The NSW legislative assembly’s nickname is “the bear pit” for the aggressive nature of Australia’s oldest political chamber.
But even by those standards, lower house speaker Shelley Hancock’s patience was tested in the final sitting day before parliament rose for the winter break.
Hancock, a Liberal MP, has ejected Labor MPs 263 times during the current term of parliament and Labor have accused the Speaker of bias after she referred to them as blockheads and idiots during last Thursday’s question time.
In response, Hancock told the ABC that the Opposition was “disgraceful” last week and subsequently implied that Labor MPs were possibly drunk and therefore behaving badly during question time.
Several MPs were ejected, including Strathfield MP Jodi McKay after she challenged the speaker over the use of the terms “blockheads” and “idiot”.
“I am really concerned about the effect of alcohol on many members,” Hancock told the ABC.
“I suspect, and many people have said to me, that they’re smelling alcohol on members when they come into question time.
“There is just absolutely no respect for the Speaker.”
Labor’s manager of Opposition business, Michael Daley, responded by saying her claim was rubbish and Hancock had “concocted this sad desperate defence”.
“Any objective observation of question time will see that Shelley Hancock uses her position as speaker inappropriately,” he said.
The ABC said the Speaker also used the term “boofhead” in reference to Labor, but Business Insider can’t find Hancock saying it in the Hansard from last Thursday.
But here are two exchanges in which she warned Fairfield MP Guy Zangari that he was potentially making “a bit of an idiot” of himself and later, called the Opposition “blockheads”. When McKay objected, Hancock ordered her removed from Parliament.
Here’s the “idiot” exchange:
Mr Guy Zangari: Point of order: My point of order is Standing Order 129. The Premier is talking about various members when the question was about infrastructure. The Premier cannot answer a Dixer from her own backbench.
The SPEAKER: There is no point of order. You have to listen to the question before you take a point of order, otherwise you make a bit of an idiot of yourself. The member knows the point I am making.
Ms Jodi McKay: You just called him an idiot.
The SPEAKER: I did not.
Ms Jodi McKay: You just called a member of this Chamber an idiot.
The SPEAKER: The member for Strathfield, with her past behaviour towards other members, should not comment.
And the “blockheads” encounter:
Opposition members: Time! Time!
The SPEAKER: I just gave him two minutes, you blockheads. Why don’t you listen?
Ms Jodi McKay: Point of order—
The SPEAKER: Order! The Clerk will stop the clock.
Ms Jodi McKay: Madam Speaker, I ask that you withdraw that comment. You are the Speaker of this House and you should treat every member on this side with respect.
The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Strathfield will resume her seat.
I direct the Deputy Serjeant-at-Arms to remove the member for Strathfield from the Chamber under Standing Order 249 for the rest of the day. It is a shame that the member for Strathfield took that comment personally. I was not indicating anybody in particular
When it comes to getting on the turps in parliament, the Speaker should also look to the right of the chair, as well as the left.
In 2013, former premier Barry O’Farrell threatened then finance minister Greg Pearce with the sack after he was accused of being drunk at a late night sitting. Pearce denied the claim, saying he’d only had “two or three drinks” at a Liberal party function and had to go home “exhausted”.
He ultimately lost his ministry over an unrelated matter and left parliament last year.
A decade ago, when Labor was in government, Matt Brown quit as police minister after admitting to a semi-naked incident in the NSW parliament, in which he simulated a sex act, but denied claims he was drunk.
Attempts to ban drinking in parliament by some crossbench MPs have been resisted by the major parties.
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