The Big Issue : Edition 456
THEBIGISSUE18APR–1MAY2014 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman thinking to myself: Dad would love this place. These are the clubs where political heavies get together and whisper confidentially under a portrait of the Queen, and over a brandy snifter. Where shit, as they say, goes down. I can understand why the PM keeps tunnelling his way back to such an environment. It really is civilised. Lovely. It is also monstrously privileged, and this is a distinction that appears to be utterly eluding the government. This is why Bishop’s banning of laughter during Question Time is so ridiculous. I mean, yes, it’s ludicrous that the Speaker is supposed to behave impartially (it’s like Collingwood Football Club President Eddie McGuire being asked to commentate a Collingwood game). Also, the Liberal Party made mockery and laughter an art form during their stint in opposition. There’s simply no high ground available here for Bishop to mandate from, and ‘do as I say, not as I do’ doesn’t work on anyone older than five. In the early days of the current Parliament, Speaker Bishop ruled that it was okay to call Opposition Leader Bill Shorten ‘Electricity Bill’. Yet during the infamous ‘laughter- gate’ sitting, Abbott felt entitled to complain that “Bill Shorten is humming ‘Rule Britannia’ at me”. Here’s the thing (and this applies regardless of your political persuasion): when you’re in power, and you act like a dick, you will be mocked. You will be laughed at. You will become an object of ridicule, and this particularly applies if you cling to your pomp. Decreeing that knight- and- damehoods are back doesn’t make you look authoritative; it makes you look like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. And, in a democracy, you cannot ban laughter – it is a very dangerous precedent to be setting. If the PM wants to revive something useful from the monarchy, make it the court jester. The jester’s job was to deflate the ego of the ruler, alert them to their privilege and bring them back to Earth when they were being a dick. Actually, Tony, better make that two. ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH Pomp & UNCIRCUMSTANCE » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman. IF YOU’RE LOOKING for recent stand-out political moments (and who isn’t?), it’s hard to go past: a) Speaker Bronwyn Bishop banning laughter in Parliament; and b) PM Tony Abbott reintroducing knights and dames into the Australian honours system. Both sound like plot points rejected by Yes Minister for sheer outlandishness, and my knee-jerk response is, well, if you don’t want to be ridiculed, stop being ridic. But once the eye-rolling is done, there’s a lot to unpack. For one thing (and here I’ve got Bishop’s back), less laughter in Parliament would be a damn fine thing. I find parliamentary sessions utterly unlistenable. No matter when I tune in, I’ve yet to strike a moment when Australia’s leaders aren’t shrieking, hooting, yelling, laughing, cat- calling and generally acting like a bucks’ party that doesn’t like the stripper. When I was young, I lapped up PM Paul Keating’s stylish eviscerations of the Libs, but I’d trade all that in a heartbeat for a Parliament that knows the meaning of manners, restraint and honour. Who knows? Perhaps Abbott’s dusting off of a couple of hoary old honours is actually an attempt to reach back to a more splendid reality – when Parliament was run like a gentlemen’s club, complete with ‘shush’, rules, leather Chippendale sofas and an elephant-foot umbrella stand in the corner. I’ve performed (comedy, I hasten to add) at the Athenaeum Club in Melbourne, a traditional, deeply conservative gentlemen’s club for powerbrokers. It’s a portal back in time. As a woman, I had to have special dispensation to be there, and wasn’t allowed in the dining room unless accompanied by a man. Everything about the place screamed 1976: the darkwood panelling, the Robert Ludlum and John Le Carré novels on the bookshelves, the hairspray provided in the ladies’ bathroom, and the duck and sherry consommé. Such a place is a comforting retreat from the outside world, if you’re not intimidated. I grew up with it – my parents were the last generation of English colonials – and spent my afternoon at the Athenaeum wallowing in nostalgia, wielding my cutlery correctly (from the outside in) and REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS? WELL, FOR SOME, THEY’RE BACK.