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Clapping in Parliament: the dangers of a simple courtesy

Clapping in Parliament: the dangers of a simple courtesy

The other day, Bill Shorten was on the television giving his budget reply speech in the Australian Parliament. It was on in the background, far too uninteresting to pay attention to, until something happened. I heard what sounded distinctly like clapping, about halfway through.

At first, I thought I was hearing things – perhaps it had started raining? – but, just in case, I turned towards the TV and watched, until I saw the hands of MPs move in a motion that looked just like clapping. This didn’t take very long, as Labor MPs and the gallery that was presumably filled with ALP staffers were eager to put their hands together as often as possible. As I saw this, my instinctive response was that I was seeing something terrible take place. My second response was one of wonder that a simple courtesy often used to indicate agreement should provoke such a negative reaction in me. I went back and checked the treasurer’s speech, and found clapping there too, but only after the speech. This is true of both speeches in previous years as well, though only very recently.

There has, as far as I can tell, never been applause during a budget reply speech, which makes it rather seem like the ALP decided that they needed a helpful audience to make Shorten’s speech seem strong, and the Speaker let it happen.

So, what was it about seeing this practice that raised my hackles?

Photo: Kym Smith/The Australian

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Don’t fear the ‘shrinking centre’

Don’t fear the ‘shrinking centre’

Photo: Andrew Meares/AFR

An article has appeared on the ABC website on the topic of social media and ‘toxic politics’. Within are interviews with two New South Wales state politicians, both lamenting the way social media has shaped the direction of politics.

The article is quite solid, pointing to the dearth of able-minded people willing to enter politics on account of the genuinely poisonous environment that it has become, and quite accurately makes the case that society is increasingly tribal. But one quote stood out to me, because it is a demonstration of the inability of those in power to grasp political (or, at least, ideological) reality.

Catherine Cusack, an MLC for the North Coast region, is quoted as saying that she “fear[s] that we have a shrinking middle in politics, and that extremes either on the left or the right are very active in these forums…so when I read these comments not only in social media, but also online in newspapers and on Facebook, I have to [remind myself] this isn’t what the world is like, this isn’t what most families are like, but it is having a profound effect on political discourse.”

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