Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Schools out. No more Parliament. No more question time.

Not until Budget night, Tuesday May 12.

Not this Tuesday, not next Tuesday.

And it's making me realise what I am missing:

With exceptions, a deadly-dull uninformative abuse of process.

When John Howard was there the answers were short, and often witty. Peter Costello livened the place up.

Now now.

Below the fold, in the funniest and most apt piece of writing I have read this year,  The Sydney Morning Herald's Annabel Crabb explains what's happened.


TO LISTEN to a parliamentary answer by Kevin Rudd is to enlist in a gruelling physical challenge.

At fir
st, your correspondent was embarrassed about her inability to maintain attention all the way through to the end of even some of the shorter answers.

But after yesterday's question time, in which the PM reached a personal best of 13 whole minutes, it became clear there is a mystical power to the man's speech patterns. At the 30-second mark, the listener is feeling confident. There are a few "early and decisives", the odd reference to the "core facts" about something-or-other, but nothing to raise a sweat.

By the 90-second mark, it's an effort. We're forging further and further away from the question. Ordinary landmarks disappear. The PM begins to introduce a few special effects - a column of ABS statistics, or the night thoughts of some long-dead Nobel laureate. Then he might go for a quick whip round the GDPs of some selected OECD countries.

Kevin Rudd is the Phil Spector of political oratory - his technique is "Wall of Sound", with massive overdubbing of economic statistics.

By the second-minute mark, the human brain begins to wander, in search of the banal comforts of home.

Have we run out of Vegemite?

When is the cat due at the vet?

Through the neural crack jemmied open by these uninvited thoughts, dozens of others rudely crowd.

Legions of unwritten letters, unpaid bills, unwatered plants and unthanked great aunts jostle for attention, and suddenly Mr Rudd and his statistics are completely gone.

With an effort, the listener snaps back to attention, only to hear him take a long breath and say: "Secondly …"

It's the oddest thing; it's not that the sentences aren't sentences, or that they don't make sense grammatically. It's just that they attempt so little. Facts and figures flow remorselessly, interspersed with quotations from analysts or International Monetary Fund personages.

Mr Rudd's first answer yesterday lasted six minutes, but it seemed an eternity. When he fell silent, Brett Raguse (Lab, Forde), managed to struggle to his feet. "My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the house on recent updates to the global economic outlook and … ?"

What? Was the man mad?

"Flee!" your correspondent wanted to gasp, but was overcome. Mr Rudd resumed his position at the dispatch box.

THIRTEEN more minutes followed, interrupted by feeble cries to the Speaker from a stricken Opposition at minutes six, eight, nine and 11½.

"This is verbal anaesthetic!" protested the Liberal frontbencher Tony Smith.

Later, someone asked about bananas.

I wish I could tell you what the answer was.


Anonymous said...

So what are you saying, Peter? That you would rather be amused than have good government? Do you really think that Rudd should change his speaking style to pander to the press gallery's limited attention span? Look at the polls. Rudd is well liked out in voter land. He comes across as a decent bloke who's doing a good job in difficult times. You're joining the pack led by the pea-green with envy Mad Monk and encouraging the thinking of Rudd as a toxic bore. Malcolm Turnbull is clearly a far superior Parliamentary speaker but he isn't getting through to the public and his attack style doesn't work where it matters any more than Costello's did. Thanks for those insights into Costello behind the scenes. Goes some way to explaining his current behaviour: entirely in character, it seems.

WT said...

Well, I watch Question Time from "out in voter land", and I'm not a member of the press, but I fully agree with Ms Crabb. Throw in some dithering, a few malaprops and some political nous and you've got Joh reincarnated.

Mind you, whether the speaker is a toxic bore or a flamboyantly brilliant orator is irrelevant, so long as Question Time remains the farce that it has become.

Tim said...

Gotta say I despair when I read pieces like Annabel Crabbs'. As an absolute outsider/ordinary member of the public, there is something really galling about insidery journos whining like this. There's plenty wrong with QT, but very little of it has to do with whether Crabb and Co are being entertained sufficiently. Fact is, the standing orders are so stacked against the Oppn that QT as a place of deliberation is a farce. That successive govts take advantage of this is hardly surprising. Let's talk about fixing that. Maybe Crabb and co could do some actual journalism instead of this pretend "sketch" stuff and their poor-me-I'm-so-bored routines which just seem to reflect their own cynicism and encourage it in others. Sorry to blurt, but to see journos wasting their access and the absolute privilege they enjoy to be the eyes and ears of we-the-people on complaints like this is, as I say, galling.

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