If anyone were to take the time to peruse the pages of Hansard or even the media’s public record you would soon be struck by one very obvious fact and that is the tendency for our MPs and senators to use cheeky sarcasm towards their political opposites. After all our politics is a combative and competitive sport of the tongue and the clever retort or put down is the stock in trade of any skilled politician. Even in a senate committee the Chair exists to act as umpire and if any comment is actually going too far in its content or taste then it may be withdrawn or apologised for. That is entirely reasonable.
Frankly I have watched the vision of this little spat several times and I would really like to see more of the meeting that preceded Wong spitting the dummy here because I suspect that it would contain a fair bit of the usual tendency of government minister trying to avoid providing real answers to reasonable requests. That said the conflated outrage about one off the cuff “Meow” is ridiculous and to some extent hypocritical. Personally I think that there is a real and admirable beauty to the clever use of sarcasm (think of Oscar Wilde) and those who would ban it must be terribly dull and dreary people. However as the piece in today’s OZ points out the Labor party are being particularly hypocritical over “Meowgate” because even Gillard has played the same sort of game herself:
But yesterday, Liberals Sophie Mirabella and Kelly O’Dwyer questioned Labor’s sincerity.
Ms Mirabella, who in 2008 was told by Labor MP Belinda Neal that evil thoughts could turn her unborn baby into a demon, told The Australian yesterday that none of the Labor women had complained when former Labor leader Mark Latham described a female journalist as “a skanky ho”.
“It was just hypocrisy for a Labor woman to raise this when the silence has been deafening when conservative women — politicians or journalists — have been attacked in the past,” Ms Mirabella said.
Ms O’Dwyer said Senator Bushby’s comment had been injudicious but he had apologised to Senator Wong.
“The Labor Party is absolutely hypocritical,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
“On one hand they get righteously indignant on this, where an apology was made right away. But you have other examples where there hasn’t been the same level of intensity.”
Senator Wong told ABC radio she also objected to the Opposition Leader’s recent comment that he wanted to “make an honest woman” of the Prime Minister when discussing Ms Gillard’s breach of her pre-election promise not to impose a carbon tax.
Senator Wong said: “We all know what that generally refers to, and that’s making sure the woman’s married. So, I think, Tanya’s quite right to name what she perceives is happening.”
Special Minister of State Gary Gray said Senator Bushby had apologised for his “inappropriate, dumb observations” and he hoped politicians would learn from the incident and accept that parliament was “not the place for reverting to type”.
Earlier, when Ms Gillard was challenged about her description of Mr Pyne, she accused journalists of misreporting her comment, urging them to check the record.
“I actually never used that terminology,” she said.
However, a copy of the parliamentary Hansard makes clear that Ms Gillard, comparing the relative merits of Mr Abbott and Mr Pyne, described the pair as a doberman and a poodle and noted that choosing between the two for a job was “a choice between macho and mincing”.
There are clear and reasonable constraints upon the way that participants in our democracy are expected to behave as they go about the business of politics and it is hardly surprising that players form all sides try to push the envelope as they sharpen and hone that most important political weapon, a clever tongue, to seek advantage in debate or any other element of the political process (like committee meetings). Now I very much prefer that such things are done with perfect sweetness and good manners but realise that when dealing with human beings perfect manners and absolute consideration of every word before it is set free upon the world would make for a very dull political process.
Politics is a tough sport and those who play at the elite level should realise that it is a game played on the basis of no quarter given and none expected in return. Which is why conflated outrage like that form Penny Wong and her supporters just reflects badly upon her and them rather than the man who made a vaguely insensitive remark in a senate committee meeting.