Just before question time, Labor’s Ed Husic had a little fun by nominating various ministers for knighthoods.
He finished with Tony Abbott, whom he honoured for spectacularly advancing the cause of republicanism in Australia.
Then he cheekily tried to table his brief speech, which was written on the back of a nomination form for the Australian Republican Movement.
Time will tell if Husic is right about Abbott and republicanism. But whatever else the prime minister’s decision to appoint Australian knights and dames again may do, it’s certainly added to the gaiety of the nation.
And the Labor ranks in question time hadn’t been so jolly for years.
The tone was set when Abbott first got the call to speak.
“Arise Sir Tony,” boomed a Labor voice.
But jollity had to be put on hold as Abbott moved a condolence motion, with Bill Shorten’s support, for the losses from the Malaysia Airlines plane.
The house, however, has a limitless capacity to change mood at the flick of a switch and the moment this grave matter was completed, the Labor serfs were storming the aristocratic gates.
Shorten started with what was more insult than question – Abbott’s “cruel and twisted” priorities meant he was appointing knights and dames while cutting welfare to orphans of soldiers.
Abbott’s first response was to remind Shorten that he had on his frontbench a Queens Counsel, meaning Mark Dreyfus.
“Well done, Sir Pository,” boomed Rob Mitchell from the nether regions of the Labor backbench.
The noise was becoming riotous.
When Christopher Pyne approached the despatch box, he was greeted with “Rise, my lady.”
After Speaker Bronwyn Bishop shot off some admonitions, Michael Danby called sternly: “Execute him.”
And when Julie Collins was exiled for an hour, Danby was pitiless of his Labor colleague: “Send her to the Tower.”
Shorten was soon at it again, this time juxtaposing knights and dames with cutting the wages of cleaners. Then, or so Abbott complained, he hummed Rule Britannia.
The prime minister also pointed out that Shorten’s title “is derived from Britain”.
At one stage, as the Labor ranks giggled helplessly at their own wit, Bishop railed about the new tactic of “an outburst of infectious laughter”.
Tony Burke immediately demanded: “Are you ruling people out of order for laughing?”
So laughter, particularly if lese-majesty, may be a worse parliamentary sin than, say, humiliating a political opponent.