It was after dinner on the night of 25th November 1985 and a Labor parliamentarian and Tasmanian Liberal backbencher Bruce Goodluck was in a mischievous mood.
In those days the non-members bar stayed open till late at night with members, staffers and journalists socialising, arguing and sometimes dreaming up stunts.
It’s not known where Bruce Goodluck acquired his full length rooster’s suit but during the evening a Labor member dared him to put it on and go into the House.
Never one to resist a dare, the backbencher who crossed the floor eleven times during his parliamentary career donned the suit and charged down the corridor.
Entering the chamber through a door near the Speaker’s chair Goodluck took up a perch on the government front bench.
“When I look back I may be remembered more for that than all the other things I’ve done,” Goodluck said years later.
“The Deputy Speaker, [Allan Rocher] who was in the chair at that time, [said], ‘Remove that thing from the House,’ and with that, my feathers were ruffled, I decided to fly out.”
Goodluck was not apprehended and was never censured for the performance.
“Nobody dobbed me in, which I found to be very extraordinary,” he told the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Goodluck’s stunt was all in good humour.
In contrast Pauline Hanson’s burqa stunt a week ago was, at the very least, in bad taste and would have been out of order had the Senate rules of years gone by been applied.
Today senators have no dress requirements.
Hanson could presumably go into the chamber dressed as a chicken and no-one could challenge her.
But until at least the late 1960s Senators had to remove head coverings upon entering or leaving the chamber.
Nothing in the standing orders prevented a Senator wearing a head covering when seated but it was customary not to do so.
But every senator rising to speak had to do so without a head-covering.
Hanson was wearing her burqa when called to ask a question by the Senate President Stephen Parry, who knew who was hiding under the garment.
She removed her burqa to ask her question.
If anyone was in breach of the Senate standing orders it was probably the senators who applauded Attorney General George Brandis who condemned her stunt.
The standing orders of old say it’s okay to shout ‘hear, hear’ as a signal of approval but not to clap hands.
Senator Parry did call for order as senators clapped and Greens and Labor Senators rose in their seats to give Senator Brandis a standing ovation.
Senator Parry also called upon Senators to resume their seats but took no action to punish the misbehaviour.
He could hardly do otherwise.
Coalition senators, while not standing, were clapping too, leaving only Senator Hanson’s fellow party members silent and in their seats.
While the applause went on for some time, Senator Parry would have found himself in a tiny minority in the chamber had he tried to name and oust those who were ignoring his calls.
Head-coverings have long been a feature in the quirky world of British democracy.
To be counted when there is a division or vote in a chamber, members or senators are required to be seated.
They cannot rise to alert the speaker or president that they want the call to speak.
As a result if one of them wants to speak or make a point of order, he or she covers his or her head, usually with a sheet of paper.
This custom goes back to the old days of Parliament in Britain when members wore top hats.
Putting on their top hat enabled the speaker to see that a sitting member wanted to speak.
Members of parliament can use props to illustrate a speech.
Approval has been granted to items as diverse as flags, photographs, plants, a gold nugget, a bionic ear, a silicon chip, a flashing marker for air/sea rescue, a synthetic quartz crystal, superconducting ceramic, hemp fibres, and even a heroin cap which was produced in 1997 by Labor member Janice Crosio to illustrate the appalling drug trade in Cabramatta where children as young as 11 and 12 were “sitting in the frigid stairwells of car parks and the putrid stalls of public toilet blocks sticking used, dirty needles into their arms and injecting themselves with $30 hits of heroin.”
Generally speaking signs and scorecard ratings of a member’s performance are not allowed. But if members think it’s worth the publicity they take their chances.
When in 1977 Treasurer John Howard promised a fistful of dollars in tax cuts and then raised taxes the Illawarra Mercury screamed ‘Liar, Liar’ on its front page.
Labor members couldn’t resist the temptation to wave the front page of the paper in his face when he rose to speak.
Readers will not be surprised to find that it’s not in order to display a weapon in the house and in these days of increased security it’s unlikely that even a member would be allowed to bring one into the building.
But in 2014 Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan brandished a fake pipe bomb at a committee hearing to make a point about lax security at Parliament House.
Other props are problematic.
In 1985 the speaker ordered a member to remove two petrol cans he had brought into the chamber to make a point about the price of fuel.
You will not be surprised to hear that the culprit was Bruce Goodluck.