Bad magic happens when ordinary men and women become politicians. When they enter that glorious building, our modern Parliament House, sometimes - and with some people - common sense, good behaviour and decency desert them completely. Sometimes there are repercussions and sometimes there aren't.
On Wednesday, for example, we saw Barnaby Joyce, the actual Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, behave very, very strangely. When he started to answer a question about infrastructure and jobs from the member for Dawson, George Christensen, his reply was unusual, to say the least.
Joyce started off OK, thanking Christensen for his work in preparing the question, but deteriorated sharply after that. A few moments in, he said: "I like going to the movies. I can't - I can't but re - I can't but always remember Howard Hughes, Howard Hughes the aviator, but y - Howard Hughes the aviator, but the Labor Party got 'Albo the advocator' - the great, the great advocator, the great ideas man, the great ideas man, straight from the pool room." [The Castle's pool room expression applies to trophies or wins.]
At this point, the Speaker, the highly honourable Tony Smith, said: "The Deputy Prime Minister will resume his seat." Then, "The Leader of the Opposition, on a point of order?"
Anthony Albanese said: "Yes, Mr Speaker. I am forced to bring out the 'on weirdness' stuff - I have no idea what this is, but it's nothing to do with the question."
It's not the first time Albo has brought out the "on weirdness" defence when interrupting some utter, utter ranting in Parliament. Perhaps he is staging an interruption for relevance. Once in 2016, he interrupted Peter Dutton raving about bikie gangs. The next time, in 2019, he interrupted Scott Morrison going on about blowing the budget on reckless spending. How times change when it comes to barking about debt and deficit.
But Wednesday's interruption was different. Albanese was clearly wondering what was going on with the Deputy Prime Minister.
I can't tell you why the Deputy Prime Minister was falling over his words and making no sense (the Hansard record turns burbling into English on most occasions, but the video clip makes explicit what is not plain from the reading). But at a time when we are all deeply concerned with the behaviour of politicians, it brought neither comfort nor reassurance.
There is, staffers tell me, plenty of opportunity to get support and succour from the employee assistance program at Parliament House, for members, for staffers, for anyone who needs it. The EAP has been sending out emails and leaflets and offering counselling of all kinds - left, right and centre (sorry).
But there is also a time when things go beyond counselling. Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young says politicians should be held to account for irresponsible behaviour.
"It's not acceptable in other workplaces, it shouldn't be acceptable here," she says.
She's one of the voices calling for a code of conduct for parliamentarians.'
Such a code should surely include stopping the kind of abusive behaviour directed at the former head of Australia Post, Christine Holgate.
This week we saw Holgate receive $1,000,000 in sorry money after her shocking exit last year. Holgate gave four senior AusPost executives $5000 luxury watches. For that gift - far smaller than others given at the executive level in other organisations - she was pilloried from pillar to post by Scott Morrison (with small contributions from Anthony Albanese, who called Holgate's tenure untenable).
"We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people ... she has been instructed to stand aside. If she doesn't wish to do that, she can go," Morrison told Parliament.
Neither of these positions was fair or reasonable. Morrison's heavyhanded performative arrogance led to Holgate's exit, which has now cost Australia Post a bomb and its reputation as a company with decent values (for some time, Labor has campaigned on the composition of the Australia Post board. How Australia Post chair Lucio Di Bartolomeo kept his job in this mess is quite beyond me).
Holgate told the Senate inquiry into her dismissal: "I was humiliated by the Prime Minister for committing no offence and then bullied by my chairman ... I was hung in Parliament - humiliated, not just hung - run over by a bus and reversed again."
I'm glad she's got the money, sad she doesn't have a written-in-blood apology from Di Bartolomeo, and sadder still she doesn't have his guts for garters. At least he has the excuse that he was following instructions from the top man in Parliament House.
Holgate wasn't the first victim of parliamentary derangement syndrome, and she won't be the last. But while we have parliamentarians who are never checked nor balanced, that kind of appalling behaviour will continue.
Bad magic - weirdness, as the Opposition Leader calls it - happens in Parliament. No matter why that occurs, we are putting at risk not just the people who work in Parliament House but those who suffer the consequences of its decision-making. That's all of us.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.