question time tony abbott
(Image: AAP/Alan Porritt)

The fun police are at it again, this time trying to squeeze the last drops of joy, humour and life out of the dispiriting beigeness of federal parliament, with a new inquiry threatening an overhaul of question time. A review, chaired by Queensland Liberal MP Ross Vasta, is set to consider setting time limits, clamping down on heckling and scrapping “Dorothy Dixer” questions

Of course, there’s a fair argument to be made that question time is a bit of a farce, a source of endless negativity and an opportunity for politicians to let off a bit of steam; hitting their opponents with a string of schoolyard jibes under the protection of parliamentary privilege. There’s also an argument that it promotes the idea of politics as merely a game; a grand bit of theatre to rev up the hacks rather than something that has a profound influence on people’s real lives. 

Still, it’s undeniable that question time has seen some of parliament’s most memorable moments. And so, with the understanding that question time in its current form could soon be a thing of the past and replaced with something altogether more sanitised, Crikey has rounded up some of the greatest hits, from the good, to the bad and the downright cursed. 

‘I wanna do you slowly’ 

Of course, this article could just be the collected quotes of Paul Keating. In 1992, when asked by opposition leader John Hewson why he hadn’t called an early election, Keating delivered the withering riposte now part of Australian political folklore, “Because I wanna do you slowly”.

Keating famously gave us plenty of other gems, like the time he told the speaker to give John Howard a valium; the time he made baby noises at Hewson; and this six minute rant about cultural cringe and misplaced nostalgia for the 1950s, “the golden age when Australia stagnated”.

Scott Morrison fondles coal

Where Keating was eloquent, Scott Morrison is blunt. It’s no secret the Coalition really, really loves coal. Sometimes, that love is taken to ridiculous lengths, like the time in 2017 when Morrison, then treasurer, brandished a lump of coal in question time to heckle Labor, telling the opposition not to be afraid.

In one deft stunt, Morrison managed to encapsulate his party’s smug indifference to the impending climate catastrophe. It isn’t the first time the Liberals have brought in props — in 2008, when Kevin Rudd tried to hold Friday sessions of parliament without question time, incensed Coalition MPs brought in a life-size cardboard cut out of the prime minister.

Tony Abbott gets sin-binned

It was 2012, and no opposition leader had been booted from parliament since John Howard 25 years earlier. Unsurprisingly, it was Tony Abbott, whose time as opposition leader was marked by a relentless campaign of pugilistic negativity, who broke that streak.

Abbott was asked by the speaker to withdraw a statement accusing Gillard of lying, without qualification. Abbott withdrew his statement and, in the same breath, provided a qualification and was binned for his efforts. It was a fiery day in the chamber, with Coalition MPs George Christensen, Joe Hockey, Christopher Pyne and Peter Dutton all suffering the same fate as Abbott.

Labor calls for DRS

A bizarre moment occurred in 2013 when both then-prime minister Tony Abbott and opposition leader Bill Shorten were overseas, leaving the Nationals’ Warren Truss briefly in charge of the country, and giving us this iconic photo from Andrew Meares showing the Labor frontbench looking like they lost their LBW appeal but used their last review an over ago.question time labor

Christopher Pyne’s phantom c-bomb

Christopher Pyne may or may not have called then-opposition leader Bill Shorten a “cunt” while in the heat of battle. Pyne’s office claims he had muttered the phrase “you’re such a grub” under his breath. Others swear they heard the c-word. Watch the video and decide for yourself.

Honourable mention: Fatman Scoop

Less than a month into the prime ministership, Scott Morrison posted a video on Twitter of Coalition MPs in question time putting their hands up accompanied by the dulcet tones of rapper Fatman Scoop’s 1999 club banger “Be Faithful”. Of course, Fatman Scoop goes on to rap the words “who fuckin’ tonight?” several times throughout the track. Family-man Morrison quickly deleted the tweet. But of course the internet never forgets.

Have an idea on how to fix question time? Remember any other inspiring moments of debate? Let us know your thoughts at [email protected].

Peter Fray

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