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Welcome to the House of fun with all the muck that's fit to rake

All you need to know about the state of affairs in Canberra is that question time was interrupted yesterday by a debate about the difference between ''muck'' and ''muckraking''.

If further evidence of the gravity of Parliament were needed, Speaker Peter Slipper was required to rule whether an unnamed MP caught playing solitaire in the House (it wasn't Julia Gillard) was indulging in unparliamentary behaviour. He found it did not offend the standing orders.

Liberal West Australian Don Randall feigned surprise at being asked to withdraw the word ''Juliar''. ''I wasn't aware 'Juliar' was unparliamentary,'' he opined slyly.

Much time was expended, and no light shone, on who might have told what to whom in the lead-up to the affray at The Lobby Restaurant on Australia Day. Ms Gillard refused to answer questions about new evidence of skulduggery, declaring, unconvincingly, that she had already dealt with it.

Craig Thomson, the Labor MP whose union credit card had the mysterious habit of turning up at bawdy houses, released a statement expressing the hope that the investigation of his activities be completed soon.

This may have been prompted by the announcement at a Senate committee that the Fair Work Australia investigation was likely to be completed next month. It has only taken three years. Not to worry. There is, it turns out, still to go a review of the investigation and why it has taken so long.


The opposition fulminated about the subject, demanding to know variously (a) whether there had been political interference and (b) why the Prime Minister did not interfere and speed things up.

The Prime Minister responded that (a) the opposition's imputations had already come to a ''crashing halt'' because Fair Work Australia had that very day repudiated suggestions of political interference and (b) it would be wicked to interfere.

Ms Gillard grew increasingly animated about attacks on her credibility.

''If you've got an allegation about my conduct, put it; if you don't, get out of the gutter, because your conduct today has been disgusting,'' she said, accusing the opposition - several times - of muckraking.

Liberal veteran bomb-thrower Bronwyn Bishop took up the matter with relish, and when called to withdraw her use of the word ''muck'', she debated the point.

''Muckraking,'' she declared, ''is distinct from standing in muck to rake it.''

Mr Slipper, who threw five MPs out and ordered Labor frontbencher Peter Garrett to find a jacket before he could sit in his sartorially splendid House, found himself frustrated by the day's one substantial matter.

The government's legislation to means test the health insurance rebate barely squeaked through when independent Tony Windsor sided with the Coalition in opposing it.

Slipper, who had tossed away his vote by taking the Speaker's chair, issued a droll statement.

''I sincerely regret not being able to vote against this legislation today,'' he mourned.

Others might have regretted witnessing the doings of the Parliament at all.

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