Irregular writer Max Williams travelled to Canberra for a front row seat at question time in Parliament House. He rates the experience.
There we were, at question time in the famous green room of Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra. We had box seats in the Gallery of the House of Legislative Assembly – or lower house – watching the pollies do their stuff. Over the next couple of hours, we would be truly entertained by their antics, not so much with what they said, but with their theatrics.
The ‘new’ Parliament building in the nation’s capital is 30 years old this year. It stands majestic atop Capital Hill, overlooking Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian War Memorial about one kilometre away. Its massive chrome structure with the Australian flag flying on top is impressive – a fantastic sight in this well-designed city layout.
We collected our free pre-booked tickets from the cloakroom – where you also check in all electronic devices and bags – ahead of question time. There are two rows at the entry – for those who have booked and those who haven’t. It’s better to book because you get great seats overlooking both sides of Parliament.
The room was almost empty prior to question time. There was some ‘government business’ happening, but very low key. At about 1.50pm, they started filing in for the 2pm sitting. The friendly staff had provided a handout at entry, listing all politicians, their status and their floor location. It’s fascinating seeing all the pollies in real life.
At 2pm, with all seats occupied, the Speaker of the House introduced Ged Kearney, the new member for the Labor seat of Batman. She entered the House flanked by her support group. The members stood as one group, applauding as she made her way forward. There were hugs, kisses and handshakes. What a great acknowledgement by both sides of the floor.
The bipartisan support didn’t last long, though. Question time started and it was gloves off.
The Prime Minister at that time was Malcolm Turnbull. He received most of the questions, some of which he diverted to appropriate ministers. He was impressive on his feet and, mostly without notes, answered the questions well.
Some questions were prepared by his own party and he had pre-prepared answers for those. However, questions from the Opposition were never answered directly, instead receiving a standard party policy response.
The award for best theatrics of the day went to ‘ScoMo’ (Scott Morrison, then Treasurer and now PM). He was very entertaining, throwing his arms around and getting louder and more aggressive as he continued. There was name calling and pointing, and as the passion level increased, so too did the Opposition’s interjections.
Close your eyes and it could have been school kids yelling at each other at play time. Of course, the speaker was shouting, “Order, order” throughout. “The member has been warned,” he would say, in a general direction towards the unruly outbursts by the Opposition.
One Opposition member was ejected from the House during proceedings.
Labor leader Bill Shorten, with his back to the Libs, spent most of the time chatting and laughing with members of his own party.
The entire question time scene was farcical. It appeared most of these pollies were there to release some of their frustrations, have a bit of fun and entertain the gallery.
We decided to have a look at the Senate, the Upper House, in the Red Room. What a farce. There were only three members from each party in the room and about a dozen in the gallery. A Coalition member directed his five-minute talk slot to the gallery than to the three opposition members, because they were having their own discussion, backs turned and seemingly not listening or interested in what was said.
Both sides of the Senate seemed to have a tag system set up so there were always two to three members on each side at any one time. We did see that red-haired lady (Pauline Hanson) enter the room later.
Overall, it was an entertaining and eye-opening couple of hours. I would certainly recommend attending question time when it’s scheduled, otherwise you can take a free guided tour or just explore this most impressive building at your own pace.
Have you visited Parliament House? Have you ever sat through question time? Did you find it entertaining?