The Politics of Stupid Rules

It would appear that we are going to continue heading down the road out of Policy Town, hurtling toward Lameness and Hypocrisy City. The political car has been accelerating out of Policy Town for some time now. However, since the deplorable comments from Alan Jones about the Prime Minister’s father recently, the vehicle seems to have found some extra horsepower.

On Tuesday came that speech from Prime Minister Julia Gillard, now a worldwide sensation, accusing Tony Abbott of hypocrisy over the Coalition’s calls for the former Speaker Peter Slipper to be sacked over offensive text messages. Of course, just hours later, the embattled Speaker fell on his sword, resigning after what Rob Oakeshott claims was not an ultimatum, even though it sounded extraordinarily like one.

But it was the Alan Jones speech which established a precedent that the Labor Party said should be followed. That precedent said that when you are at a function of your own party as a parliamentary representative you must walk out when there is offensive remarks made. Failing that, you must at least interrupt the act or speech to register your disgust. Then you must at least condemn and ideally apologise on behalf of the party for the stupid remarks. Finally, you must accept responsibility for those remarks because they occurred at an event involving your party and because they happened at your party, everyone in it is responsible for them.

In the characteristic style of hypocritical politicians, some or all of the elements of that doctrine are bound to be broken from time to time. But it probably would have surprised many that in this particular case the rule was broken so quickly.

Last night, at a CFMEU function, senior Labor MP’s and Ministers in attendance, a comedian made offensive remarks about Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff Peta Credlin.

The Prime Minister who was in attendance, had already left before the comedian began the act. Craig Emerson, another senior Labor Minister walked out once the offensive remarks were made. Unsurprisingly, Wayne Swan, due to make a speech after the comic finished his piece, no stranger to immaturity and bad judgement, remained behind. Not just that, but not until today did the Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister say a thing about the remarks.

S0, the ALP member’s of parliament still in attendance failed elements of their own test. The CFMEU, as much as just about any number of unions, is a part of the Labor Party. Not only did all bar Craig Emerson fail to walk out, it is reported that an awkward silence fell upon the crowd, no annoyance was directed at the person up on stage.

Where the ALP member’s of parliament passed the test, just, was their condemnation of the remarks, albeit slow, given that they had chosen to take the moral high-ground in the first place. Yet the apology for the remarks was not as slow as the response of the Leader of the Opposition after the function at which Alan Jones spoke.

But did things really need to get this absurd? Certainly not. Aspects of the precedent invoked by the ALP are just utterly ridiculous. Sure, if someone makes utterly offensive remarks, condemnation of the hurtful words is a reasonable response, if only to calm the charged nature of politics. An apology is just a little silly. To walk out or register discontent mid-act? Again, reasonable, but it is completely arguable that it is not necessary. But to accept responsibility as an act of and on behalf of the party? That’s an entirely laughable concept dreamed up with absolutely no degree of rationality.

This would not be the first time that politicians have painted themselves into a corner. It will happen again.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on October 11, 2012, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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