Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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Australian-rules politics

Jay Drezner has an interesting post on the norms of political civility in Australia versus the United States:

[T]he US, while an absolute sewer of backroom politics, doesn't hold a candle to the Australian parliament when it comes to incivility and foul language. Proof of point comes with the results of the Labour caucus held today which declared Mark Latham, formerly Shadow Treasury Minister, as the Opposition Leader... Mr. Latham is a part of a new generation, being only 42, and brings some interesting things to his party, one of the most notorious being him calling John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, an arselicker in the Bulletin earlier this year.

Of course, there are plenty of politicians in the U.S. willing to use strong language. However, Australian politics may have hit a new low recently thanks to third party leader Andrew Bartlett:

Andrew Bartlett stepped aside from the Democrats leadership late yesterday after he was involved in an extraordinary row on the floor of the Senate during which he bruised the arm of Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris and yelled abuse at her.

Other senators said Senator Bartlett seemed to have been drinking heavily before the episode in the chamber late on Thursday night.

Senator Ferris, the Government Whip in the Senate, said the tension began earlier in the evening, when Senator Bartlett took five bottles of wine from a Liberal Party Christmas function and Senator Ferris tried to get them back. Party staffers finally retrieved four of the bottles.

During a division in the Senate about 10.30pm, Senator Bartlett and Senator Ferris crossed paths.

Senator Ferris said Senator Bartlett was affected by alcohol and stumbled towards her, grabbed her arm and shouted insults at her. (emphasis added)

Click on this report to see the precise language Bartlett used in the altercation.

posted by Dan on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM


At least no one was hit over the head with a cane!

posted by: richard on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Close the


posted by: JoJo on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

Close the angle bracket blockquote close angle bracket. Thanks.

posted by: JoJo on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

While Bartlett getting physical is an unusual occurance, name calling isn't, in the normal run of the mill parlimentry sittings, it's pretty much a lang name calling and shouting contest interrupted by a few speeches. While most ppl think that it's quite childish, I do think that at least it tests the mettle of our politicians.
Another thing about our parliment is that all those who sit have 'parlimentry privilege' which means they cannot have civil actions lodged against them as a result of what they say in parliment. This feature is used (abused?) fairly commonly.

posted by: Factory on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]


I'm not sure that there's any kind of bad trend or negative generational change going on.

It's true that basic civility in Australian politics is an option, not an obligation. But it's an option the present Prime Minister, John Howard, chooses to exercise, even though his predecessor Paul Keating set standards of invective that in those days seemed unlikely ever to be surpassed. (Paul Huntington, in _The Clash Of Civilizations And The Remaking Of World Order_ even lists this aspect of Australian culture, and the chainsaw-like verbal brutality of Keating in particular, as a key factor in dooming Keating's effort to redefine Australia as an Asian nation.)

Mark Latham is probably the worst sewer-mouth ever to hold a such major post of responsibility. He gets right up the noses of people who don't take offense easily. But in between Keating and Latham as leaders of the Labor Party (for Americans, Labor=Democrats, Liberal=Republicans) came Kim Beazely, a rare polite and kindly soul.

True, Andrew Bartlett is a record-setter. But then, politically, he's also a dead man. The Australian Democrats (for Americans, Australian Democrats=Greens/Nader) are among other things a femocrat party, and also (formerly) proud of their (one-time) ability to resolve problems in the party with sharing, nurturing and numerous cups of tea. Andrew Bartlett could not have more comprehensively demonstrated his unfitness to lead such a party. When you kick the third rail and die politically, that is not part of a trend to incivility.

posted by: David Blue on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

For Australia -- you have to absolutely love a country where their unofficial national anthem (their equivalent of "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful") is about a hobo who steals a sheep then commits suicide rather than get arrested.

If I were not born an American, I would hope to be born an Australian.

posted by: Anthony on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

“ about a hobo who steals a sheep “

Oh well, at least it’s not about having sex with a sheep! Isn’t Russell Crowe an Australian? I guess that explains everything.

posted by: David Thomson on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]


Yes, Russell Crowe is an Australian, and a very recognizable Australian type at that.

And good for you, Anthony. :)

posted by: David Blue on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]


To my great surprise, Senator Bartlett did survive the first leadership challenge. No matter how brief or useless his post-incident leadership career is, he will have one, and that definitely does represent a collapse in at least the Democrats' standards. Some things do change.

posted by: David Blue on 12.10.03 at 06:08 PM [permalink]

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