Climate drama takes over parliament

By: Don Woolford
13 October, 2011

So when does political rhetoric and demonstration cross a line into something dangerously and mindlessly populous?

We must have come close to such a crossing on Wednesday as the government's package of carbon tax bills passed the lower house.

There were public demonstrations in the chamber, prime ministerial triumphalism and, from Tony Abbott, new highs (or lows) of hyperbole.

The morning demos, from the pro-carbon price brigade, were little more than gentle clapping and hardly disruptive.

The later rival one, during question time, may not have been quite Athens or Wall Street,o but it was sustained and highly orchestrated, involving about 90 people.

First a group in one public gallery stood and chanted "democracy is dead ... No mandate".

Soon after they were hustled out a second group in the opposite gallery repeated the act.

Then smaller groups in both stood and chanted simultaneously and finally a handful in the Speaker's gallery, usually the place for invited guests, completed the action.

Most were middle aged or older and looked respectable and none resisted the overstretched security guards.

But for about five minutes they silenced parliament. They also provoked one questionable comment from Speaker Harry Jenkins, who said being in the house was a privilege.

Most people would have thought being in the house to watch their elected members in action was a right.

Whether they have any rights to audience participation is another matter, though in this case there's a good chance that to some degree the demonstrators were provoked by the politicians.

Not deliberately perhaps, though Anthony Albanese suggested an opposition hand in the afternoon disruptions; rather through creating a politically febrile atmosphere.

Julia Gillard did it with phrases like seizing the future and being on the right side of history. Independent Rob Oakeshott did it when he prefaced a question with "this very alive home of democracy" which had just expressed the will of the majority of MPs.

Abbott did it even more, especially when he interrupted question time to launch a censure motion.

He hammered away at the government cheering a broken promise - Gillard's infamous no carbon tax pre-election pledge - and "celebrating a betrayal with a kiss", presumably meaning Gillard's morning embrace of Kevin Rudd was an act of Judas.

He claimed Gillard's broken promise will "haunt her to the grave" and vowed he and all his followers would oppose her tax every day, "with every breath of our bodies".

(Won't he need a few breaths for his bike riding?)

Even the usually measured Warren Truss was infected. If tyranny is the abuse of power by a minority, the Nationals leader said, tyranny has come to Australia.

It's hard, in all this, for anything sensible to be said, let alone heard.

Source: AAP