Monday, July 28, 2008

Signal to Noise

Lacking anything more worthwhile to blog about, might I draw significance from insignificant matters? Take, for example, the fuss over the new parliamentary boombox speakers. How dare modernity reach the cloistered bubble of the House of Representatives? Peter Dunne calls them stalactites, but secretly I reckon he sees them in his dreams as Swords of Damocles.

I mean, never mind that the plebs who come to see Democracy At Work have to endure two metal detector screenings, two or three flights of stairs, and a complete lack of refreshments apart from the toilets. And what do the punters get to witness? Incoherent soundbites, derisive debate, a powerwall of party logos and an incessant screech of Order! Order!

Parliament was once a place of robust debate, oratory and inspiration. Big Things Were Done. Sometimes. MPs had three basic modes; speaking, listening and reading the Evening Post. Yes, there was also conspirational whispers between members, dozing and nervous glances up to the galleries, but I'm generalising for the greater good. These tasks were all done silently.

Somewhere along the way, it turned to shit. I blame the '80s and the introduction of press secretaries. Instead of speaking off the cuff and from the heart, the spinners gave MPs scripts to read. MPs evolved to become empty vessels for their prefabricated platitudes. Gradually, paper took over the House.

Witness Winston Peters, Parliament's best character actor. OK, he's losing the plot these days, but there's a man who knew his role by rote. The man rarely needs a script in the House to land a blow. Pity for him that the world outside has changed. Old dog, new tricks and all.

After the scripts came the cellphones, then the laptops, then the chatter. It's like a fucking school bus in the House now, and for that I place the blame solely on Margaret Wilson as Speaker. At least Jonathan kept a lid on it, but under Wilson it's just a rabble. Little wonder then, that speakers have been introduced to the chamber.

Of course, it would be simpler to get the MPs to STFU unless they have a contribution to make. But if there's an expensive solution to a simple problem, it's all covered in the budget anyway.