Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 11:05 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 11:05 | SYDNEY

Order in the house


Sam Roggeveen


17 September 2009 16:44

A reader alerts The Interpreter to Foreign Policy's list of the world's rowdiest parliaments.

This is all prompted by Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst ('You lie!') during President Obama's recent speech to Congress, causing some to argue that the Americans know nothing of robust parliamentary debate. I'd agree with that, and also with Alex Massie's observation that the episode shows the superiority of parliamentary over presidential democracies:

The convention that Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of the President in His Presence elides the great difference known to every Briton—that between insulting the head of state and insulting the mere head of the executive branch of government.

Insulting Queen Elizabeth is one thing; insulting Gordon Brown is practically an obligation. Disrespecting the former is an act of treason; disrespecting the latter and his office, a necessity: Every Wednesday, Brown must endure Prime Minister’s Questions, during which his enemies in Parliament grill him. Prime Minister’s Questions may not be the be all and end all, but it affords an opportunity for “telling truth to power” that does not exist in the regal American system.

America’s problem is that it has combined the head of state and the head of the executive branch into a single office, and it can no longer distinguish between the two roles.

What really rankled our correspondent was that the honour of Australia's parliament as a bearpit par excellence had been questioned by Foreign Policy, due to the fact that we were ranked below the UK House of Commons.

I dunno — it's not entirely clear that FP's list is in ranked order. But in any case, herewith a few colourful clips of our House of Reps, the first showing that US presidents are able to deal gracefully with outburst from the floor: