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.