Any reader within cooee of my age group may remember that Monty Python classic “Argument Clinic” sketch. The one where Michael Palin walks into an office and says “I’d like to have an argument, please”. And then he gets into a scrap with the receptionist over whether he wants to pay one pound for a five-minute argument or eight pounds for a course of 10.
By mistake, he walks into the Abuse course and is told: “You snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings. You vacuous toffee-nosed malodorous pervert. Shut your festering gob, you tit. Your type makes me puke.”
Would it surprise you if I said that savage satire came to mind last week when the novice senator had his first taste of Senate estimates committee hearings?
They are long, they are savage and, at times, demeaning of the government ministers and department heads who are hauled in for marathon Q and A sessions with opposition senators — and the dreaded crossbenchers.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Some politicians have made fearsome reputations from their relentless grilling of ministers and public servants. The forensic John Faulkner was one. Bronwyn Bishop was another.
The most thorough and indefatigable combatant last week was the militant Doug Cameron, who showed amazing stamina by being there from the opening bat until stumps. Showing the same stamina were committee chairmen/women who held court some days from 9am until 11pm.
Rudest were senators Barry O’Sullivan and Ian Macdonald. Best line was from a session I was sitting in on when Penny Wong asked Attorney-General George Brandis: “Would you just like to be pompous for the whole day, or only for this question?”
But it was Macdonald, the so-called Father of the Senate, who shocked me at a private corridor huddle of senators and a Senate clerk’s office official on that same day, as a procedural matter was thrashed out.
As a newbie, and accepting this was a confidential senatorial stoush, I shan’t repeat the conversation but, if I were asked to categorise Macdonald’s demeanour and attitude to the Senate Opposition Leader, I would have trouble excluding words like patronising, sexist and — as Monty Python would say — vacuous and toffee-nosed.
At Senator Jacqui Lambie’s suggestion, I have not applied to join many permanent Senate committees. Instead I’ll remain a participating senator with the right to drop in on any committee and interrogate any witness. I won’t get a vote on a final report, but I can file a dissenting opinion.
Interesting that committee chairs for estimates are told they have the same powers as the Senate president, can order a session to be held in camera and can chastise bad behaviour. Macdonald didn’t rebuke himself. He should have.
Speaking of senators behaving badly. David Leyonhjelm is one of the most intelligent people in that chamber. One of the most intelligent — and most stupid.
As I said on Sunrise this week, I find it reprehensible, unconscionable, for an elected member of Parliament to say he would be happy for police “to lie on the side of the road and bleed to death”.
Personally, I would even go to the assistance of a bikie or a paedophile.
I’ll give you an example this week of why the Senator is so out of whack with genuine, community-minded Australians.
I posted a brief comment on my Justice Party Facebook page on Saturday about a chance coffee shop meeting with a uniformed policeman who was upset because an ice-addicted man from Afghanistan named Fawad Aroofi, 28, had not been sentenced to even one day in jail after an incident outside a McDonald’s where he deliberately crashed into a police car and an ambulance and ran over a police officer, breaking his ribs and causing other lasting injuries.
That post, Senator Leyonhjelm, reached nearly 1.3 million people in four days. I doubt any would agree with your callous scenario.
As a journo of more than 50 years, and as a former metropolitan newspaper editor, I am well aware of the word “furphy”. Many a time has an abjectly disappointed scribe phoned in after chasing the scoop of the year to say: “Sorry, it was a furphy.”
I’ve had had to explain the origin to some young staffers because two floors above my Senate office in Canberra, at the start of the press gallery corridor, is the cast-iron rear end of a Furphy water wagon. Like the horse-drawn ones at Gallipoli. The place where soldiers’ whispered rumours, which often turned out to be wrong, turned out to be “furphies”.
That relic used to be in the press gallery at Old Parliament House. This week I was shown around the former Furphy foundry and now stainless steel tank factory by Adam Furphy, whose dad presented that giant plaque to the press gallery.
At SPC Ardmona and at Furphy, we covered more than 4.3 kilometres of factory floors as I started to make good on an election promise to visit country towns and meet the locals and listen to their problems — a few weeks after an election, not a desperate, vote-seeking few weeks before.