We hear almost daily the complaint from the chattering classes that the business of parliamentary debate has descended into puerile high farce seen usually in the sandpits of child care centres. Unfortunately this is all too true and I don’t see any parliament in which this is not the case.
I speak from the position of having been a participant in this arena and being an idle observer since leaving the game. During my time I saw the demise of the honourable foe being warmly embraced after the battle and the introduction of an atmosphere of antipathy bordering on hatred. I mourn its passing. Indeed I engaged in both styles of debate and am proud of only one of them.
Gone are the days of Daly and Killen (for those embryos out there, Google them and sit back to be entertained). Gone are the beautiful phrasings of Menzies, Whitlam and their ilk. Gone are the days of Hawke and Keating. Ushered in are the days of Bishop, Mirabella, Pyne, Albanese to name just a few. Tony Abbott’s treatment of Julia Gillard is a striking example of this.
In the ACT legislative Assembly, I found true and genuine friendship across the divide. Then, the clouds arrived and I found that the days of honour among foes had ebbed away. Once, the families of members were sacred and not to be attacked. No so, nowadays. Once, points were given out for a good verbal thrashing interlaced with pearls of wit. Not so nowadays. The debates start from the premise that to hurt the opposite team is just part of the process of debate. The personal attack is deep and dreadful, hideous and hurtful.
Nowadays, politicians keep diaries of indiscretions, store little tidbits away to be used at an appropriate time to embarrass the other side. It is a hateful system and will only result in tears before bedtime. Seriously, and we have seen it time and time again, it is a malevolence and a malaise which has its human toll. The number of Members who have developed depression is huge and indeed one Member of the Federal Parliament took his own life. I said on departure that the Black Dog haunts the corridors of power and folks ought to be careful to whom they introduce the Dog, for it will kill.
I yearn for the day when politicians will deal with each other with respect, humour and friendship understanding that the divide between them is about ideas. Perhaps I yearn in vain. Humour can diffuse a tense situation. The shame of it all is that some of the current generation of politicians, particularly locally, don’t care about that. They may live to regret it and retire or be tossed out to live bitter and twisted old lives.