Quick wit and brutal put-downs have been a longstanding feature of Australian politics – and thank god for that, because they’re often the only thing that makes Question Time watchable.
MPs from all parties have let fly with jibes, slights and barbs that would see ordinary Aussies told to front HR if they used them at their workplace – but in the bearpit that is parliament, it seems anything goes.
Secure in the knowledge that parliamentary privilege gives protects them from being sued for defamation, our politicians have trotted out quips that range from the hilarious to the appalling – as this list shows…
Paul Keating – ‘like being flogged with a warm lettuce’
Think parliamentary invective and the first name that comes to mind is Paul Keating, who served as Treasurer and then Prime Minister in the Labor governments that ran the country from 1983 to 1996.
Just beneath the urbane image of Zegna suits, classical music and antique clock collecting lay a political warrior who revelled in the cut and thrust of Question Time.
Paul Keating had a black belt in the art of the insult during his time in parliament. The Labor stalwart was able to cut opponents down to size and raise gales of laughter at the same time
Frequently deriding those on the opposite benches as ‘dimwits’, ‘blockheads’ and ‘intellectual hoboes’, Mr Keating said ‘the Opposition could not manage a tart shop‘.
Leading Liberals came in for his harshest treatment, referring to John Howard as a ‘little dessicated coconut’, Peter Costello as a ‘low-altitude flyer’, and Andrew Peacock as a ‘painted, perfumed gigolo’ and a ‘gutless spiv’.
But it was his clashes with John Hewson that live longest in the memory, as Keating turned Question Time into a must-watch piece of political theatre.
‘It was the limpest performance I have ever seen … it was like being flogged with a warm lettuce. It was like being mauled by a dead sheep,’ he told parliament after the opposition leader had moved a motion in 1989.
Paul Keating famously told former opposition leader John Hewson (pictured) he would refuse to call an early election because ‘I want to do you slowly’
Most famously, Mr Hewson walked into a punch when he asked Mr Keating why he was refusing to call an early election in 1992, with the Prime Minister grinning and replying: ‘The answer is, mate – because I want to do you slowly.’
Keating’s quick wit struck again at the end of a heated debate with Hewson in 1995 when he asked the speaker to help calm the opposition down.
‘He’s wound up like a thousand-day clock! One turn and there’ll be springs and sprockets all over the building,’ he announced.
‘Mr Speaker, give him a Valium.’
Keating was long out of parliament when he went after Treasurer Peter Costello in 2007 – but he’d lost none of his flair for put-downs.
‘The thing about poor old Costello, he’s all tip and no iceberg,’ Keating said. ‘He doesn’t have the ticker for it.’
Mark Latham (pictured) didn’t hold back when he told ex-immigration minister Philip Ruddock to ‘hand in your badge, Adolf’
Mark Latham – ‘hand in your badge, Adolf’
Paul Keating may be Labor’s master of the put-down but former ALP leader Mark Latham is no slouch either.
Latham led the party from 2003 to 2005 before switching his allegiance to One Nation, serving as a Member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales since 2019.
Latham infamously told former immigration minister Philip Ruddock to ‘hand in your badge, Adolf.’
However Latham reserved his best remarks for when the Coalition wanted to support America in going to war in Iraq.
‘There they are a conga line of suckholes on the conservative side of politics,’ he warned after the Coalition expressed their support of the war.
Peter Garrett (centre) was quick to laugh when Peter Costello mocked his singing and dancing in parliament announcing ‘you’ve failed the audition’
Peter Garrett – ‘you’ve failed the audition’
Peter Garrett, former Minister for the Environment and political musician, proved he knew how to have a laugh when former Treasurer Peter Costello mimicked the trademark dancing style of the former Midnight Oil frontman.
Once Costello had finished his performance, Garrett announced to parliament the Treasurer’s talent didn’t quite cut it.
‘You’ve failed the audition,’ Garrett said.
Julia Gillard was quick to put Tony Abbott back in his place when he tried to lecture her on misogyny and sexism when she said he only needed ‘a mirror’ to know what misogyny in modern Australia looked like
Julia Gillard – ‘If he wants to know what misogyny looks like…he needs a mirror’
In a parliament debate with Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard delivered a powerful speech about misogyny in modern Australia and put the opposition leader back in his box as she did.
‘I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man,’ she said.
‘The leader of the opposition says that people who hold sexist views and are misogynists are not appropriate for high office.
‘Well I hope the leader of the opposition has got a piece of paper and is writing out his resignation.
‘Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror.‘
Leeane Enoch (pictured) said her rival puts on ‘his little foil hat’ while making policies
Leeane Enoch – ‘his little tin foil hat’
Luckily politicians are still proving hilarious insults aren’t a thing of the past.
The Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leeane Enoch and Member for Callide Colin Boyce were at each other’s throats in 2019.
Debate stemmed over ‘Great Barrier Reef outlook report 2019’ Mr Boyce worked on and tensions boiled when Ms Enoch made fun of the members work.
‘I know he prefers to sit in dark rooms with his little tin foil hat on and draw out his policies,’ she told parliament.
Bruce Atkinson (pictured) shocked parliament by declaring ‘there is a village short of an idiot’
Bruce Atkinson – ‘there is a village short of an idiot’
Former President of the Victorian Legislative Council Bruce Atkinson tore into Member for Central Highlands Victoria Robert Mitchell in 2004.
‘One of the problems with Mr Mitchell is there is a village short of an idiot.’
Tanya Plibersek – ‘taxpayer-funded nong’
Liberal MP Craig Kelly and Labor’s Tanya Plibersek were at each other’s throats over Covid misinformation when Ms Plibersek took it upon herself to call the Liberal out.
“We’re spending $24 million on a campaign to tell people to get vaccinated and we’ve got a taxpayer-funded nong running around telling people not to,”she said.