In politics, words are bullets. On Valentine’s Day in the Australian Parliament, chocolate roses can be bullets too.
It was Liberal veteran MP Warren Entsch who weaponised the House of Representatives, although he didn’t do it deliberately. Entsch is the chief Opposition whip, and, mindful that many MPs would have been missing their partners, arranged for bulk purchase of chockies.
They were quite elaborate: long-stemmed, chocolate roses with green leaves and a big red head.
Entsch and his deputies delivered them to all on their side, as well as chamber staff and even one of the cleaners.
It was meant to be a “warm gesture” to spread “a little love” among the Liberal and national Party troops, according to an Entsch spokesperson. Entsch also presented one to the government whip, Joel FitzGibbon (who is, incidentally a Rudd manand who has lately been something of a loose cannon, criticising the shortcomings of the mining tax).
But Etnsch’s gesture, however well-meant, precipitated a War of the Roses, which broke out later in Question Time.
First, Prime Minister Julia Gillard entered the chamber to find one of the flowers on her desk. (We were unable to establish who left it there, but it wasn’t Entsch).
Well, most people would smile on a chocolate rose left by a secret admirer on Valentine’s Day. Gillard didn’t. She looked unimpressed and brusquely moved it aside.
That was just the beginning. Ten minutes in, one of the House attendants delivered a rose to the desk of Gillard’s predecessor, mortal foe and would-be successor, Kevin Rudd.
The precise origin of the first flower is unclear, but it came from the Opposition side.
Showing the love to Kevin then became popular. They began to pile up on his desk. Three or four of them.
Kevin looked smugly happy, as only Kevin can. He knew he deserved it.
But Labor’s Leader in the House, Anthony Albanese, was not feeling the love.
As another little red-wrapped gift of affection made its way from the Opposition backbenches to Rudd’s desk, Albo intercepted the attendant.
He redirected further flowers to the little alcove at the back of the chamber, where the attendants live. Several more piled up in there.
We should add that this was something of breach of convention on Albo’s part, for little missives and documents usually flow unimpeded across the House from one side to the other.
So, with the chamber attendants nobbled, the Libs’ Kelly O’Dwyer had to deliver her flower to Rudd personally.
And another Liberal backbencher, Steve Ciobo, took a point of order to complain about the stopping of the roses.
Perhaps, though, it was all for the best; Rudd is manic enough under normal circumstances. The thought of Kevin in the throes of a major sugar rush is frightening.
Anyway, it was all a welcome distraction from what was otherwise a particularly unedifying parliamentary day.
Let me leave you now with a scrap of lyric from my favorite song about Valentines Day, an old James Taylor number which seems apposite to the Gillard/Rudd/Labor/Opposition dynamic.
“Me and you, you and him/ Him and her, us and them/ We keep score, love as war/ Valentine’s day.”
(Image: Mike Bowers/The Global Mail)