Mathematical proof that Rudd is a toxic bore
Parliamentary question time, at least for politics tragics, used to be the best free entertainment around. The galleries would be packed with the political version of football fans eager to see their favourite players in full flight.
The public started to lose interest not long after the Rudd government came to power. Now even the press gallery is almost deserted half way through question time. On Tuesday, a viewing area that seats over 100 held just 12 journalists at 3pm. The forty or so who’d watched the start of proceedings had mostly drifted away as ministers bored relentlessly through just 12 answers in an hour.
What’s happened since the glory days of Paul Keating and Peter Costello?
Partly it’s the relentless pressure on all politicians to stay “on message”. Mostly, though, it’s the personality of the prime minister. Compared to Keating or even to John Howard, Kevin Rudd – in a public at least – really is a toxic bore.
In 2006, Howard answered 399 parliamentary questions at an average length of just one minute 48 seconds. The next year, he answered 373 questions taking just two minutes 14 seconds on average. Last year, Rudd answered 454 questions taking, on average, two minutes 42 seconds to do so. Alas, it now seems that he was just warming to his task. So far this year, his average answer has blown out to consume three minutes 33 seconds of the parliament’s time.
If these three and a half minute answers were generally enlivened with wit, insight or even just new information, no one would mind. If they were full of memorable invective, people would be riveted.
Instead, they’re a parliamentary version of the academic paper Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim character was to deliver: “It was a perfect title in that it crystallized the niggling mindlessness, funereal parade of yawn-enforcing facts, (and) pseudo-light it threw on non-problems…’The Economic Influence of the Development of Shipbuilding Techniques, 1450 to 1485’”.
Even Julia Gillard has alluded to the growing complaint that there was “not enough humour” in question time (without, unfortunately, providing any herself). Perhaps she was having a guarded dig at her boss who, as if to prove her point, took 15 minutes to answer just two Dorothy Dixers in a question time that ran for one hour 50 minutes on Tuesday.
Rudd’s tone oscillates between injured innocence and earnest self-importance but he never uses one word when a dozen might muffle his point. A typical example of Rudd’s deadening rhetoric came half way through a dull recitation of a shopping list of climate change gestures:
“These are important measures – important measures for our international negotiating posture around the Kyoto table, important measures in terms of the carbon pollution reduction scheme, important measures in terms of the renewable energy target and important measures about the future of the Murray-Darling, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu as well as about our place in bringing about a global solution to the problem of climate change presented to us all”.
Low grade blather just wastes the parliament’s time.
If this were just occasional parliamentary bluster, it would merely be an ordeal for MPs and masochistic outside listeners to endure. In fact, our prime minister seems incapable of distinguishing between an insight and a cliché. Consider this Ruddism from his joint address with the British Prime Minister to a March seminar in St Paul’s Cathedral:
There is a tendency for each generation to regard the challenges of their time as somehow unique. There is, however, something tempering about the history of this great place, given its great history. When we remember that those who have gone before us here have endured invasions, civil war, devastating fire, the Great Depression and then a total war, which rained death from the skies, this disciplines us therefore through the disciplines of history to see the challenges of today across the span of time.
Rudd must have written this himself because no professional speechwriter could be so pretentiously banal.
All of Rudd’s ministers have copied his style of long-winded sanctimony. Even Gillard, Lindsay Tanner and Anthony Albanese, who otherwise would have some spark as parliamentary orators.
Observing Rudd’s approval ratings, perhaps they think that boredom pays. Because ministers seem oblivious to Shakespeare’s advice that brevity is the soul of wit, question time, which lasted one hour three minutes on average in 2005, now lasts 33 minutes a day longer.
Ministers who can’t show wit can at least be brief. Oppositions don’t normally move gag motions during question time but answers exceeding four minutes really should be closed down.
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