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Parties get out of hand as soon as leaders turn their backs

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Parliamentary Sketch Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald

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UNDER THE FLAG

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WITH both party leaders away, Parliament increasingly resembles the frayed atmosphere towards the end of an under-supervised children's party, where too much sugar has been ingested, the crowd is getting fretful, and at least one kid has eaten a box of crayons just because of the lack of a recognisable authority figure made it possible to do so.

The day began with party room meetings for both sides of politics, on which journalists receive a background briefing every Tuesday.

The Deputy Speaker, Anna Burke, could have done with a handbag-size weapon, or at the very least a hip flask in her handbag, 

With the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, absent, the Deputy Prime Minister, Wayne Swan, addressed caucus. No other political leader, he told them, had injected ''as much venom and aggression'' into politics as the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, apparently forgetting the sins of Mark ''The Hater'' Latham.

I can't hear you ... a revved-up Julie Bishop butts in as the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, speaks.

I can't hear you ... a revved-up Julie Bishop butts in as the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, speaks. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop, hit back by telling her party room the character assassination of Abbott was entirely predictable, and in question time a Liberal backbencher, Kelly O'Dwyer, denounced the ''handbag hit squad'' of Labor women who led attacks against Abbott.

It was a catchy phrase, and elicited amusing images of Tanya Plibersek and Nicola Roxon using their Louis Vuitton totes (or are they cross-the-body satchel types?) to wallop enemies.

The Deputy Speaker, Anna Burke, who is stuck in a nightmare of unknowable length until the Speaker, Peter Slipper, returns and relieves her from her post, could have done with a handbag-size weapon, or at the very least a hip flask in her handbag, to help control her charges.

Prop ... Bishop "talks through" Christopher Pyne.

Prop ... Bishop "talks through" Christopher Pyne. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

At one point Burke commanded Bishop to stop talking loudly through others' responses, and Bishop responded by grasping the manager of opposition business, Christopher Pyne, and whispering theatrically in his ear, in what appeared an uncomfortable embrace for them both.

Interjections from both sides were constant, and the opposition communications spokesman, Malcolm Turnbull, looked more world-weary than ever as he checked his iPhone for important messages/played Angry Birds.

During the earlier party room meeting, a Liberal backbencher had reportedly suggested Turnbull, who has better poll numbers than Abbott, be allowed to ask more questions in question time.

This suggestion was politely noted but not enacted, and instead, the shadow treasurer, Joe Hockey, was given free rein to shout at Swan about the budget black hole into which he says the Labor government has sunk.

Hockey moved a suspension of standing orders to force the government to explain how it will fund its promised policies.

The manager of government business, Anthony Albanese, moved to gag debate, and Pyne choked with indignation at the outrage of it all.

The party broke up. No lolly bags were given out.

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