On Wednesday last week the red chamber of parliament took on a blue hue as Employment Minister Michaelia Cash answered a Dorothy Dixer in question time about “instances of bullying, harassment or intimidation in the building and construction sector which should be condemned by all Australians but which, sadly, are not”. The question, from Senator Joanna Lindgren, led Cash to quote from a Federal Court ruling against the CFMEU, in which a union official said to a foreman: ”Hey scabby, gay boy, gay boy, gay boy, scabby” and to quote from Senate estimates, where it was alleged that a union organiser told a woman on site at Barangaroo: “I hope you brought your knee pads; you’re going to be sucking off those dogs all day.”

The extensive quotation by Cash led to an outcry among the opposition over unparliamentary language, and President of the Senate Stephen Parry promised to investigate whether or not direct quotes should be censored if they were barely appropriate on a work site, let alone in the Senate. He gave this verdict yesterday:

Had the quotes been in relation to a protected person, there is no question that they would have been completely out of order and required to be withdrawn. Had the offensive words been scattered through a debate, it is again highly likely that any chair in this place would have queried them as inappropriate. Where no protected person is involved, however, and where the language used is strictly necessary to make the point, it makes it very difficult for the chair to prevent a senator from quoting such language or to require its withdrawal. If senators choose to enter this territory, they do so at their own responsibility.”

Peter Fray

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