAWRIE: No, I am quoting what he said. I am not calling him a basket case. I am quoting what the Treasurer said.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER: But you are saying what the Treasurer said, exactly.

Mr WOOD: It is not a reference to a person.

Ms LAWRIE: It is not a reference to a person; he described the utility as a basket case, publicly, on many occasions.

Mr WOOD: It is a phrase. It is just a phrase.

Ms LAWRIE: Just like ‘former Chief Minister’ is not offensive.

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Member for Karama, if you just get on with it, please.

And …

Ms LAWRIE: No one is saying that. You are the only clown in this place talking like that, Dave.

Mr TOLLNER: Well, you are talking like. You are sitting here suggesting …

Ms LAWRIE: No, I am not; I am pointing out what you have …

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Opposition Leader, please withdraw that word ‘clown’.

Ms LAWRIE: I withdraw ‘clown’.

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Thank you. I remind the this committee that there should be no offensive or unbecoming words under Standing Order 62. I have warned you before. This my warning, member for Karama.

I consider your conduct to be disorderly, and I warn you if you persist I will order you to withdraw from the hearings under Paragraph 31 of the Assembly resolution in establishing this committee.

Please keep this in order.

Ms LAWRIE: Just a point of clarification on that, Madam Deputy Chair. Is it because I used the word ‘clown’?

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: How many times have you been given an order today? Over 10 times. Ten times you have been given an order from the previous Chair and, now, me again.

I am giving you this last warning. After this one, I am going to read you out again, and you will be dismissed from this room for an hour. Just keep this in order.

This is one of my favourites from this year’s crop.

Ms LAWRIE: So, the commitment that the former chief minister made, as a chief minister …

Madam ACTING DEPUTY CHAIR: Can I just remind you, under Standing Order 62, can you stop using offensive or unbecoming words to insult or interrogate the chief minister.

Mr GILES: Ask her to withdraw.

Ms LAWRIE: Withdraw what, sorry? What was offensive?

Madam ACTING DEPUTY CHAIR: That you keep referring to the former chief minister.

Ms LAWRIE: How things were …

Madam ACTING DEPUTY CHAIR: were made in the past, I understand that, but if you could refer it now to the now chief minister, instead of using the former chief minister in your question.

Ms LAWRIE: It is not offensive to say ‘former chief minister’.

Mr GILES: I think we should get on with the questions, member for Karama.

Madam ACTING DEPUTY CHAIR: You have been doing it all day, I mean it is to a point where you are using it as a political tactic that is how I..

Ms LAWRIE: What?

Mr GILES: Thank you, Madam Deputy Chair …

Ms LAWRIE: Really?

Mr GILES: Can I ask that the member for Karama …

Madam ACTING DEPUTY CHAIR: Can you please get on with the question, and stop referring to the former chief minister.
He is the current Chief Minister. Direct your questions to the Chief Minister. That is all I am saying.

Finally this wonderful exchange again stars Gerry Wood. If he ever leaves parliament he might think of a new career writing comedy sketches.

Mr WOOD: … I am not against development and if government wants to push growth, but in this day and age, 2013, if you do not have the word ‘sustainable’ in there, we are going back to the cow cocky days, the 1990s, where ‘We will do what we like’. Hopefully, we have become more intelligent with our development. …

Mr WOOD: There are some other issues besides that but that is all the questions I have on that broader area.

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Thank you, Member for Nelson. In the future can I remind members sitting in this committee to not use unbecoming words such as you used before.

Mr WOOD: What did I say that was unbecoming?

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: I do not want to repeat it. Could you repeat it then?

Mr WOOD: Well if I hear what the unbecoming word is I will repeat it and if it was unbecoming…

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Cow cocking.

Mr WOOD: My mother …

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Was it cow cocking?

Mr TOLLNER: Cow cockies?

Mr WOOD: That is a normal phrase, cockie is a farmer.

Madam DEPUTY CHAIR: Ok, so that is all the questions for today?

Mr WOOD: Not for today, we have got another six hours … …

Mr WOOD: The Treasurer looks like a cow cockie.

To be fair to the hard-working members of the Estimates Committee there was some very good work done in this year’s Estimates Hearings.

You can read through the six days of Hansard transcripts here.

You can see my look at recent changes to the NT parliament Estimates processes here.

As a Crikey subscriber and someone who began working as a journalist in 1957, I am passionate about the importance of independent media like Crikey. I met a lot of Australians from many walks of life during my career and did my best to share their stories honestly and fairly with their fellow citizens.

And I never forgot how important it is to hold politicians to account. Crikey does that – something that is more important now than ever before in Australia.

North Stradbroke Island, QLD

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