ACT News

MLAs' slings and arrows fall short, say Assembly veterans

Scumbags, cockroaches, liars and grubs.

Veterans of the ACT Legislative Assembly have dismissed this week's bout of parliamentary name-calling as anodyne - with one member calling another "a cow" - and suggested politicians should learn from their predecessors when it comes to using rhetorical barbs to win debate. 

Opposition frontbencher Brendan Smyth, a long-serving member and former opposition leader, is close behind Jon Stanhope ...
Opposition frontbencher Brendan Smyth, a long-serving member and former opposition leader, is close behind Jon Stanhope with 71 rulings.  

Canberra Times analysis of Assembly records dating back to the Carnell government has found Liberal members are more likely to use language deemed to be unparliamentary, closely followed by their Labor opponents. 

Hansard transcripts between 1998 and the present day reveal 305 rulings have been made against Liberal members, 294 by Labor, 29 by Independent members and just 15 by Greens. 

Former Chief Minister Jon Stanhope is revealed as the chamber's most decorated pugilist, attracting rulings by the speaker a total of 79 times. 


Opposition frontbencher Brendan Smyth, a long-serving member and former opposition leader, is close behind with 71 rulings. 

Attorney-General Simon Corbell finished third, attracting 63 rulings, including more than a few for labelling opponents as "hypocrites".  

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, Treasurer Andrew Barr, opposition leader Jeremy Hanson, Speaker Vicki Dunne and ministers Joy Burch and Shane Rattenbury all made the top 20 from recent years. 

Former Labor minister John Hargreaves, himself a top 10 performer, described the current Assembly as including some of "the best cardboard cut-outs of politicians since self-government". 

"They are a humourless bunch, they don't have the skills of repartee and they've got the ghosts of Jim Killen and Fred Daly howling in their graves," he said.  

In November 2005, Mr Hargreaves was responsible for achieving a near complete breakdown in Assembly debate. 

"Gee you are a scumbag, you are," he said to Liberal Steve Pratt.

"Up yours, Hargreaves; up yours, cockroach," Mr Pratt replied with vigour. 

Welcoming his newfound status as parliamentary bad boy, Mr Smyth defended "life and colour" as a necessary part of proceedings. 

"Some days you’re upset or you’re passionate about something or you think the other side has lied, or has been a hypocrite and you want to express yourself, but these are the rules we play by," he said. 

"I remember with a great deal of affection Wayne Berry always had a great turn of phrase, and so did Michael Moore who could always get across his message.

"Ted Quinlan had a very dry wit and if you were ever on the end of a barb from Ted, you well and truly knew it," Mr Smyth said. 

Good humour is required of professional politicians, Mr Quinlan said. 

"I don't know that we had that many class acts in my time.

"There's a classic word that gets used in parliaments these days and that's "disingenuous". What that really means is "you're a bloody liar". Somehow liar is unparliamentary but disingenuous is passable."

The former deputy chief minister said speakers faced a permanent struggle to keep debate in order and members on track. 

He and Mr Smyth both nominated former speaker Wayne Berry as one of the territory's best. 

"Wayne was an old sparing partner of mine, because he's a lefty and I was right wing but we used to sit next to each other in caucus, and rib each other, but he was an outstanding speaker."  

"Brendan Smyth and John Hargreaves were both shockers at humour," Mr Quinlan said. 

with Emma Kelly, Erika Bacon and John-Paul Moloney