Parliamentary Behaviour 2012

Scenes in the House yesterday highlighted the absolute contempt that those opposite have for our parliament and its processes. But this is nothing new. During question time last week, I looked up at a bright and ambitious group of young Indigenous Australians and schoolgirls and wondered: what must they think? In fact, I have found myself doing this every question time this year.

I am profoundly worried that the institution of parliament is being debased and I am profoundly worried about what that might mean for our future. I understand that, as a contest of ideas, politics is conflict. I know that contest can, and sometimes should, be quite willing. I get that the hung parliament has poured rocket fuel on that contest and that the opposition sees itself as one resignation away from power. That is its right; but at what cost? What will the coalition inherit if it tramples decency on its way to power?

What I have witnessed in question time is a menacing tone that journalists and politicians of long standing tell me they have never seen before. There is a deeply sinister element to question time which is profoundly unsettling. I am worried because the decency in debate that protects society from its most base urges has cracked—broken by so-called leaders and commentators. In the process, they have belittled the Australian people and denigrated the institutions that bind our society.

Parts of our society are clearly uncomfortable with a female Prime Minister and female leaders. In my public life I see that constantly. Last week I had a male constituent front up to my electorate office to rail about the fact that the Prime Minister is female and to rail about the fact that I am female. I believe that question time has set this tone and behind it rolls a tsunami of bile and prejudice. It starts with the opposition leader, who is aided and abetted by the barrackers and bullyboys in his gang who use the commercial radio airwaves, Twitter and email to incite hatred and to bludgeon those who do not line up with their narrow and bitter world view.

To the topic de jour: frankly, the treatment of Craig Thomson and the disregard for the rule of law and due process shown by the opposition is like watching as a mob throws a rope over the tree. My sister tuned into question time recently and was shocked when my niece was upset by 'everyone yelling at each other.' So I am particularly worried about the effect the current environment is having on future generations of female leaders.

I became the member for Canberra because I have a strong and enduring faith in the decency of the Australian people and believe in the power of our legal and political institutions to enhance that. But I believe the opposition leader has decided to stir fears, not hopes. In order to win the high office of the Prime Minister he is prepared to trash it. My major fear is that this will stunt or shatter the aspirations of any girl or young woman who may one day want to join me in parliament. No new laws are needed to make Australia a better place. It only takes decent leaders.

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