Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bearish Behaviour

It is sometimes difficult to know what NSW politicians are trying to achieve when in the Bearpit.

The Bearpit.  Photo from here
Federal Politicians have a well deserved reputation for behaving like idiots in the House of Representatives.  Question time when viewed on TV or (as I have been lucky enough to do) in person is a lesson in petulence and immaturity.

Constant heckling, name calling and worse is, in my opinion, unbecoming of the office.

I suppose there are a few reasons why such behaviour is appealing to the perpetrators.  

Many of them no doubt enjoy letting off a little steam at the other side.  Others no doubt find their comments witty and clever, despite the fact that, for the most part, they clearly are not.

I suppose others feel that they are achieving some political purpose, although what that could possibly be is difficult to imagine

At least with the Federal Parliament, proceedings are broadcast live, and we frequently see excerpts on the evening news. There is therefore at least some audience for the shenanigans.

State Question time is not, to my knowledge, broadcast in any way.  The only people hearing the words would therefore be those in the gallery, which would no doubt number in the dozens, at best.

Not withstanding that, it appears from the Hansard that the interjections, heckling and constant noise is continuous and oppressive. Given that surely I must be one of a very, very small group not directly involved in politics who takes the time to peruse the Hansard, I doubt any votes are won or lost on that basis.

Respect lost, however, is another matter entirely.

There is another question there on the point of parliamentary speech-making and question-asking, given that just about no one outside of the system (except for wonks like myself) is aware of what is going on.

Except when the action excites the media (for example, when a six hour speech is given) the public get very little insight into the proceedings.

Which forces us to ask: "If a politician gives a speech to an empty room and no one listens, what was the bloody point?"

This is all a roundabout way of getting us to Shelley Hancock and this article by Andrew Clennell, a News journalist.

The Speaker.  Photo from here
What Clennell says, in short, is that Hancock is seeming to be just as partisan as John Aquilina was when he sat in the Speaker's Chair, thereby risking an unflattering legacy.

Clennell's main criticism appears to be that Hancock is not even-handed in her decisions and on several occasions spent "the entire session putting Opposition members on calls to order (after three and subsequent misbehaviour a member is ejected) while not censuring misbehaving government MPs."

That may well be true, although the criticism is perhaps a little harsh.

Most (but by no means all) of the shouting and other nonsense in the Bearpit occurs during Question Time, as one might expect.  

Further, as questions must be directed at Ministers, most of Question Time is taken up by Ministers having their say, and opposition members misbehaving.

That's not to say that the Government members are not just as awfully behaved.  It is just perhaps that the opposition has the larger opportunity to do so.

The result, however, is a speaker who will almost inevitably appear biased.

This could all be avoided if the Speaker was in fact independant and, while we're on the topic, empowed and encouraged to restore some order to the Bearpit.

I imagine a constitutional amendement would be required, and it would no doubt go against tradition, but if a Speaker was (say) a retired judge, it would seem that the State would be well served.

If the Speaker was then given rules that would permit the immediate suspension of a member for an apporpriate period, we might finally see some adult behaviour.

But while a Speaker is simply a member of the Government, it seems that we will continue to be subjected to members far more intrested in letting off steam than engaging in sensible debate.

Which, I think we can all agree, is to the detriment of governance in this state.

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