All through the house not an MP stirred, in fear of the boot

The Australian - - THE NATION - JAMES JEF­FREY THE SKETCH

Ques­tion time warmed up early with Scott Mor­ri­son evok­ing eter­nal shame (for La­bor, natch) and ended with ex­pres­sions of Yule­tide af­fec­tion. So it seemed some­how fit­ting that be­tween these ex­treme book­ends, even death could find a slot. It came knock­ing amid the eerie quiet you get when an op­po­si­tion can’t af­ford to lose a sin­gle per­son to the Speaker’s boot.

More specif­i­cally, death came knock­ing in the form of an iPad at­tached to La­bor MP Stephen Jones’s hand a mo­ment af­ter a spi­der ap­peared next to his col­league Clare O’Neil. For the spi­der, a bit like for Adam and Eve, fate ar­rived Ap­ple-shaped.

The quiet was un­nerv­ing. Even Josh Fry­den­berg, whose an­swers are gen­er­ally treated by La­bor as a tar­get-rich en­vi­ron­ment, was al­lowed to mete out me­thod­i­cal tow­ellings un­im­peded. Some of the usual heck­lers suf­fered greatly. Jones writhed in­ter­nally. Ju­lian Hill mulled Christ­mas shop­ping op­tions. And Ed Hu­sic dis­tracted him­self by pur­loin­ing his col­league Ross Hart’s com­puter when Hart ducked out.

“When Ross leaves his Twit­ter open and Ed Hu­sic is around, this will be dan­ger­ous” was the first tweet that ap­peared on the ab­sent Tas­ma­nian’s ac­count. It was a bit of wag­gish­ness that, top­i­cally, dou­bled as a vague metaphor about the pro­posed new en­cryp­tion regime.

What few in­ter­jec­tions broke this si­lence were mod­est rip­ples of “Shame!” emit­ted by back­benchers in be­tween at­tend­ing to Christ­mas cards. As ScoMo went on about ter­ror­ists and pae­dophiles (an in­di­ca­tion of how much he’s en­joy­ing the fum­ble jamboree of mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ment), hope- fully none of the card-writ­ers got dis­tracted in that state of halflis­ten­ing and ac­ci­den­tally spiced their fes­tive greet­ings. Any card, though, would have been en­hanced by Christo­pher Pyne’s fig­u­ra­tive fur­ni­ture: “That’s what the La­bor Party is do­ing, dis­man­tling one of the three legs of the stool that has stopped peo­plesmug­glers and their evil trade.”

Fry­den­berg, mean­while, com­mem­o­rated two for­mer PMs. Tony Ab­bott was hon­oured with a pair of re­pur­posed slo­gans: “big new prop­erty tax” and “big new re­tiree tax”. Then the Trea­surer de­liv­ered a Ju­lia Gillard Me­mo­rial Mo­ment as he said “hy­per­bowl” — twice, just to be sure.

Most mes­sages ar­rived in recog­nis­able sen­tences; one did not. As Bob Kat­ter opened the sluice gates of his word dam, his neigh­bour Re­bekha Sharkie’s face spoke vol­umes with­out a sound.

Then at last, pre-Christ­mas pleas­antries. There was a mo­ment of am­bidex­ter­ity, the PM on one hand chid­ing Tanya Plibersek for dent­ing the vale­dic­tory glow, and Pyne on the other tweet­ing about the stalled en­cryp­tion leg­is­la­tion: “La­bor has cho­sen to al­low ter­ror­ists and pae­dophiles to con­tinue their evil work in or­der to en­gage in point-scor­ing.”

Naughty and nice, to­gether in one handy place! Or at least un­til Pyne fes­tively deleted it.

ScoMo wished a merry Christ­mas even to Bill Shorten — damned ear­lier as a na­tional se­cu­rity threat — and Shorten re­cip­ro­cated just as warmly.

Then via a few more fes­tive niceties and ha­bit­ual hos­til­i­ties, they were done — in con­trast to all that leg­is­la­tion that had seemed so ur­gent. Like Santa’s sleigh on Christ­mas Eve, that’s still mag­i­cally up in the air.

AAP

Josh Fry­den­berg

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