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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15 comments

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    • Matt H says:

      08:00am | 19/06/09

      So, if (on 2007/08 figures) Rudd’s answering 21.7 per cent MORE questions that Howard, and taking 20.8 per cent LONGER to do so - doesn’t that mean he’s more accountable? And providing much more detail as much as Tony’s Dear Leader?
      It’s a strange complaint from the Monk. Don’t forget that the Opposition has a role in these stats too - what is the percentage of opposition questions to the PM vs Government questions?

    • J R Greenwood says:

      08:29am | 19/06/09

      The point is . Rudd does not answer the question. He avoids it by continual flanneling , obtuse references and unnecessary irrelevant detail. He is a twit of the first order. He is aided in his stupidity by the clot who occupies the Speakers chair . The bias is obvious.Gillard, Swan and Albanese all follow the same format. Pathetic.

    • iansand says:

      09:30am | 19/06/09

      So the Mad Monk thinks that “low grade blather” wastes the Parliament’s time.  I look forward to hearing what he thinks endless political point scoring does to advance society.

    • ab says:

      10:02am | 19/06/09

      Tony,
      You all bore us in question time.
      The general public hasn’t been interested in it since Keating v Hewson.

      I think the main reason the time taken to answer questions has increased is the constant interruption of mad barking coming from the opposition benches.

      And complaining about question time lasting a whole 33 minutes longer! That must really be a struggle for you - I hope your AWA includes overtime.

      I thought I told you to stay in the car and bark at strangers.

    • Charles says:

      11:48am | 19/06/09

      As long as Kevin ‘07 (or should that be 707, 737) is entertained & finds self edification in his speeches then that is all that matters, right?

      For the rest who listen or read these, some will continue to be amused at the tautology (e.g. ‘this disciplines us therefore through the disciplines of history to see’..., after stating ‘something tempering about the history of this great place, given its great history’) and others at the convoluted style which typifies his speeches.

      Above all else, regardless of political pursuasion, one must admire Rudd’s his ‘headmaster-like’  control over his ministers, as they demonstrate a disciplined, ‘stick to the message’ approach when responding to questions both in & outside the House - even if this means parroting ‘07 himself.

    • Shelley says:

      12:42pm | 19/06/09

      Our PM and his government believe in quantity over quality in all things, not just the mind numbing, rambling, irrelevant, insulting,  non answers delivered in QT.

      What other reason could there be for their refusal to make accountable the departments responsible for cash splashing on irrelevant school buildings.

      And the ‘I thought I told you to stay in the car and bark at strangers.’ comment should have been made to be withdrawn and an apology issued.

      It’s equivalent to telling an Independent or Green ‘When we want your opinion we’ll yank your chain’

    • chapel says:

      12:51pm | 19/06/09

      To be fair, I haven’t yet heard Kevin Rudd give a one word ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer as JH used to do (and in many cases quite justifiably when you consider some of the long winded questions). These would drag JH’s mean average ‘answering time’ down quite a bit.

    • Marcus says:

      01:17pm | 19/06/09

      Having Tony Abbott call anyone a “toxic bore” is definitely a case of the pot and the kettle.

    • Anthony says:

      01:23pm | 19/06/09

      More words, less meaning.  But don’t the folks love it!

    • S says:

      01:46pm | 19/06/09

      Rudd promulgates his cogitations with patitudinous ponderosities…....repeatedly!

    • A. Parker says:

      01:54pm | 19/06/09

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s a politician’s duty to entertain.

      Sure, charisma and charm help people relate to - and rally behind - leaders, but having a go at Rudd because he’s not as entertaining as leaders in your glory days at a time when we’re facing a set of problems about as bad as we’ve seen in recent times is just pathetic.

    • SW says:

      02:14pm | 19/06/09

      I’ve been saying this for a long time now.  Just re-visit some of the old footage of Keating on his feet in parliament, not one member looked bored, reading other papers etc, it was exciting and interesting and dare I say, fun!  Watching the Lib frontbench all gather together quickly as to how to respond etc.  It’s great viewing.  Costello ‘grew up’ in parliament with Keating opposite and I believe took many of Keating’s mannerisms (nothing wrong with that!)  Politics may not be able entertaining but it sure makes it more interesting to watch, and therefore become more engaged in what’s going on around us.

    • Jeff Mueller says:

      02:16pm | 19/06/09

      Got a book coming out, by any chance?  Need publicity?  Starved of oxygen?

    • Allan L says:

      05:10pm | 19/06/09

      I use to think that Kim Beazley was a windbag but Rudd makes him look like a paragon of brevity and succinctness.

      Rudd windbaggery has certainly made him open to the charge of misleading the Parliament.

      Rudd’s pride or disdain of parliament has led him to erase emails and in all likely hood ended the career of a innocent public servant.

    • stephen says:

      07:10pm | 19/06/09

      Yes, 10 out of 10 Tony. Kev and Jules are as interesting as an oil slick. This may affect policy -hell, I hope not - and I just thought of something : ever thought of going for the top job yourself (now that John Hewson’s out of the way)!

 

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