capital hill Soaring not quite like eagles
n the last sitting day of the parliament, the leaders of the two major parties soared almost like eagles above the grime that passes for political debate. It was during the end of year speeches. For the past two weeks the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues have accused Labor’s Bill Shorten of practically every vice imaginable. He’s a “double-crosser”, “a posttruth practitioner”, he “lacks the temperament ever to lead this nation” and he was a protector of “union bullies and thugs”. But the most brazen was from the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. With Malcolm Turnbull sitting passively beside him in parliament, he accused Shorten of “knifing two prime ministers”. I suppose as crimes go, it is worse than knifing one, but you do wonder
if sometimes our intelligences are insulted beyond belief. Not that all the cat calling was on the coalition’s side; it’s just that under the rules in Question Time, the government gets most of the air time. Bill Shorten and his mates accused Turnbull of being an out-oftouch tax minimiser with offshore investments in companies that exploit workers. So it was something of a jolt when Shorten told the House he wanted to take the opportunity of the valedictories to “reveal a national secret”. He said, “Behind closed doors we actually get on quite well.” It’s true that our adversarial system formalises conflict, but restrains it through words and votes. Though by tradition the distance across the table where the leaders face off is two swords’ lengths.
Last Thursday the swords were sheathed and both men reached heights we could only wish they aspired to more often. Turnbull revealed his deep personal faith. He is no tub thumping Bible basher. He has a sophisticated approach to issues of personal belief and public duty in a secular society. His support for gay marriage is evidence of this. The Prime Minister wished Australians a very happy Christmas “filled with peace and love – love for our families and friends, above all for those who are lonely, isolated, those brought low by poverty or illness”. He said, “Whether we are of any faith or no faith, this is the Christmas season and the message Jesus brought was one of unconditional love, and we will be at our very best when we reach out without judging.”
WITH PAUL BONGIORNO AM CONTRIBUTING EDITOR
Shorten echoed those sentiments by telling the house of the selfless heroism of a Brisbane taxi driver who smashed his way into a burning bus to save the lives of 11 people. Shorten said, “He did not stop to ask where the people were born. He did not pause to question the god they were praying to for rescue. He saw his fellow human beings in mortal danger and he saved their lives.” He was a refugee from South Sudan, “who on that day showed us all the spirit of Australia we revere”. So inspiring to hear our politicians appealing to our better angels for a change.