June 16, 2004 | Jeff Wall

Why can’t our leaders be this gracious?

THE following statement was made in Washington, USA, earlier this week:
“Over eight years, it was clear that Bill Clinton loved the job of the presidency. He filled this house with energy and joy. He’s a man of enthusiasm and warmth…….”.
Al Gore? John Kerry? The Rev Al Sharpton? Ted Kennedy? All wrong……….these word were part of a speech by George Walker Bush, 43rd President of the United States at the White House on Monday when he launched the official portraits of William Jefferson Clinton and Hilary Rodham Clinton.
And this is what he said about Senator Hilary Clinton:
“She inspires respect and loyalty from those who know her………..It takes an extraordinary person to campaign and win the United States Senate. She has proven herself more than equal to the challenge…”.
The charity so evident on Monday is not uncommon in the tough, hurly burly world of US politics. It has ever been thus.
Whyis it that Australian politics today cannot rise to such standards of basic courtesy and decency?
Indeed, the more I watch or hear question time in the House of Representatives the more despondent I become. The Government spends the whole of question time bagging Mark Latham – the Labor front bench generally reciprocates.
Is it any wonder that the standing of Australian politicians, and their politics, is about as low as a snake’s belly?
It was not always so. Anyone who doubts that should look up Robert Menzies’s parliamentary tribute to Ben Chifley after the latter’s sudden death in 1951, or his generous tribute to his number one sparring partner, Eddie Ward, in the mid-1960’s.
Or look up Hansard for 1984 when Parliament paid tribute to my late boss and friend, Kevin Michael Keirnan Cairns, the former Liberal MP for Lilley. The tributes to Kevin paid by Paul Keating, Kim Beazley, Lionel Bowen and other Labor frontbenchers were moving, and genuine.
If our current mob think the populus is impressed by their snarling at each other across the chamber, then they are more out of touch with reality than even I had thought.
The problem with the political scene today is that the attacks lack humour, and are all too predictable (and boring). Sometimes Peter Costello rises to the occasion, but as the election draws closer he has become all too predictable and, frankly, all to repetitive.
I can remember the day Gough Whitlam called the aged Liberal MP, Les Irwin, a “superannuated tug boat”, and old Les retorted that “at least he did not look like Liberace!”. Both sides laughed, just as they did when Jim Cope told Sir Robert Menzies that the truck driver who called out “Ming you are magnificent” should have been arrested for drink driving.
About 30 years ago a book containing witty quotes/interjections by Federal MP’s was published. An update in 2004 would struggle to fill two pages.
So the humour has gone, and so has the decency and goodness of spirit. Parliament, and our democracy, are the poorer as a result.
George W Bush is not good at speeches, but his effort in front of the Clinton and Rodham families on Monday was an exception.
What a pity our mob cannot do something similar…….even occasionally?

Posted by Jeff Wall at 6:11 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. I suppose this piece from the forts of folly is a trap but hell who cares? One is expected to always agree with mother when she says name calling is not nice. Yet I infinitely prefer the calling of a spade a spade to the crafted inanities that occasionally spring from Bush’s script. Jeff got that inner glow when he heard Bush, heaping praise on the Clinton’s. I just wanted to puke.
    I see no reason why one should be polite about the rich and the powerful. Nor do I see why one should be all excited and sentimental about a so-called golden age of parliamentary wit. For instance Killen, the so-called Australian Burke, is a pompous old bore. His so-called sparring partner Daly was a classic sycophant from the Labor Right. I recall photos of him anxiously photographing the Queen on her 50s visit. I had but to see her passing by and I remain a suck-hole till I die.
    Not nice? Not polite? Of course not. But what is polite about misery and exploitation and privilege for the few? Our society does lack niceness and politeness. It is savagely impolite to the poor and the disadvantaged, the old and the mentally ill. Jeff should try going to the CES to get something to stave off poverty to get a glimpse through a glass darkly of what I mean.
    What I object to about the name-calling in parliament is not that is not nice – like farting in public – but rather that it is not sincere. Both sides of Australian politics may make rude noises and poke out their tongues at each other, but they agree on all that really matters when it comes to the distribution of wealth and power in this society. That is what matters, but it is hopeless expecting a Rightist who thinks he is neutral or non-partisan to even come close to recognising this.

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — June 18, 2004 @ 9:36 am

  2. I have just come across this piece of political graciousness and could not resist the opportunity to gladden Jeff’s heart again. It is from the Guardian report of a Bush-McCain rally. this is what the former bitter rivals said about one another.
    “Bush sat just behind McCain on a stage erected in an aircraft hangar, basking in the endorsement from his fierce opponent for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination. They seemed determined to project unity, heaping praise on each other with no mention of the bitter contest.
    The president said of McCain, who spent 5 years in a Vietnamese POW camp: “When he speaks of service and sacrifice, he speaks from experience. … The United States military has no better friend in the United States Senate than John McCain.”
    McCain said of Bush: “He has not wavered in his determination to protect this country and to make the world a better, safer, freer place. You will not yield, nor will we.”
    Now wouldn’t it be wonderful if such sincerity and politeness and good manners could become part of the Australian way of life? Doesn’t it just bring joy to your conservative, oops sorry, I meant to say liberal hearts, to see politicians being so nice to one another?

    Comment by Gary MacLennan — June 20, 2004 @ 2:14 am

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