Deputy Speaker Anna Burke warns MPs in question time: "The death stare will apply." Photo: Penny Bradfield
Anna Burke is only three days into the question time gig but the Deputy Speaker has already shown she ain’t afraid of anyone or anything.
Not even Julie Bishop’s atomic death stare.
As MPs trickled in for the last question time of the week, it was evident that people were in a rambunctious mood. Thursday afternoons in a budget week will do that to a politician.
Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop shows Deputy Speaker Anna Burke how it's done. Photo: Andrew Meares
Indeed, it took less than 30 seconds for Julia Gillard to mention the words ‘‘Peter Costello’’ in a reply that was supposed to be about her government’s surplus.
The Coalition’s corresponding guffaw-roar (how dare you mention the former treasurer’s name!) was decibel-heavy, but Burke was soon more concerned about the general level of chatter in the House.
‘‘Can I ask people to not continue with ambient conversations,’’ Burke asked at the end of the first question. ‘‘It’s very disrespectful.’’
Deputy Speaker Anna Burke reminds Christopher Pyne that the rules apply to both sides. Photo: Penny Bradfield
Jenny Macklin got a similar opposition reaction when she had a dig at the Coalition’s stance against the Schoolkids Bonus, which had just passed the Senate.
‘‘Of course, no thanks to anyone opposite,’’ Macklin exclaimed.
The only thing that irritated the opposition more was the Families Minister’s mention of Clive Palmer (that big chesnut), earning Joe Hockey a tidy little warning from Burke.
As the government tried to keep question time focused on how good its budget was and how substandard the Coalition’s budget reply is sure to be tonight, the opposition had other plans.
This afternoon, they were much exercised about reports that the NSW Labor Party had been paying Craig Thomson’s legal expenses. Bishop asked Gillard whether the payment of Mr Thomson’s legal fees was raised with her by the member for Dobell on April 28.
‘‘No, it was not,’’ came the Prime Minister’s unequivocal reply.
But that didn’t stop the Thomson-related inquisition.
A few questions down the line, Coalition frontbencher Michael Keenan asked if Gillard could guarantee ‘‘that no member of her staff has held discussions or meetings with NSW Labor Party officials in relation to the arrangement between the member for Dobell and the NSW Labor Party to pay his legal fees and provide him with loans’’.
Anthony Albanese leapt up to try to get the question disallowed. Burke initially sided with Albo but then changed her mind.
‘‘My apologies, I did not hear the word staff,’’ she said, blaming the hullabaloo aka ‘‘ambient conversation’’.
Then, as the noise levels - and government protests - continued, Burke brought in the big guns. ‘‘It is a very serious question and the death stare will apply,’’ she informed the House.
But Burke was not relying solely on her peepers to keep MPs in order. She used logic too. As she explained to Christopher Pyne - when he protested at an interjection from Albo - the rules apply to both sides.
‘‘The Leader of the House is entitled, as you are, to take points of order,’’ Burke said.
The new question time umpire was not averse to some brute force too.
As the Coalition moved a motion to suspend standing orders, on what the NSW Labor Party was up to around Thomson, things got predictably huffy.
Albo called Bishop a ‘‘fool’’ (he was forced to withdraw) and the Coalition benches made loud and obvious use of the term ‘‘goose’’. As Albo was wandering from the script - making reference to a 1978 newspaper article - Bishop got up to protest. And then wouldn’t sit down.
‘‘The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will resume her seat or she will leave the chamber,’’ Burke boomed.
Bishop returned fire with one of her famous greasies. It seemed to go on forever. But, ultimately, it was no use and Bishop was forced back to her seat, still in glower mode.
In Burke’s book, only her own death stares apply.
As the Deputy Speaker later said: ‘‘I’m sick of the armchair experts assisting along the way.’’
Time it took for Julia Gillard to mention Peter Costello: Less than 30 seconds
Time it took for Anthony Albanese to mention James Ashby: 34 minutes
Number of MPs kicked out: 1
Result of the move to suspend standing orders: Ayes (69), nos (71)
Number of budget-y questions: 9
Number of Craig Thomson-y questions: 6
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