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Stroganoff or a load of bull?

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.

Stroganoff or a load of bull?
by Gregor Stronach

John Murphy, the Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, has been forced to eat his words today, following a predictable backlash to his complaints over the quality and quantity of food in the Parliament House cafeteria. Murphy gave the canteen a verbal serve over the actual serve of beef stroganoff his wife was given a few days before, using his position in parliament to raise the issue.

Senior National Party Whip Kay Hull leapt to her feet in the chamber to agree, calling for a survey of MPs, Senators and staff on the quality of the food served. It was a rare show of bipartisanship. One, however, that was apparently unsanctioned by the party leadership on either side of the house. Both Mrs Kay and Mr Murphy have been reprimanded by their respective parties over the issue, with Mr Murphy issuing an apology and Mrs Kay allegedly telling manager of Opposition Business Joe Hockey to ‘f--- off’. Each to their own, I guess.

As is usual in politics, once a comment is made, the public backlash isn’t far behind. Australians on low incomes scoffed at the complaints from Murphy and Kay. And in light of the current financial crisis faced by pensioners around the country, it seems that Murphy’s timing couldn’t have been worse.

As embarrassing as the gaffe might be, however, it does shine a light on a particularly interesting aspect of Australian politics. In an open and transparent democracy, members of parliament can – and should – raise any and all issues that they can think of. And if another citizen is interested in that topic, they’re able to find out about it, very easily.

Something many Australians don’t know is that the public record of every word spoken in Parliament, known as the Hansard, is freely available on the Internet. And recently, a search function was introduced that allows all Australians to delve into the inner workings of Parliament, going all the way back to Federation. If you’d like to know what the sentiment in the Senate was like on the momentous date of June 3rd, 1989, when Senator Peter Cook revealed to the Senate that he was fond of King Island cheeses, you can.

It could be safely assumed, then, that an issue’s level of importance to the public could be gauged – roughly – by the number of times it’s been mentioned in Parliament. “The Economy”, for example, has been spoken about 18,971 times in Parliament. “Fraud” has been raised 8371 times. “War” has been spoken about a staggering 29,918 times.

No doubt, Australians will be stunned to know that this is the first instance – ever – that the topic of “Stroganoff” has been raised in Parliament. And for that, Mr Murphy should be congratulated – after all, breaking new ideological ground is what being a member of parliament in the southern hemisphere’s greatest democracy is all about. And if someone wants to claim that their beef stroganoff is just a load of old bull, there’s probably no better place to do it than Australian Parliament House.


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Meaty topic

Good to see they're getting into some meaty topics in Parliament House. Too bad for Murphy it was a slow news day, or his comments may have been buried like Rudd's call for bipartisan support of the republic debate earlier this week!

Great piece, Gregor - witty, and acerbic, the way good new commentary should be. I would have liked to have a bit more of a backstory about what was so godawful about the food to have elicited such a display of bipartisanship, and more importantly, what Murphy was doing taking his wife to lunch at the canteen?

Well talk to the Murdoch hacks

A browse of the Sunday rags gives us the news that Nelson's mum loves him and Bill Shorten 'lost' his wife.

Murphy's got beef

In a bovine induced fit of rage that should put Aussie politics out to pasture, it seems that instead of seeing red about important issues like... ohhh I don’t know?... Climate change? Some pollies will only raise their weary heads to gripe about the grazing.

What next? A Senate inquiry into the state of Parliamentary toilet paper? "The Senate has moved to approve the 3-ply standard bill, to put an end to tear-throughs and give comfort and security to the bums of the decision makers".

Instead of bringing back the beef, Australian politicians should really take a leaf out of Italy's book when it comes to getting passionate about something and bring back the biff.

Enough chewing cud Canberra, it’s time for some mad cow action.

Did someone say beef?

Reuban Brand: ..."Instead of bringing back the beef".

Did you say beef, the sick cocky said? They think they have problems in the House caf. Well think about those poor sick cockies in the Gilgandra and Coonabarabran hospitals. Meat is off coz the Great Western Health Service owes the butcher big time and is not taking calls.  See today's SMH.

Now as a veggie and a patient at times in those institutions that doesn't bother me but most cockies don't go much on fluffy morags or veggie snags..

Not only that a whole lot of other small businesses, like the air conditioner firm down south, are waiting up to eight months or more for their money. Some of the creditors are owed over twenty grand.

So helpfully Mr Della Bosca has told them to ring the area Health Services concerned - the SMH obligingly printing the phone numbers.

They don't get it do they, these pollies? Not taking the phone calls means just that. Can someone ring Della and ask him to note that?

Now about that 3 ply. Did no one hear on the radio the other day that cockies  near Canberra cannot afford any of said essential  item and some woman is taking up a collection to help out? I wonder if the big House has any to spare. Or should we ask Fairfax for a contribution? There must be lots of that broadsheet going spare. Remember the good old days in the bush outhouse? The little stack of newsheet, cut into usable sized patches, with a hole through the stack and tied together with a string. You don't? Well where did you lot grow up one might ask?

But seriously, the hospitals in even the bigger towns are all but broke. Nurses in one were buying orange juice for the patients and towels are in very short supply. Even in Canberra I froze one night in hospital as there were not enough blankets in emergency. Shades of New Guinea recently when the kids in hospitals there were only getting one meal a day. We are headed in the same direction it seems.

My favourite Fred Daly moment...

I think it an excellent idea that Hansard is now fully searchable. Maybe we can actually get some value from the place after all. By one account Fred Daly once asked a question in which he inquired:

"Mr Speaker, it is known that the Labour Party has a youth wing and they are called the Young Labs and similarly the Liberal Party has a youth section and they are called the Young Libs. Mr Speaker, my question is to the leader of the Country Party: is it true that the Country Party has a youth section and is it true as well then that they are called..."

but the uproar in the House obliterated the last part of his question.

Lipstick on a bull?

Yeh whatever - but did they put lipstick on the old bull - that's all I want to know?

How quickly they don't remember

Repeating the "you"/"one" complaint, I was amused by this more for its ignorance of history than anything else.

As any of you who have dined with me will know, my habitual comment to the sommelier after the taste of wine is poured is "Kill a brown dog." That comment, passed in the Federal Parliament's dining room years ago in relation to the food caused a strike in the kitchen which lasted some days.

More historical research required..

Complaints have always existed

The food in the new parliament house when it was first opened was so salty and fatty that one could float on it.

It was all stews, fatty roasts and it was largely inedible. The complaints from every side of parliament were so loud and long that a cafe opened in the house and did a roaring trade in salad sandwiches and yoghurt.

The cooks in the new house then set up a very popular salad bar but the food was still largely inedible.

The old house had this fantastic dining room for members with their melt in your mouth roast pork with apple sauce being the most popular food.

Everyone else bought sandwiches in the canteen.

It is not new.

Marilyn,I can only assume

Marilyn, I can only assume that the cafe you're referring to is the inimitable 'Aussie's Cafe', which (from memory) is on the senate side of the building?

There was an incredibly juicy rumour about how and why Aussie was able to open that cafe - I cannot remember it in sufficient detail to do the story justice - and I'm fairly sure that if it were aired, there might be serious legal trouble.

But I remember coffee at Aussie's was part of my morning ritual for 18 months or so, whenever Parliament was sitting.

Good times. Almost.

Food for thought

Gregor Stronach, what I am asking myself is how full was the house that day? No not that sort of full. Parliament must be just so boring for the size of the plate of strog to get a mention. Notice all those empty seats when some polly is on his feet, talking it seems to an empty house? Just what do we pay these people for? They cannot even be bothered to turn up most of the time.

That aside, this is not the first time the subject of food got a run on the floor. A couple of decades ago Labor man Gareth Evans was on his feet waving an egg carton around. He got howls of laughter from the assembled pollies, sounds of clucking. On the carton was a picture of a farmer scattering wheat to the happy hens roaming the range.. Trouble is, the company concerned was the big battery cage place down the road, where the chooks never saw a blade of grass in their lives.

Animal Liberation Victoria, of which his wife I believe was a member, had put him up to it - to demand the proper labelling of cartons to reflect the true life of the chook. He was laughed down.

Years on we now have the labelling of cartons of eggs, free range or cage as you will see on the supermarket shelves next time you shop.

Yes, at times the food we eat does have its place on the floor of the house. I guess those laughing pollies could now be said to have egg on their face.

Maybe the strog episode brought a moment of light relief to what is obviously a rather dull place. At least it might encourage a few of them to turn up more often to debate the serious issues. Otherwise we should stop their pay. No work, no pay. Food for thought?

Pollies' pastimes

Jenny, most of the time when the parliamentary chambers are 'empty', the pollies are in their offices dealing with members of the public, lobbyists, constituents and plotting to overthrow the leader of their party and become Prime Minister.

We pay these people to be there in the event that a division (a vote) is called on an important topic - all members are expected to turn up to a division, and to Question Time (when Parliament is televised) - and other than that, they can do pretty much whatever they want, as long as they're within three minutes 'brisk walk' of the chamber. 

Yes but..

Gregor, yes we pay them to vote on the issues, but it seems to me they are not interested in hearing the arguments for and against.

Instead they just follow the party line - like a pack of sheep.

I would put emphasis on the plotting in your list of other work. I suppose I should be fair  though- some do care about their constituents - at election time anyway. 

Three mintues brisk walk does not seem to have been sufficient for one senator. She never heard the bell so I suppose she was ... well who can say where she was?

Actually I don't think being a pollie would have much going for it. Do you notice how quickly PM's seem to go grey? Rudd has decidedly greyed in his first year. Must be all that plotting that does it, and the economy going sour I guess. 

Yes but indeed...

Jenny,you probably won't be surprised when I tell you that the vast majority of business decided by debate and voting in APH is, in fact, already decided upon weeks before the division is even called.

As for someone not hearing the bells: they're loud. and everywhere. And every fifteen metres or so, and in every room of parliament house, there are large clocks, with two lights at the base of the face: one green (house of reps) and one red (senate). 

When the bells toll, and the relevant lights flash, it's kind of hard to ignore. the bell, just so you know, is almost exactly the same as the one they use at the theatre to tell the punters they have approximately three minutes to finish their champagne, go to the bathrooom and come back inside for Act  II.

Frolicking amazing!

What further proof do we need that Canberra is in another time zone or parallel universe than to discover the dining room still serves beef strogonoff?

Someone place a call to Gordon Ramsey asap.

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