News National Ugly fight over speaker’s ‘bias’

Ugly fight over speaker’s ‘bias’

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The ugly fight over Speaker Bronwyn Bishop’s impartiality, which both sides seemed anxious to have, matters.

The only good thing about the eruption is that parliament now goes into recess for six weeks.

Perhaps, though it’s unlikely, Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten could get together for the long-term health of an institution that needs to flourish long after these leaders are gone.

Without some action to defuse the bad blood that’s been developing for some time, this parliament is in danger of descending into brutishness and muck.

Both Bishop and Tony Burke have been spoiling for a fight.

Burke earlier in the week lodged a motion, still to be debated, that implied Bishop was neither impartial nor independent.

Early in Thursday’s question time, Bishop threw down the gauntlet by, during a bit of routine argy-bargy, “naming” Mark Dreyfus, which started the process of having him suspended for 24 hours.

While Bishop has tossed Labor MPs out for an hour at a great rate this was the first 24-hour punishment of her term in the chair.

Dreyfus had loudly called “Madam Speaker”, which seemed a most trivial sin.

Burke immediately tried to move a motion of no confidence in the speaker, the gravest action available to him even if, given the government’s numbers, it was doomed to fail.

He said it was the first such motion since 1949, one of several stats which suggests he came prepared for a showdown.

His most damaging charge was that Bishop still regarded herself as an instrument of the Liberal Party and seemed to actually enjoy her side’s victory.

He catalogued a series of alleged sins – above all, her unprecedented expulsion record of 98 Labor MPs, zero Liberals.

Anthony Albanese said Bishop, once in the position she had coveted for years and years, had chosen “the low road of partisanship”.

Christopher Pyne accused Burke of pulling a stunt and coming into the chamber with a prepared speech.

Pyne’s was a nasty little speech which, though he didn’t use the phrase, saw politics as a zero-sum game – the winners can do what they like and the losers have to cop it.

“I am no sook,” he boasted, adding that he held the record for being ejected.

At times Pyne seemed to be playing for laughs from his own side.

The outcome of the vote, being inevitable, solved nothing and certainly didn’t ease Labor’s sense of injustice, which is no doubt exaggerated but certainly has some basis in fact.

Nor did the final seconds of the resumed question time suggest any easing of hostilities.

Abbott, after copping a provocative question, leaned across the despatch and said of Shorten: “If only he had the class of his mother-in-law” – referring to the just-damed Quentin Bryce.

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