at least the 1890s, the lower house of the NSW Parliament has been known
as “the bear pit”. The term arose partly from its shape (“a sunken
enclosure for exhibiting bears”), and partly from the ferocious abuse
exchanged by politicians of all persuasions, which at times does
resemble the uproar of bears fighting tooth and nail.
far as I am aware, NSW MPs have not yet actually come to blows.
Nonetheless, the name has stuck and reminds us of how chalk-and-cheese
the conduct of politicians in lower and upper houses can be. NSW upper
Dr. Meredith Burgmann has said, “If the lower house is the bear pit,
the upper house is the teddy bear pit!”
a distinction can be seen the world over. Even the honey-tongued
American Congress, where decorum and respectfulness normally reign
undisturbed, has had its moments:
and Means Brawl: House Republicans and Democrats in Verbal Fisticuffs
(Washington Post, July 19, 2003)
started with the mind-numbing reading of a 200-page pension overhaul
bill, erupted into a remarkably bitter name-calling match between House
Republicans and Democrats, and ended with a GOP lawmaker summoning
Capitol Police to evict an outraged gaggle of Democratic colleagues from
a congressional library.
are some other fine international examples to be had via the Internet:
over Press Law (BBC, August 6, 2000)
between reformers and hardliners erupted in the Iranian parliament after
a debate on amending the press law was called off on the orders of
supreme leader Ali Khamenei . . . The speaker of parliament, Mehdi
Karroubi, was forced to switch off microphones as deputies struggled to
grab them . . . Reformist deputies staged a brief walkout.
Again Bring Venezuela Parliament to Halt (Reuters,
November 10, 2003)
Venezuelan lawmakers traded punches on the parliament floor Thursday,
forcing a long-running and acrimonious debate on reforms to the Supreme
Court to be suspended . . . It was the second time in six weeks that
National Assembly deputies had come to blows and delayed debate of the
reforms . . . Local television showed the two reeling across the floor
of the assembly, grappling with each other and swinging punches.
in Punch-Up with Ministers in Zimbabwe's Parliament (newzimbabwe.com,
May 19, 2004)
Spark Uncivil Debate On Public Decency (Johnson's Russia List,
February 12, 2003)
exploded into a boxing ring on Tuesday when opposition Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) MP Roy Bennett floored, then kicked out at two
Cabinet Ministers Patrick Chinamasa and Didymus Mutasa . . . Bennett,
speaking on Wednesday, refused to apologise but said it was “nothing to
be proud of” . . . Some Zanu PF legislators, brandishing pistols,
threatened to shoot Bennett during the brawl . . . Bennett was later
escorted out of Parliament by the Sergeant in Arms.
in Russian public discourse has in recent weeks become the subject of a
debate that is itself breaking new ground for its lack of civility. Two
legislators exchanged insults and punches days after parliament passed
legislation banning officials from . . . swearing and using insulting
words, as well as slang and vulgar language.
come to blows in Sri Lankan Parliament (The Hindu, July
. . .
Sri Lanka's politics hit a new low today with backbenchers from the two
main parties . . . trading blows in Parliament . . . The pandemonium
broke out after the Leader of the Opposition, Mahinda Rajapakse, made a
statement demanding an apology by a Minister, Ravi Karunanayaka, for
levelling baseless charges that the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika
Kumaratunga, had brought bombs in her handbag to kill Cabinet Ministers
. . . None was injured in the brawls — punctuated by parliamentary
papers flying across the House and dominated by personalised physical
and verbal attacks by MPs — that suspended proceedings for close to an
hour, sources in Parliament said.
of the Absurd (Financial Gazette, Harare [Zimbabwe], May
years ago, while reading the Afrikaans news bulletin on the South
African Broadcasting Corporation's Channel 2, the newscaster, Rian
Cloete, collapsed in a heap of uncontrollable laughter as he tried to
introduce a particular news clip . . . The video clip that reduced
Cloete, a seasoned newscaster, into fits of mirth before the cameras was
about an incident that had occurred in the legislative assembly of an
Asian country . . . Apparently things got so heated in that august house
that two members of parliament came to blows. In the ensuing
pandemonium, more MPs joined in . . . Looking at that mass of humanity,
it seemed that everyone was manhandling someone else without really
caring who they were. No wonder Cloete lost control completely.
one of many examples from what might well be that “Asian country”:
Korea Leader Impeached after Parliament Fisticuffs (Arizona
Daily Star, March 12, 2004)
voted to impeach President Roh Moo-hyun on illegal electioneering and
incompetence charges today following hours of scuffles and dramatic
protests . . . The impeachment passed by a vote of 193 to 2, well above
the 181 votes needed for the measure . . . Many pro-Roh lawmakers had
been forcibly removed from the chamber by Assembly security and were
unable to vote . . . A shoving match was sparked earlier when pro-Roh
Uri Party members tried to stop Assembly Speaker Park Kwan-yong from
taking the podium, the only place he can call a vote . . . Assembly
security officers then moved in to begin removing lawmakers trying to
block his progress.
much for the “inscrutable Oriental”.