Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has admitted that he passed out, drunk, in Parliament House and was too intoxicated to vote on measures around Australia's response to the global financial crisis in 2009. Abbott admitted to the long-running rumour to ABC journalist Annabel Crabb, as part of her new TV series 'The House'. In the episode to air on September 5, Abbott laughed as he recounted the story.
Abbott's admission comes in the same week the Government revealed the first trial sites for its controversial welfare drug testing program. The plan -- to test 5000 welfare recipients for use of ecstasy, marijuana and amphetamines -- has been pushed by the Government as a way to ensure job seekers are "job ready". "You are not going to be ready for work if you are drunk," Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce said in May.
Independent senator Jacqui Lambie had pushed for the drug testing to be extended to parliamentarians as well. She told morning TV program Sunrise in May this year “If you think it’s drug free up here you’re kidding yourselves.”
Tony Abbot is not the only Oz pollie who has turned up in Parliament intoxicated. Some memorable moments . . .
Peter “Blackie” Black:
Mayor of Broken Hill 1980-1999 and NSW parliamentarian 1999-2007, Black was a member of the Australian Labor Party. He had a drinking problem and in 2004 turned up inebriated at a late night sitting of the NSW Parliament, ironically whilst Parliament was debating liquor deregulation. He repeatedly interrupted a speech by former National Party leader George Souris, the incident happening just hours after MPs voted against a push by the Greens to have MPs ejected if they were found to be drunk. Black was also filmed making a lunge at female colleague Virginia Judge.
Black wasn’t ejected from Parliament, but future Premier, Deputy Liberal leader Barry O’Farrell, was.
As O'Farrell rose to join the debate, he commented on Black’s rambling interjections: “I warn the honourable member for Murray-Darling about coming into the chamber late at night and behaving in that way.”
“What does that mean?” shouted a Labor MP.
“What it means is that he is pissed, he should not be in the chamber drunk and that is why we are in trouble with the Greens,” O’Farrell yelled back, earning himself an ejection and 2 day suspension after he refused to withdraw the word “pissed”.
From the ABC’s Radio National program PM the following day:
BARRY O'FARRELL: It seems to me that we have a failure of responsibility and leadership by the Labor Party here. They were given private warning that there was a problem. They should have exercised their appropriate actions with the member. That didn't happen. He then sought to interject upon my speech. I responded and I seem to have been punished rather than the person who was actually or allegedly drunk being punished in any way.
JAYNE-MAREE SEDGMAN: But the Clerk of the Senate, Harry Evans, says it doesn't matter what language is used, any suggestion by a member that a fellow MP is drunk has always been frowned upon.
HARRY EVANS: In all Houses around the country, that would be regarded as offensive words, which would have to be withdrawn. I mean occasionally you get people making sly insinuations of it which are usually ignored, like the member has dined rather well tonight or something like that which is usually ignored, but any direct allegation of intoxication is regarded as offensive.
(Barry O’Farrell was later to resign his position as NSW Premier over his failure to declare the gift of a $3,000 bottle of Grange Hermitage wine. He did not stand for election in 2015.)
Andrew Bartlett addresses the media after the incident below,
Bartlett took over as leader of the Australian Democrats in 2002.
In December 2003 Bartlett, who had been drinking at a Liberal Party function held just outside the Australian Parliament chamber, was accused of stealing five bottles of wine from the function. Liberal Senator Jeannie Ferris retrieved the wine, causing Bartlett some time later to approach Ferris, allegedly to grip her arm and verbally abuse her, both inside the chamber and on the way to an outside courtyard. According to Ferris, Bartlett repeatedly called her a “fucking bitch”. Parliamentary video of part of the incident showed that Bartlett was drunk in the chamber, although it did not show him grabbing Ferris's arm.
Bartlett subsequently sent Ferris a formal apology . . . accompanied by a bottle of wine. Ferris described this as "quite inappropriate ... as an apology for drunken behaviour involving abuse and a physical attack."
Jeannie Ferris and Andrew Bartlett
Part of the incident inside Parliament
From Mungo MacCallum’s book Political Anecdotes:
“The story is told of an early sitting of the Federal Parliament in Melbourne during which a minister was being heckled mercilessly by a member of the Opposition. Eventually the heckler, who was somewhat tired and emotional, gave up and went to sleep in his place, allowing the minister to finish his speech in peace. The minister then walked across the chamber, unbuttoned his fly, and urinated in his tormentor's ear. Hansard is said to have recorded this event as: '(An incident occurred)'.
I have heard this story more than once, but no one has ever been able to give me a name or a date, so it may be no more than a political myth. But if it didn't happen it should have. Here, perhaps, is the ultimate Australian political anecdote; the quintessence of the way the rude colonials adapted the solemnity of the British parliamentary system to suit their own peculiar needs.”