Day Four – Canberra

Well today I accomplished my mission.  I met Harry Jenkins.  For those silly individuals who don’t know who he is, he is the speaker of the House of Representatives.  I think he’s just awesome.  If you’ve seen question time, he’s the guy in the chair yelling ‘ORDER!’ all the time.  I emailed his office a few days ago saying I was at parliament house for the week and I got a call back this morning saying he’d love to meet me, so this morning after opening proceedings he came out and chatted with me for about 10 minutes.  He was just lovely!  I was not disappointed.  His electorate is next to the one I grew up in and his grandparents lived right around the corner from where my parents live.  When I emailed asking to meet him, they looked me up (I presume to make sure I’m not a nutcase.  Shhh, don’t tell!).  And I found out that Harry read my blog!  That freaked me out a little.  I had to think back to what I’d written!  His PA mentioned that they’d seen the photo of Harry’s photo that I posted and decided they had to let me meet him.  How embarrassing!  She just thought it was funny.  I think that’s a good thing…  I must say it never occurred to me that Harry Jenkins would ever see my blog!  He said he’d take full responsibility for everything that happened this week except for the weather (after reading me complain about it!).  *gushing rant over*

Ok, moving on to other things.  This morning I started in the house of reps and heard a report from the minister of defense.  Interesting as I’m sure you’d assume.  Then I headed out to meet Harry, then went into the senate.  I began by hearing Senator Bob Brown talk about the carbon tax a bit and he was quite reasoned in his arguments.  The most ridiculous thing about his speech was Senator McDonald who spent the entire 20 minute speech yelling derogatory things at Senator Brown and thinking he was hilarious and clever.  His arrogance disgusted me.  He was laughing at him and saying all sorts of mean things.  I don’t know why the president (the Senate version of the speaker) didn’t throw him out or tell him to stop.  It was awful.  Senator McDonald came across as a petulant child who seeks to bully those around him.  Senator Cash wasn’t much better.  Just awful.  The only time this week I walked out on someone talking out of frustration was hearing Senator McDonald respond to both Senator Brown and a Labor senator (whose name I forget) talking about the carbon tax.  I heard him out for 9 minutes and not once did he address the issue.  Instead he talked about how awful the previous two speakers were and how they blatantly flaunted the rules.  Hypocrite much?

The senate also seem to have a lot of divisions.  This is where they can’t get a vocal consensus so they literally sit on the side of the chamber they want to vote for and get counted.  Most of the time the votes are rather close votes, but one vote today was literally everyone verses the greens.  It was a little amusing that they required a division for such an obvious defeat.

As I’ve mentioned before one of the things all members have to do is acknowledge the chair as they enter and leave the chamber.  Most of them do this, but a few don’t.  Senator Cash had a go at Senator Brown for never doing this, so I took notice.  He doesn’t.  Even when it was pointed out to him he didn’t do it.  I wonder what that’s about.  It didn’t seem like a slip, but rather a deliberate choice never to do it.

After the senate I headed back to the house of reps to hear some debate on electoral reform.  Very interesting.  Last election there were 729,324 informal votes, that is votes that didn’t count.  They were either deliberate, didn’t show up, weren’t marked off the roll properly, or the voters weren’t enrolled properly.  The discussion was aimed at figuring out how to change the system so that more people get to have their democratic say.  It was all very good, then Bronwyn Bishop got up and said Labor and the Greens want these changes to help them.  I thought that was weird, even given her arguments I can’t see how changing electoral processes can influence anyone’s vote.  It won’t get anyone more votes.  Weird.  Last election there were 20,000 cases of multiple voting which is pretty serious given how close some electorates are.  One of the concerning reforms that the liberals are against (as am I if I understand it correctly) is that some informal votes might be counted when the person who is counting thinks they can understand what the person meant.  This is wrong on many levels, who guarantees they get it right?  This is a dangerous path to go down.

I got to have lunch with the lovely Evan who lives in Canberra and whom I haven’t seem in about 2 and a half years.  I also had dinner with Claire with whom I used to share a house in Tassie.  I love catching up with old friends!  I also forgot to mention that I had dinner with Chris on Monday whom I also know from my Tassie time.

Ok, back to proceedings.  I then headed into question time for the last time.  Can I just say how out of place Wyatt Roy looks?  It’s like ‘bring your kid to work day’.  Harry today was not happy (understandably given the terrible behaviour this week) and he said the HGI was high.  The Harry Grumpiness Index.  Everyone laughed.  Awesome.

Most of qt today was focused on the carbon tax as you can imagine, given that it was the last qt before the details get announced on Sunday night.  I feel like a fair bit of this week has been a repeat.  The same questions and the same answers.  I don’t know why they’re allowed such repetition, because apparently they’re not meant to repeat questions.  I found the rhetoric a bit much by 4 straight days of it.  The opposition accuse the government of never answering questions, and the government accuse the opposition of always being negative.  Well, both are true.  And it’s hard to answer questions and to get answers when all both sides do is veil insults as questions and answers.  Well, not all, but most.  There are a few thankful exceptions.  After the repetition I’ve heard this week I think I could write press releases for both sides and be spot on with what they’d want to say.  Word for word.

(Photo:  Parliament house tonight)

The opposition have been complaining that qt isn’t used to scrutinise the government properly because they get no real answers.  I would agree with that, but I’d also say that the opposition use qt to insult the government instead of ask substantial questions.  Most questions today were directed at our PM asking why she is such a liar.  Yeah… that’s helpful…

The English guy next to me said “Why don’t they just answer the questions?  It’s not that difficult.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Joe Hockey gave a speech against the carbon tax after question time and he was very funny, not constructive at all, but rather funny.

I’m very unimpressed with Kelly O’Dwyer.  She is really rude and comes across as quite arrogant.  Yelling derogatory things a lot.  Not constructive at all.  I wrote a report that featured her a few years ago for a community group in her electorate, so I knew a bit about her, but after seeing her in action she is unimpressive.  She took over the liberal seat of Higgins from Peter Costello.

Every time the senate or house or reps refers to the other house they call it ‘the other place’.  Makes me think they’re referring to hell.  It’s kind of funny.

By the way, does anyone else mentally say parliAment when spelling it?

After Joe Hockey’s speech I headed back to the senate and watched some interesting debate on parliamentary approval for overseas service.  Senator Ludlam (Greens) was arguing that any time we deploy troops overseas there should be approval from both houses.  Both Labor and Liberal were against this.  When I heard the original argument I thought it sounded reasonable (but knowing nothing about it really), then Senator John Faulkner (the previous minister for defense) spoke against it and I ended up agreeing with him.  The decision to go to war, or to a war like situation is currently made by the executive government, not by both houses.  This ensures a level of expediency and secrecy that can be necessary.  If there is a clandestine mission, how could you possibly get approval from both houses without telling everyone about it?  That is the nature of our public parliament.  You can’t hide house debate.  I was very impressed with Senator Faulkner.  He was very passionate and also very knowledgeable.

Interestingly Senator Faulkner was against the was in Iraq.  The house of reps were in favour of it and the senate was against it.  Just an interesting side note.

I also heard some senate debate about the live cattle export situation.  Sadly the liberal senator I heard talking on the issue unapologetically didn’t care about the cattle, just about the jobs of those selling the cattle.  Of course it’s right to care for the livelihood of the workers, but if you make your living off the pain and torture of animals, surely there needs to be change.

One of the other things that irritated my is that the Liberal party seem unable to mention Kevin Rudd without mentioning the fact that he used to be PM.  It’s mean and unnecessary.  But he takes it all very gracefully (I’m not sure I could).  I have been very impressed with him.

Parliament house itself is truly stunning.  I don’t think I’ve said this yet, but I just adore the place.  I am so sad to leave it.  It is the most magnificent building!  What I wouldn’t give to work there!  I would love to be a member of the house of reps!  Who would vote for me?  Anyone?

Well, my week is over.  Parliament don’t sit on Fridays so this is it for me.  Tomorrow I’m going to take a walk about lake burley griffin then drive back to Melbourne.  I have had the most incredible week.  I am so glad I chose to spend my holidays this way.  I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.  I have spent so much time smiling and truly enjoying myself.  I may sound hyper critical, but that’s only because I am passionately engaged in the political process.  I have more than enjoyed my time in Canberra and hope to do it again one day.  I wish parliament house was more accessible to me.

Please ask me any questions you want.

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6 Replies to “Day Four – Canberra”

  1. love the commentary. i wish i had the ability to do what you have done this week. unfortunately my current life situation does not avail itself to the trip. i also would like a crack one day at the ‘Lower House’. although i may have to wrangle my wife into the idea.

    great to see an Aussie actually get into the political debate.

  2. I’ve had an unescorted pass for parliemnt house a few times and it’s a super building and absolutely massive. the public area is actually quite small. I’d love to work there too.

  3. I was in Canberra two years ago for a conference, and went on a self-guided tour of Old Parliament House, which is now renamed as the Museum of Australian Democracy. I had a look at what was the Prime Minister’s office. This room has been left as it was in 1988, when the new building opened.

    Did you write elsewhere that you sat near Annabel Crabb in the public gallery? I used to have a thing for her until I found out she was already taken.

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