Australian politics’ most devastating insults: Politicians are keeping Paul Keating’s legacy alive
Quick wit and brutal bashings have long been a feature of Australian politics – and thank goodness they are often the only thing that makes Question Time watchable.
MPs from all parties have let out jokes, snubs and barbs that would see ordinary Australians telling HR if they used them in the workplace – but in the bear pit that is parliament, it seems everything happens.
Confident in the knowledge that parliamentary privilege protects them from libel suits, our politicians cracked jokes ranging from the hilarious to the appalling – as this list shows…
Paul Keating – ‘like being whipped with a hot lettuce’
Think of parliamentary invective and the first name that comes to mind is Paul Keating, who was Treasurer and then Prime Minister in the Labor governments that ruled the country from 1983 to 1996.
Just below the urban image of Zegna costumes, classical music and collection of antique clocks, was a political warrior who reveled in the cut and thrust of Question Time.
Paul Keating had a black belt in the art of insult during his tenure in parliament. The Labor stalwart managed to downsize his opponents and bring laughs at the same time
Frequently mocking those on the opposite benches as ‘morons’, ‘cretins’ and ‘intellectual wanderers’, Mr Keating said that ‘the opposition couldn’t handle a pie shop‘.
The leading Liberals suffered his harshest treatment, calling John Howard a ‘little desiccated coconut’, Peter Costello a ‘low-flying flier’ and Andrew Peacock a ‘painted and fragrant gigolo’ and a ‘gutless spiv’.
But it was his clashes with John Hewson that are longest remembered, as Keating turned Question Time into a can’t-miss political play.
“It was the softest performance I’ve ever seen…it was like being whipped with a hot lettuce. It was like being mauled by a dead sheep,’ he told parliament after the Leader of the Opposition tabled a motion in 1989.
Paul Keating told former Opposition leader John Hewson (pictured) he would refuse to call a snap election because ‘I want to take you slow’
Most famously, Mr Hewson went into a fistfight when he asked Mr Keating why he refused to call a snap election in 1992, with the Prime Minister smiling and replying: “The answer is, mate – because than I want to take 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.
“He wound up like a thousand-day clock! One turn and there will be springs and cogs all over the building, he announced.
‘Mister President, give him a valium.’
Keating had been absent from Parliament for a long time when he took on Treasurer Peter Costello in 2007 – but he had lost none of his flair for put-downs.
“The thing about poor old Costello is he’s all tip and no iceberg” Keating said. “He doesn’t have the ticker for that.”
Mark Latham (pictured) didn’t hold back when he told former immigration minister Philip Ruddock to ‘give your badge back, Adolf’
Mark Latham – “Hand over your badge, Adolf”
Paul Keating may be Labor’s master of repression, but former ALP leader Mark Latham is no slouch either.
Latham led the party from 2003 to 2005 before switching allegiance to One Nation, serving as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council since 2019.
Latham sadly 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 going to war in Iraq.
‘There they are one conga suction hole line on the conservative side of politics,” he warned after the Coalition voiced its support for war.
Peter Garrett (centre) was quick to laugh when Peter Costello mocked his singing and dancing in parliament announcing ‘you failed the audition’
Peter Garrett – “you failed the audition”
Former Environment Minister and political musician Peter Garrett proved he could laugh when former treasurer Peter Costello mimicked the former Midnight Oil frontman’s signature dance style.
Once Costello was done with his performance, Garrett announced to parliament that the treasurer’s talent wasn’t quite up to par.
‘You failed the audition” Garrett said.
Julia Gillard was quick to put Tony Abbott 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 looked like in modern Australia.
Julia Gillard – “If he wants to know what misogyny looks like… he needs a mirror”
During a parliamentary debate with Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard gave a powerful speech on misogyny in modern Australia and put the Leader of the Opposition back in her box as she did.
“This man will not lecture me on sexism and misogyny,” she said.
“The Leader of the Opposition says people who hold sexist views and are misogynistic are not suitable for high office.
“Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has a paper and writes 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 ‘her little tinfoil hat’ while crafting policies
Leeane Enoch – ‘her little tinfoil hat’
Fortunately, politicians always prove that hilarious insults are not a thing of the past.
Environment and Great Barrier Reef Minister Leeane Enoch and Callide MP Colin Boyce were at each other’s throats in 2019.
Debate erupted over the ‘2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report’ which Mr Boyce worked on and tensions boiled over when Ms Enoch mocked the members’ work.
“I know he prefers to sit in dark rooms with her little tinfoil hat and stretch his politics,” she told parliament.
Bruce Atkinson (pictured) shocked Parliament by saying ‘there’s a village short of an idiot’
Bruce Atkinson – “There’s a Village Short of an Idiot”
Former Speaker of the Legislative Council of Victoria Bruce Atkinson became MP for Central Highlands Victoria Robert Mitchell in 2004.
“One of the problems with Mr. Mitchell is there’s 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.
“We are spending $24 million on a campaign to tell people to get vaccinated and we have a not funded by taxpayers running around telling people not to,” she said.