'Like a 5-year-old's birthday party': Kylea Tink on the Question Time circus

‘Like a 5-year-old’s birthday party’: Kylea Tink on the Question Time circus

climate change bill

When I told an old friend that I was entering politics this year, she was bemused. “All those men shouting at each other! Is that really what you want for your career?”

It was a valid question, and one that I had also asked myself before agreeing to run as North Sydney’s community Independent candidate in the recent federal election.

For many Australians, politics has come to be characterised by big personalities and rowdy behaviour.

Question Time — the televised hour of each Sitting Day that is traditionally set aside to strengthen accountability and facilitate debate — has devolved into a circus of posturing and heckling, with an atmosphere more like what you’d expect from a five-year-old’s birthday party at a trampoline park than any other workplace I’ve experienced.

Just this week we saw Coalition MPs repeatedly attempt to interrupt Kooyong’s Dr Monique Ryan when she spoke to raise concerns over the risks of repeated Covid infections. Over in the Senate, Labor’s Penny Wong was asked to resume her seat four times in three minutes, as Opposition Senators shouted over her answer to a question on energy prices.

It is clear that bad behaviour has become so common during Question Time that it is not only accepted, but expected as the norm.

In this country, there’s no other boardroom, parents’ association or club meeting where you’d see people assume positions in a room and then shout at each other across the space. This behaviour is incredibly disrespectful — both to fellow parliamentarians and to the voters and taxpayers who have entrusted us with the responsibility of leadership.

Interestingly, the Question Time theatrics tend to subside outside of that televised hour of debate. Without a public audience, it seems most parliamentarians are capable of respectful listening and rational conversations, as I found when speaking about Australia’s treatment of refugees as a Matter of Public Importance this week.

We can and we must do better. And I believe we, the 47th Parliament of Australia, have what it takes to drive change.

A more diverse, representative Parliament House

The 47th Parliament of Australia is more diverse than ever. Women now hold 58 of 151 Lower House seats and of 43 of 76 seats in the Senate, which is the highest ever level of female representation in both houses.

In the Lower House, where I represent my community of North Sydney, there are 35 new MPs, including several Independents who — like me — have come from non-political backgrounds.

Kylea Tink
Kylea Tink in parliament after delivering her first speech. Image: Supplied.

About one in ten parliamentarians are now from non-European backgrounds. While this still does not reflect the level of cultural diversity in the Australian population, it is clear that representation is improving.

Together, I believe we can pop the ‘Canberra Bubble’. We know what modern workplaces look like, and we genuinely understand the need to address the toxic culture of bullying, harassment and misogyny that was laid bare in the Jenkins Report last year.

A Code of Conduct will improve debate

Prior to the election, I publicly argued for the introduction of a binding Code of Conduct for everyone working in Parliament House. As some of the highest officeholders in our land, I firmly believe that Federal Parliamentarians must be held to the highest possible standards, so that others may aspire to do the same. 

I am pleased to have now been appointed to the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards, and look forward to working with my colleagues over the coming months to develop this much-needed code.

I believe we need a Parliamentary Code of Conduct that clearly communicates responsibilities and standards of behaviour. It should apply to both parliamentarians and staffers, and be binding and enforceable so that there are real consequences for a breach.

A Code of Conduct will not only improve working conditions in Parliament House. It is also an important step towards improving political integrity, the quality of political debates, and ultimately, Australians’ trust in our democracy.

The reality is we’re not always going to agree in this house, nor should we. But if people can commit to speaking respectfully and truly listening to other perspectives, we will achieve better outcomes for Australia as a whole.

What I found particularly fascinating in these past two weeks of Question Time was the distinct contrast between the party politicians, who were very vocal and animated on either side of the room, and the crossbenchers, who tended to either be listening or getting on with work.

In time, I hope that culture of listening spreads, so we can shift the focus away from the winners-vs-losers mentality of party politics, towards reason and consensus-building.

The circus of Question Time must end. It’s time to get the work done.

Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women's Agenda in your inbox