We, the elected representatives of the great Australian people, wish to make clear in the very strongest terms how much we deplore and abominate the egregious injury to democracy inflicted by the more disreputable and unhygienic members of the crypto-public this week.

While we respect the right of the people to protest, there is a time and a place for such delinquency; the right to protest against elected representatives must always be balanced with the right of elected representatives to not be protested against. Had these so-called activists made their supposed statement in a respectful and dignified manner at a more appropriate location, e.g. a nearby park or McDonald’s playground, we the honourable members would have been more than happy, in the grand tradition of Australian political discourse, to ignore them. By inserting themselves in the most gauche manner into the hallowed chamber of lawmaking itself, these rabble-rousers made that impossible, and our democracy is the poorer for it.

Question time is the most sacred of parliamentary rituals and one of the most vital safeguards we have against tyranny, so to disrupt it is to disrupt freedom itself. The invasion of the House on Wednesday robbed us of a crucial half-hour of questions that might have opened up all sorts of magical possibilities for the future of this nation. But sadly those questions went unasked, further contributing to the stagnation of national progress that protesters seemingly desire. The protesters cut off Melissa Price asking the Prime Minister to update the house on the government’s achievements — who knows where this line of questioning may have led, if given the time? There could be many government achievements that we remain in the dark about, due to the selfishness of professional agitators preventing us being updated on them.

Of course, being updated on the government’s achievements is just one of the many essential functions of question time. There is also: informing the House whether the Minister knows of any potential threats to a valuable reform; informing the House of how the government is working in ordinary communities to improve opportunities for everyday Australians; and replying to questions from the Opposition, which some people consider the best bit. If question time is not allowed to proceed smoothly, the Opposition will not be able to hold the government to account via probing questions like, “Will the Prime Minister admit that he has been lying to everyone for years?” or “Does the Minister now concede that she has completely lost touch with reality?” The answers to these questions could literally determine the course of our nation for centuries to come, and the protesters somehow desire that we never hear them. To quote Barnaby Joyce from yesterday’s question time: “He does it with a swarmy smile on his face”. Thank God no protesters interrupted to prevent us hearing that — it would have been a crime against the public’s right to know.

As we said, we respect the right of Australian citizens to dispute government policy, but as members of both the government which formulated that policy, and the opposition which agrees with that policy, we must reiterate that at the heart of the right to protest is the responsibility to never use that right. As long as rights and responsibilities are balanced in this way, we have democracy. When they are out of balance, we have anarchy. While some Australians with no regard for the security of our borders might believe that the government’s asylum-seeker policy is cruel and sadistic, they lose the moral high ground when they go so far as to glue themselves to railings, which means it is us who have the moral high ground, which means we win.

This country was founded on the principle of robust debate and principled disagreement. Let’s all make sure we don’t go back to those bad old days. We call on all Australians to save question time from those who would destroy it, and join us in condemning the Maoist hordes’ abuse of that most fundamental of democratic ideals: politicians shouting “Mr Speaker” at each other.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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