The standard you walk past is the standard you accept – but is our parliament listening?

Queensland’s parliament has long been a place of robust debate, but the standards of ethics and behaviour appears to have hit a new low, writes Madonna King

Mar 06, 2024, updated Mar 07, 2024
Queensland Premier Steven Miles is seen during question time at Queensland Parliament in Brisbane, Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING

Queensland Premier Steven Miles is seen during question time at Queensland Parliament in Brisbane, Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (AAP Image/Darren England) NO ARCHIVING

As an infant, one of my children would lie on her father’s lap, in the early hours of the morning, as he devoured another episode of The Sopranos.

Periodically, I’ve crossed my fingers that she heard none of the David Chase creation, centred on New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. Or if she did, that it hasn’t stunted her emotional intelligence or given her any negotiating ideas.

But Tony Soprano, an all-round unsavoury character, is vocal about the importance of having standards. He would kill, for example, but he’d have nothing to do with drugs.

The Soprano script is raised in jest, and none of our politicians measure up – or down – to Tony Soprano, but this week has got to prompt the question about the standards we are willing to accept in those who represent us.

State Parliament this week – at a time when we should be debating solutions to homelessness and cost of living issues, the crime epidemic and a scary road toll and how Graham Quirk might this month change the Olympic story – was an unruly schoolroom.

Shouting. Teasing. Abuse. Jeering. Talking over each other. Juvenile antics that would not be accepted in a year three classroom.

It involved both Labor and Liberal, men and women. The LNP accused Labor of lying and hypocrisy and of deliberately obfuscating the truth. Labor hit back, accusing the Liberals of intimidation, being creepy and a touch sexist.

The Opposition were termed ‘da Boyz’ and accused of disrespecting women. And that, from the Government, carried an amusing irony, given the Liberal Party has its fair share of female ‘Boyz’ too.

That wasn’t the only irony. This is International Women’s Week. It’s the week where coercive control legislation should be owning the headlines. And yet, this chamber of decision-makers, this cherished decision-making place was in uproar over empty apologies that were not accepted, political point-scoring, and the removal of grown adults from Parliament.

Outside Parliament, where that rabble raged, some of those MPs we elected to represent us were pitching tents in the hope of grabbing a good night’s sleep.

Others were wondering about our road penalties after a jeep and a bus where involved in a head-on collision on the Gold Coast, with one vehicle driving on the wrong side of the road.

On another road – this one in Brisbane – a car mounted a footpath and killed a pedestrian. Elsewhere, a school girl allegedly copped 18 punches to the head in a schoolyard brawl, and teachers were found to have stripped down and acted for a photoshoot, in the education minister’s electorate.

And across the globe, Donald Trump shortened the odds on Super Tuesday and will now almost definitely go up against President Joe Biden in November.

Back in George Street, the appalling behaviour which dominated question time stemmed from an issue unrelated to any of those above. Here it was over the Premier Steven Miles ‘forgetting’ that he had sent a text message to a parliamentary colleague.

That, and the substance of the text, fell victim to the behaviour it prompted. The shouting match became a bar-room brawl, a retaliatory race to grab a headline, and the real issues – about the Premier’s integrity stance; why an MP did what she was instructed; how Right to Information requests are handled; and the decision by another MP to secretly photograph the text – were ignored.

Five years ago, I led the State Government’s cyberbullying taskforce, aimed at stemming the rise in anti-social behaviour, delivered too often via our children’s mobile phones.

The Labor Government applauded the report that followed, and promised to implement every recommendation. The MP who secretly photographed the text was the LNP’s representative on the committee, and agreed to the recommendations.

But did they even read it? Or were those false promises just aimed at allying the concerns of families?

Recommendation 4 was unequivocal; it requested MPs look at their own behaviour and to “commit to showing leadership in demonstrating more respectful behaviour’’.

Thank goodness it was the Sopranos on TV during those long sleepless nights 19 years ago; and not the brazen and brutish performance of those we pay to represent us.


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