I was watching Senate Question Time overnight, as I often find it quite amusing the way the various members manage to sidestep questions and provide long convoluted answers to questions which were fairly straight forward. I was most amused by the way almost every question answered by a Liberal senator ended as an attack on the Labor Party.
One question caught my eye (or my ear) in particular, this question (which was one of the planted questions designed to highlight various government “achievements”, and to waste time so that the opposition can’t ask questions) from a Liberal senator to another Libral senator related to the conservation of birds, and the answer was almost entirely an attack on a certain Mark Latham, former leader of the Australian Labor Party.
I have extracted this from the online hansard copy of senate proceedings from yesterday  (pages 45-46 of proceedings, pages 59-60 of PDF), but you will need to visualise the standard grandstanding for yourself, as the text doesn’t quite carry the (for lack of a better word) enthusiasm shown by Senator Ian Campbell, and certainly doesn’t include the hysterical laughter from the members of the Senate. I have also made a couple formatting changes to make it easier to read and follow.
Environment: Conservation of Australian Birds
Senator FERRIS (2.48 pm)—My question is to the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell. Will the minister inform the Senate how the Howard government is protecting Australia’s rich and varied birdlife for future generations of Australians to enjoy?
Senator IAN CAMPBELL—I thank Senator Ferris for a question that I know is dear to her heart. Over the last 10 years the Australian government has spent over $12 million protecting our unique Australian birds. Only a couple of weeks ago I announced a further $1 million package known as the Wildlife Conservation Plan for Migratory Shorebirds.
As I do with most of my ministerial briefs, I read carefully through the list of birds that we are seeking to protect—some 36 new species of birds. Some of their names would be familiar to the opposition, like the little curlew, which I noticed on the list. There is the ruddy turnstone and the broad-billed sandpiper. But, when I got to the next one, the name stood out and
leapt off the page at me. It was nothing other than Latham’s snipe!
I asked my staff to research this unique Australian shorebird and found that Latham’s snipe has a very long bill—and I think it is getting longer with the addition of the Nikon digital camera to it. It has large eyes and it is known to dash wildly around and to fly in a zigzagging motion. Its other attributes, we found, were that it establishes its territory in open spaces like meadows and grassy floodplains by repeating nosediving displays. In spite of its showy display during the mating season, the parent birds accompanying the baby birds tend to stay in clustered grass and can thus hardly be observed. More than half of them—all senators would be upset to know—never fully mature because of various accidents.
Latham’s snipe is in fact designated as a rare species. It is also prone to suffer accidents because of the places where it lives. Not only do cows often trample over its nests located in the pasture but, sadly, motor mowers hurt parent Latham’s snipes earnestly sitting on their eggs in grass-harvesting lands.
Recently we have seen references to Latham’s lemmings also, as Senator Ferris knows. We know that for many members of the Australian Labor Party there is that iconic Australian sound of the two-stroke Victa coming across those grassy plains and attacking the lemmings, or the Latham’s snipes. These are people similar to Gavan O’Connor, who is under threat from the lawnmower being driven by Senator Stephen Conroy. Gavan O’Connor talked about the sound of the mower coming into his ears—just as the Latham’s snipe would cringe at that sound—when he said, ‘The talent in the Labor Party is subject to sleazy deals.’
Another Latham lemming or Latham’s snipe, someone who dares to challenge the Beazley orthodoxy, is Warren Snowdon, who said today, as he heard the mower approaching:
‘I think what it demonstrates is a small number of people—standover merchants, thugs and other sleazebags—undermining the good name of the Labor Party.’
Mr Sercombe, another Latham’s snipe attacked by the lawnmowers of the Labor Party—
The PRESIDENT—Minister, I remind you of relevance.
Senator IAN CAMPBELL—Thank you, Mr President. I appreciate the reminder. Bob Sercombe, regarding himself—as a Latham’s snipe, the bird that was the subject of the question, would—said that there were ‘sleazy internal deals’. You can see that the behaviour of the Australian Labor Party is no better and no worse than someone driving a lawnmower over the habitat of a Latham’s snipe.
The PRESIDENT—Minister, resume your seat.
I am amazed that Senator Ian Campbell wasted money by having his staff investigate a bird, purely so that they could write a derogatory answer about Mark Latham, even more amazing is the amount of time (and effectively senator’s salaries) which was allowed to be wasted on this junk. Admittedly the speaker, Senator Calvert did eventually tell Senator Ian Campbell to sit down, but that was after a rather lengthy spiel about nothing of any value. In fact it was 2:52pm when the next question was asked (although the answer provided to it did not address the topic), a whole four minutes after the bird question was originally asked.
Surely, this would have been better served over afternoon tea, rather than in place of valuable senate time and questions.