We call it a debating chamber but in our Federal Parliament, debating the two sides of a given proposal/statement has become less important than defeating the opposition, whether it is conservative or Labor. Psychological tactics, name calling and character assassination are widely used. People have long liked a good stoush and when it is laced with good puns and funny language, it is worthwhile for both politicians and public.
But the holy grail of the conservative part of Parliament is competition. We all know that competition in business, trade and employment means backstabbing and total destruction of the opposition. For the weak, it can mean “Don't rock the boat, stay out of trouble”, when firm action is necessary and cannot be delayed.
The first Australians have always been our competitors – for land, food and water. The attraction of getting something for nothing is deeply ingrained in those whose security is threatened by transportation, wars and famine.
After working hard all our lives, we can point to the apparent laziness of the first Australians even though these people had most opportunities taken away from them when times were hard for us. Think of “sit down money”' doled out to the first Australians, denying them even the role ascribed to a worthwhile competitor. We have competed in a loaded labour market, but the loading was all one way: our way.
Linda Burnie recently became the first indigenous woman to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives. One of our newest federal politicians, she is seasoned from 17 years in the NSW State Parliament. But will federal parliamentarians honour and accept an indigenous woman in this era of competition and destructiveness?
Let’s hope she can open her mouth without Parliament deteriorating into its usual competitive, sexist slander.
It has already begun: last week Linda Burnie was asked why she was not doing anything about family violence in Aboriginal communities. The question was put by an MP who is reported to have voted for big cuts to programs to address family violence.