Unparliamentary language: Australian edition


Legislators in governments based on the Westminster system enjoy parliamentary privilege, which means that, while in the House, they can speak their minds without the fear of being sued for slander. But to retain some modicum of decorum during debates, the Speaker of the House has the authority to rein in politicians who use language deemed unparliamentary, asking foul-mouthed lawmakers to withdraw their comments or face discipline.

This post is the first of a series that takes you on a tour of unparliamentary language in the Commonwealth. Some examples are insults thrown about by Australia’s “honourable members,” most of which are relatively tame by Strong Language standards, whereas others are a bit more meta, coming from legislative discussions about unseemly language itself. (The lack of quotes from certain states is more an indication of hard-to-search Hansards rather than a high standard of politeness.)

In no particular order:


Mr Bailey: You two-faced, double-standard, little fat arrogant twit.

Mr STONE: I ask that that remark be withdrawn. I understand that the member is on a warning.

Mr BAILEY: I withdraw that statement, Madam Speaker, but it is rather a double standard when you can get up and make an explanation and you don’t allow the Leader of the Opposition the same courtesy.

Northern Territory of Australia Legislative Assembly, 1998-12-01


C. THEOPHANOUS: In the Age of 27 April he states: The Victorian Treasury is predicting that Australia’s economic growth will pull strongly ahead of Victoria’s in 1994-95…The growth rates predicted by this statement show that Victoria will lag behind Australia for the next three years.

Hon. Bill Forwood: Tell us why!

Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS: Because of your policies.

Hon. Bill Forwood: You are a fool!

Hon. T. C. THEOPHANOUS: And you are a dickhead!

Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1991-03-12


Mr EARL: The honourable member for Wakehurst, the wife basher, adulterer—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1970-09-29


The Hon. B. J. Unsworth: The only one who knows anything about bestiality around here is the Hon. F. M. MacDiarmid.

Legislative Council of New South Wales, 1984-11-01


Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is, That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would preclude consideration forthwith of General Business Notice of Motion No. 1 standing in the name of the honourable member for South Coast. Those in favour—

Miss Machin: This will do you a lot of good at home, won’t it, Terry?

Mr Sheahan: You’re a real little bitch, I tell you. I’ll deal with you later.

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1987-05-29


Mr MANZIE: Mr Chairman, I was not going to become involved in this debate but the ignorance displayed by members opposite is such that one cannot help but become involved. The ignorance that has been shown by the 2 frontbenchers opposite is absolutely appalling. There has been gross misuse of statistics. I challenge any of the frontbenchers opposite to point to a level of expenditure by the Northern Territory government, on a per capita basis, that is not at least 4 times greater than the average state expenditure in terms of education, roads. health or anything else. Mr Chairman, that man over there has the brains of a cabbage. He is leaving the Assembly now.

Mr CHAIRMAN: Order! The minister will withdraw his unparliamentary remark.

Northern Territory of Australia Legislative Assembly, 1987-05-29


Mr WRAN: All the honourable member for Sturt, who is attempting to interject, is concerned about is growing opium poppies, and from the look of him sometimes it seems he has tried a few samples.

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1977-11-22


Mr Whelan: I can quote what was said by His Honour at pages 29 and 30. I rang the Supreme Court this morning. What the Attorney General did not say is that the prosecution will not be heard until mid-1993, so all you paedophile followers over there—


Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Coogee to order.


Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Coogee to order for the second time. I warn him that if he interjects again while the Chair is on its feet, he will leave the Chamber. I ask the member for Ashfield to withdraw the remark he directed towards members of the Government, describing them as “paedophile followers”. I consider that to be unparliamentary language.

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1990-09-05


Mr FREUDENSTEIN: The Opposition will oppose lotto on the grounds that the Treasurer and the Minister for Sport and Recreation and Minister for Tourism has sold out the sporting people of this State and taken money away from them. It will be ploughed back into the Consolidated Revenue Fund to finance the ratbag activities of the Minister for Consumer Affairs.

Mr Einfeld: The member, in his customary style, is offensive, annoying and irritating. I do not take objection to the annoyance or the irritation, but I do take objection to the use of words which I find offensive and I ask him to withdraw them.

Mr Punch: The description fits you like a glove.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr O’Connell): Order! The Minister has taken offence at what the honourable member for Young has said. I ask the honourable member for Young not to be upset by interjections and I ask him further to withdraw the word ratbag in regard to the Minister.

Mr FREUDENSTEIN: I did not call the Minister a ratbag. I said that he engaged in ratbag activities.

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1990-09-05


The Hon. Robert Borsak: What we need is one world socialist government. That’s what we want, all dictated from The Greens party.

The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I acknowledge the interjection of the Hon. Robert Borsak. He said “the dickheads of The Greens party”. I take offence at that comment and I ask him to withdraw it.

The Hon. Robert Borsak: I didn’t say that.

The Hon. JEREMY BUCKINGHAM: I will bat on. The retort to Scot MacDonald’s assumption could not be put better than by Bob Brown, who wrote on this very issue some months ago, under the apt title “It’s coalminers, not Moylan, who are costing us the Earth”. He opens with the testimony of James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York.

The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox: You are a space cadet.

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 2010-05-02


A member: What does that mean?

Mr PALMER: Bird shit, if you must know. There he was, the big fat pig wallowing in his glory. Did he write to the NT News…

Mr STIRLING: A point of order, Mr Speaker!

Northern Territory of Australia Legislative Assembly, 2000-02-22


Mr HULLS: We are not just talking about some pissant motion or slight impropriety; we are talking about a contempt of Parliament that Westminster convention makes it clear ought result in the Premier going. That is what it means. It is important to debate this motion because we have to ascertain as a community whether the Premier has used his public office—

Mr Leigh: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is a certain decorum we abide by in this place when we attack each other. The shadow Attorney-General’s use of the word pissant is highly inappropriate. I take personal offence because I do not believe we should talk like that. I too have used swearwords in this house, which is also inappropriate. The use of such language by a frontbencher is inappropriate in this chamber—

Mr HULLS: On the point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I referred to the fact that we are not debating some pissant motion. I certainly did not refer to the honourable member for Mordialloc as a pissant. If he is so sensitive about being referred to as a pissant he ought to have listened to the debate because I referred to the motion as not being a pissant motion.

Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1997-10-09


Mr KLUGMAN: It may be argued that certain attitudes or excitations can be harmful in their effect; it surely cannot be argued that the use of one term rather than another for the same conception causes damage. Perhaps this verbal freedom is now an almost-won concession; but it is still a confused and insecure one. It is only a very few years since I pointed out in a report that the rapid change in taboo habits had brought us to the stage where the use of the word ‘fuck’ in print was still forbidden but ‘bugger’ could be used even in quite frivolous contexts. Could it be reasonably maintained that the delightful and necessary activity connoted by the first term was more reprehensible than that indicated by the second? If not, how could we justify so absurd a distinction and the kind of non-thinking which led to it?

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 1971-02-22


Mr I.W. SMITH: I am not sure whether you look like the rotten hollow log or something that is found underneath it when it has rolled over!

[Honourable members interjecting.]

The SPEAKER: Order!

Mr Micallef: What is the difference between you and a bucket of shit?

The SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member has used an unparliamentary expression. I ask him to withdraw.

Mr MICALLEF (Springvale): I withdraw ‘bucket’.

The SPEAKER: Order! An unqualified withdrawal please!

Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1994-10-11


Mr BATCHELOR (Thomastown): You’ve got to wake up. You were supposed to get it seconded. You were sitting there on your fat arse not worrying about it. What is happening today is outrageous.

[Honourable members interjecting.]

Mr BATCHELOR: It is disgraceful.

[Honourable members interjecting.]

Mr BATCHELOR: I said you should get off your fat arse and start doing some work. You know what I said.

[Honourable members interjecting.]

Mr Perton: On a point of order, Mr Acting Speaker, I believe robust debate is a good thing, and if the honourable member for Thomastown is angry, let him be angry. However, using language like—

[Honourable members interjecting.]

Mr Perton: To use language like ‘Get off your fat arse’ to a minister at the table with the public in the gallery is totally inappropriate. To do so twice is totally inappropriate. I ask the Acting Speaker to call the honourable member for Thomastown to order, direct him not to use that language and to withdraw it.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Cunningham): Order! The honourable member for Thomastown has used that language, and I ask him to withdraw it.

[Honourable members interjecting.]

Mr BATCHELOR: All right It is not fat I am sorry.

Legislative Assembly of Victoria, 1999-05-27


Mr HARTCHER: The Premier will use any excuse and seek any opportunity for political self-promotion, even at the cost of the interests of the State or Australia. He is a total harlot.

Mr Debus: Point of order.

Mr HARTCHER: You are going to take a point of order on that, when the words used by the Premier every day in question time are a total distortion of everything?

Mr Debus: The words “total harlot” are beyond the parliamentary and indeed the ethical pale, and I ask that they be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY-SPEAKER: Order! I ask that those words be withdrawn.

Mr HARTCHER: I withdraw the term “harlot” and I say “political prostitute”.

Legislative Assembly of New South Wales, 2002-11-21


Mr WHITE: I am sorry, Sir. Has the minister sent messages indirectly to the students to the effect that if they do not keep quiet they will receive nothing? Will the minister reconsider his decision to meet the students?

Mr Mainwaring: What stupid nonsense.

Mr Gray: What rubbish.

Mr White: Fuck off.

Mr BENNETT: Point of order, Mr Speaker. The member for Denison, Mr White, just used a word implying intercourse, beginning with ‘f’ and I ask him to withdraw it. There is no doubt that he used the word. Mr Speaker, he told members to ‘F… off’. He used the word within the hearing of the four ministers on the frontbench and myself. He is the first to complain of indecent language in this House; even if he 1s called a ‘wimp’ it is quite untenable. I have never heard that word used in this House. I resent its being used in this House and I challenge the member to deny it. He said it in the hearing of five people. I challenge him to deny that he used the word beginning with ‘f’ and denoting intercourse and I demand that he withdraws it.

[Members interjecting.]

Mr FIELD: On the point of order, Mr Speaker, the Attorney is obviously trying to protect the Minister for Education and the Arts from answering questions.

Mr Bennett: No, he used it.

Government members: What rubbish.

Mr SPEAKER: Order.

Mr FIELD: Mr Speaker, there is no point of order because it was not within your hearing and not within the hearing of any member around here. As far as I know nothing was said.

Mr Bennett: How do you know it wasn’t used?

Mr Evers: He’s given to this sort of thing.

Mr Bennett: You like that language being used, do you?

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Mr FIELD: Kick them out, Mr Speaker.

Tasmanian House of Assembly, 29 November 1988


Mr. Holgate: It is what people want to do. Until recently that had not been done but that is precisely what we are doing now and we are receiving a great deal of cooperation from all sporting bodies. But it also involves local government and we have to face—and racing has to face—the greatest challenge yet in the next—

Mrs Jackson: It is bullshit.

Mr BENNETT: No, with respect it is not bovine excreta; it is fact.

Mr Holgate: Don’t be diverted by irrelevant interjections.

Mr BENNETT: I am not.

Tasmanian House of Assembly, 1988-10-12


Mr Rae: God, you’re an offensive bastard.

Mr NEIL BATT: Would the minister repeat that please?

Mrs Jackson: He called you ‘an offensive bastard’.

Mr Rae: No, you heard; you had it repeated, too.

Mr Field: I think you ought to ask him to withdraw it.

Mr NEIL BATT: No. am anxious that it should be recorded in Hansard, as should the condition of the minister when he says it.

Mr Rae: I will take as much offence at that as I do—

Mr SPEAKER: Order. Interjections are disorderly.

Tasmanian House of Assembly, 1987-07-22


MR QUINLAN: Of course you did not, Harold. You haven’t heard anything for months, mate.

Mr Hargreaves: You should withdraw that, Michael.

Mr Moore: Mr Speaker, just to ease Mr Hargreaves’ mind, I will withdraw my reference to Mr Hargreaves as a wanker.

Mr Hargreaves: Not me.

Mr QUINLAN: Was it him or me? Who was it?

Mr Moore: “You are a wanker, Ted.” I said, “You are a wanker, Ted.” They are my exact words.

Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly, 2001-06-13


MS TUCKER: Excuse me! Several Supreme Court judgments made serious criticisms of court practice and administration on restraining orders and protection orders. The concerns were such that in these cases the orders were overturned on the basis that they had been improperly made. In response to these criticisms the government has done what they are calling a technical review of the legislation, which has resulted in this bill.

Mr Moore: Oh, fuck consultation!

MS TUCKER: The bill reorganises the law—what did you say?

Mr Moore: I withdraw anything I’ve said.

Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly, 2001-08-09


Mr Wood: Well, he speaks crap.

Mr Tollner: Stand on your record.

Madam SPEAKER: Order, member for Nelson!

Mr ELFERINK: A point of order, Madam Speaker! I ask the member for Nelson to withdraw that expletive.

Madam SPEAKER: Leader of Government Business, I did not hear any expletives, but if you used an expletive, member for Nelson, please withdraw it.

Mr WOOD: We could argue whether it is an expletive or a common word for ‘a load of rubbish’. I will withdraw if it is regarded as an expletive by the member for Port Darwin. I believe it is the right term for what the Chief Minister said.

Northern Territory of Australia Legislative Assembly, 2013-04-12


Mr O’Neil: That is right.

Mr McVEIGH: The honourable member does not know what he is talking about. He is a dickhead.

Australian House of Representatives, 9 October 1986


Senator SCHACHT: Senator Cook said ‘rather precious’. Madam President, with all due respect to your ruling, I think it actually makes a joke of the proceedings of the Senate that we cannot maturely debate this issue when the word was the title of a movie that had been banned by a statutory organisation created by this parliament. That is where I find the difficulty. During my remarks in the debate earlier today, I did refer to the fact that, if you do ban this word in a debate that has some interest in the community, it is a bit like the view George Orwell put in his great book 1984: the best way to censor views is to abolish the words so no-one can use them— remove them from the dictionary, remove them from common usage.

We all know that this word is used every day in various forms—sometimes very offensively, sometimes as a colloquialism. I would point out to you, Madam President, that the words ‘buggery’ or ‘bugger’ have been approved by the Australian Broadcasting Authority to be used in commercial television advertising for the Toyota motor company. In the ad, they say ‘bugger’ when the car goes wrong. What does the word ‘bugger’ come from? It comes from the word ‘buggery’, which means anal intercourse. Is that word offensive to the Senate or have things moved on so that that is allowable? Madam President, I would ask you to take on notice a ruling on a word like ‘bugger’. The Australian Broadcasting Authority says that it can be used in commercial advertising and the most youthful in the community can hear it, when the dictionary meaning of that word is well known.

Australian Senate, 2002-05-15


The Hon. K.O. FOLEY: He put in an expression of interest to supply the furniture for the new Adelaide Oval. Talk about a hypocrite.

The SPEAKER: Order, minister ! Back to the question.

The Hon. K.O. FOLEY: Talk about a hypocrite. I will come back to the member.

The SPEAKER: Member for Flinders.

[Members interjecting.]

The SPEAKER: Order!

The Hon. K.O. Foley: A dickhead like you.

The SPEAKER: Order!

Mr WILLIAMS: Point of order: quite often there are schoolchildren in the gallery and I don’t think that the member should be using that sort of language in the house.

The SPEAKER: Yes, I would ask the member to withdraw that. It is not appropriate language.

House of Assembly of South Australia, 2011-06-09


The SPEAKER: Yes, I think the minister needs to get back to the question. I will uphold that.

The Hon. P. CAICA: I will, indeed, Madam Speaker. Of course, an audience member put a question regarding marine parks. He said, ‘I’m a spear fisherman of 44 years’ or more experience. This is the first time I have ever seen this sort of bullshit. I want to ask the Liberal Party: if this crap goes through, are they going to chuck it out?’ The member for Bragg, over raucous cheering, banging the podium, said, ‘Okay, I’m getting the head girl up here to give the answer.’ The Leader of the Opposition swaggers up to the podium and says, ‘The short answer is: yes.’

Madam Speaker, the point I am making is it would be reasonable to expect that there would be a level of maturity from the opposition with respect to engaging in this debate on marine parks.

House of Assembly of South Australia, 2011-05-04

12 thoughts on “Unparliamentary language: Australian edition

  1. mummyspitsthedummy August 7, 2015 / 10:38 pm

    “I withdraw ‘bucket'” – solid gold! It’s a revelation when you go on a primary school excursion to Parliament House, and discover they’re all just slagging one another off in that fancy room.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Iva Cheung August 7, 2015 / 10:44 pm

      I wish I could think as quickly on my feet…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. alison August 7, 2015 / 11:48 pm

    My favourite example (which your search would not have picked up because it involves a play on words) involves an opposition MP saying “Mr Speaker, I am a country Member” and the Prime Minister of the day interjecting , “We remember!”. See here: https://en.m.wikiquote.org/wiki/Gough_Whitlam

    Liked by 2 people

    • Iva Cheung August 7, 2015 / 11:55 pm

      Haha! Great stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. John Cowan August 8, 2015 / 1:35 am

    Here in the decidedly non-Westminster U.S., our legislators (state and federal) have similar privileges and similar notions of unparlimentary language. They have been historically decidedly less rude, especially in the U.S. Senate. (It’s true that a Representative once beat a Senator with a cane on the Senate floor, but within five years, the states they represented were on opposite sides of the Civil War.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Iva Cheung August 8, 2015 / 2:25 am

      Ah, but don’t forget the time Dick Cheney told Senator Patrick Leahy to go fuck himself!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Chips Mackinolty August 8, 2015 / 5:22 am

    Good to see the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly in this collection. One of the best, in the late 1990s, was when a member of the opposition referred to the then Chief Minister as Figjam. The Chief Minister took the term on board for a few hours until he was told what it meant, then got the Speaker to class it as unparliamentary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iva Cheung August 8, 2015 / 5:25 am


  5. Iva Cheung March 1, 2016 / 11:17 pm

    I received this email from Robert Corr and got his permission to share it:

    Good morning,

    I thought you might be interested in a recent controversy in the Australian Senate about what constitutes unparliamentary language, and whether quoting vulgar language verbatim is unparliamentary.

    The Government has been attempting to curtail the power of trade unions, particularly in the construction industry, but has been blocked in the Senate from passing legislation that would establish a new regulator with draconian powers.

    In prosecuting her argument in favour of the proposed legislation, the Minister for Employment, Senator Michaelia Cash, referred to allegations of bullying on a construction site and directly quoted the language allegedly used. (She was responding to Dorothy Dixers, questions written by her office and given to a friendly Senator to ask her – named after the advice columnist Dorothy Dix, who used a similar strategy.)

    On Tuesday, 23 February, the hansard uses asterisks to censor “f***ing piece of s***”:

    On Wednesday, 24 February, she quotes “Hey scabby, gay boy, gay boy, gay boy, scabby”, prompting a point of order from the Opposition Senator Claire Moore. The President ruled the comments in order:

    On Monday, 29 February, the President made a statement to clarify the ruling, giving some history of the nature of parliamentary language, and essentially ruling that if the quoted language had been directed at a “protected person”, it would have been out of order, but in this case it was in order. (There was some follow-up discussion about the need to protect children who might be watching proceedings from foul language.)

    The President’s statement has been referred to the Procedure Committee for consideration.


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