“About ten minutes before the party room ballot I sent the Prime Minister a text and it was to say her father would be proud of her”. These were the retiring words from a misty-eyed Rob Oakeshott to an equally moved Julia Gillard. It was just a day after the removal from office of Australia’s first female Prime Minister – a moment of warmth and generosity in an otherwise feral 43rd Parliament.
It’s speeches akin to these that constitute the Hansard Monologues: A Matter of Public Importance. Taken verbatim from Hansard’s official transcripts, it’s a piece of theatre that retraces the great, disturbing, emotional and radical speeches of the past three years. Created by Sydney-based playwright Katie Pollock and long-time political journalist Paul Daley, three of our finest actors, David Roberts, Camilla Ah Kin and Tony Llewellyn-Jones recreate the drama of this most dramatic of parliaments.
As parliament rises for the winter recess, Paul Daley is putting the finishing touches on the script, even while the national script is still being written (when Daley was interviewed we had one Prime Minister and an election date. Three days later we were dateless and had a different one). According to Daley, the inspiration came from Peter Fray, former Editor in chief of the Sydney Morning Herald and also the producer, Daley explains, “He was asking the question, when you drill down, is there any intrinsic drama in the speeches?”
Describing parliamentary speeches as “dramatic” could well bring howls of derision and laugh-out-louds from some quarters. Jaded by saturation coverage from the mainstream media there is more and more switch-off and disengage from the average voter. Yet strangely, programmes like the ABC’s Q&A, rate the house down and if you put Annabel Crabb in the kitchen with a politician, or increasingly a former politician, there’s a lot of fun to be had. Maybe it’s the human interest shining through? Without a doubt the language of politics is inherently dramatic. We’ve got a “hung” parliament not an electoral “tie” and it’s a leadership “spill” with various “knives in the back”, instead of a vote. The dramatic clash is writ large in the 24-hour news cycle and news agencies, not to mention politicians, who have long traded on this.
The point is not lost on Daley, “The media has a short attention span and a voracious appetite,” he acknowledges, “usually the public sees only some fiercely adversarial snippet from question time”.
The Hansard Monologues aims to be something different. Rather than a cheap rehash of sound-byte politics the emphasis is on the substance of the parliamentary speeches themselves.
It’s a quaint, old-fashioned idea really. The notion that you can affect the destiny of a country – a modern democracy, matters of public importance – just by the use of a reasoned and perhaps even persuasive argument. That the use of words and sentences spoken with conviction and maybe even good grace might be able to change the course of national affairs – now there’s a novel idea. Yet Paul Daley is clearly optimistic: “This is not so much about winners and losers but passion, intellect and the fervent use of language in the pursuit of ideals”.
It’s an invitation to the public to be drawn above the pit and feel something of the compassion and warmth of these speeches.
Tracing its way through asylum seekers (desperate people), issues of belief and conscience (same sex marriage), the carbon tax, speakers, scandals and sex as well as touching on Afghanistan and closing the Indigenous gap, it traverses the highs and lows of our national discourse – from the ugly to the soul-stirring. A guest politician – a real live one – will front the audience to answer questions and give a personal reflection at the conclusion of each performance.
Three years of a hung parliament has thrown up a wealth of material but how to choose what is in and what is left out? Daley is keeping quiet about the final cut but there are a few standout possibilities. Tony Windsor on Tony Abbott being willing to do almost anything to form government. Cori Bernardi on same sex marriage. Peter Slipper and Craig Thompson talking candidly and from the heart. Sarah Hansen-Young on Asylum seekers and, of course, Julia Gillard’s famous and unscripted misogyny speech.
Any other hints? “Well it is still being written,” says Daley.
After all, a week is a long time in politics. (GW)
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