On Monday, 0pposition leader Tony Abbott was thrown out of Parliament after a row with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
During the debate about school funding, he called her a “liar”, which is a big no-no in Parliament (and then refused to withdraw his comment without qualifications). But why is calling someone a “liar” such a big deal?
The rules of Parliament carry history and weight. They exist to keep things calm and polite, even when the topics get heated, loud, and allow for question time.
One rule is that MPs have to “catch the speaker’s eye” before speaking in the debate. It acknowledges that the chair is in control of the debate. In the case of Mr Abbott, Acting Speaker Anna Burke had the eyes needing catching.
Also, any “unparliamentary language”, including calling someone a “liar” is strictly forbidden. You can say they’re “economical with the truth” or challenge their “terminological exactitude”, but losing your temper deteriorates and distracts from the debate on the floor. Parliament members are expected to maintain a stately image and remain civil while conducting official business.
In the end, the Speaker decides what can and cannot be said on the floor.
In lieu of that, calling someone “dumbo” in Parliament was outlawed in 1997.