We here at the Rum Hospital are sticklers for the highest Parliamentary standards. We know that Erskine May is not a booth in Carmel Tebbutt’s seat; that Odgers is not a beer (but it should be); and we resolve any question on standing orders only after consulting Lovelock and the two Evans (if you have to ask, you’re not a stickler).
So, it is with interest that we perused the inaugural speech of The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps. Newly elected, Dr Phelps has quickly earned a reputation as a metaphorical bomb- throwing-loose-cannon; well, more accurately, he would be a loose cannon if he hadn’t been appointed Government Whip in the Upper House within weeks of his arrival. (I assume the thinking of the Leadership was along the lines of the Duke of Wellington’s view of some new troops: “I don’t know what effect these men will have upon the enemy, but by God, they terrify me.”)
Anyways. The inaugural speech of a new Member of Parliament is an occasion for them to get all warm and fuzzy about the well hewn road to their election; to pay tribute to their family; to pay tribute to friends and branch stackers (it’s never clear what they were first: friend or branch stacker); and finally to acknowledge their partner and any children, which essentially amounts to a “don’t expect to see much of me for at least the next eight years”.
But Dr Phelps brought a whole new approach. Sure all of the above conventions were accounted for, but there were other … observances. He duly quoted Hayek, Locke, Jefferson, but Rodgers and Hammerstein, the Village People and Paul Keating were also quoted favourably. He acknowledged his many friends and supporters, but also thanked Labor stalwarts John Faulkner, Joe Ludwig and Robert Ray, and cited them as exemplars.
But while friends and the three foes were spared, few others were. He launched sufficient fusillades – (I suspect there will be much drawing from the well of warfare imagery during his term) – to shame Gerard Henderson and Nancy as dilettantes.
Many new members arrive in Parliament hopeful and idealistic, only to leave some years later bitter and cynical. I have cut out the middle man—I arrived here bitter and cynical! I am bitter about the poverty of political debate in Australia and I am cynical about any prospect that it will improve in the near future. We have a shallow, simplistic media that encourages that cynicism, where every political contest is treated like a horse race and where even the most legitimate of public debate becomes dissent, or splits, or crises. Members of the media weep crocodile tears about the lack of authenticity in our politicians, but when one comes along he or she is treated as a freak to be mocked and derided.
For the better part of the past decade I spent my working days trying to clear up the legal and media messes made by members of all parties; by the stupid and venal—by people who seemed to think that their job as parliamentary representatives entitled them to snuffle in the trough and break the rules.
What is it with Trots? They are all called Tristan, Isolde, Oscar, or Lucinda. What is it about the socialist Left that has these lisping, bourgeois, private school socialists? You can see them now: Archibald Worthington-Smythe, the prefect at Cranbrook or Kings, essentially despising the working class and their boorish ways, and always looking to correct them, to improve them, to turn them presumably into “new Soviet man”. Oh, if only the benighted proletariat would just listen to their betters!
But special regard must be had to what was a special moment in history: the first recorded use of “WTF” on the Parliamentary record.
After quoting a portion of a paper to the Fabian Society on the “Socialist Objective”, Mr Phelps opined:
As my younger friends are wont to say, WTF?
The whole speech is worth reading to get a measure of the man. But as a pithy summary, I can find no better line than his keen aspirations:
“I do not want to be friends with people in my own party, let alone with people in other parties! I would prefer it if Labor members were to say in eight years time, “Good riddance to the son of a bitch; he was nothing but a thorn in our side.”