Two MPs have made complaints to the Speaker of the House of Representatives about “vicious” attacks on first-term Greens MP Max Chandler-Mather amid a stalemate in parliament over an Albanese government policy to boost affordable housing.
Independent Helen Haines and the Liberal National Party’s Michelle Landry have spoken to Speaker Milton Dick to raise concerns about Labor MPs allegedly personally abusing the Greens’ housing and homelessness spokesman in parliament.
Haines, who spoke to Dick months ago, and Landry, who made her complaint this month, did so independently and without being asked by the member for Griffith, who said Labor knew its housing policies were indefensible “so they resort to personal attacks”.
“Labor MPs should reflect on why they get so angry at a young renter for suggesting that the millions of people doing it tough deserve more than crumbs, while multinational corporations make billions in record profits,” Chandler-Mather said. “At the end of the day, I’m not particularly bothered [by the attacks].”
Haines said she had never previously intervened on behalf of another MP, but after watching MPs shout at Chandler-Mather, 31, when he asked a question about Labor’s $10 billion social housing fund, she felt compelled to speak to Dick and believed government MPs breached a new code of conduct for parliamentary standards.
“It was loud. It was persistent. It was absolutely playing the person,” she said. “It did feel vicious and personal. It crossed a line, in my opinion.”
Haines said she had noticed an improvement in MPs’ behaviour since her complaint.
When the new code of conduct was endorsed by the parliament in February, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said “they will set and enforce a better standard of integrity, dignity and mutual respect”.
Landry was motivated to intervene after watching Labor MPs, including a minister, sledge Chandler-Mather from their seats and as they walked behind him when he was delivering a speech on May 10.
The Brisbane-based MP was speaking about the $10 billion housing future fund the Greens are threatening to block in a months-long stand-off driven by the Greens’ belief that not enough money was being spent to urgently ameliorate the lack of social housing.
In the speech – which drew loud interjections from Labor MPs including “sit down, moron” – Chandler-Mather accused Labor of lying, siding with property developers, “crushing the hope” of struggling Australians and “trying to bash you down”. “How dare you?” he said. He ended the speech in tears as he told the story of a struggling constituent.
Landry said of the episode: “He was passionate about the story he was telling and they were just into him, and he ended up in tears. There’s been some vicious stuff said.”
“I obviously don’t agree with many Greens’ policies. But he’s a young man and I’ve got a daughter the same age … We want to encourage young people into politics.”
Landry and Haines did not cite specific examples of the language directed at the Greens MP, but both described it as worse than that directed at any other MP in their time in parliament. Haines was elected in 2019 and Landry in 2013, after a vitriolic term in which Julia Gillard gave her famous misogyny speech accusing the Coalition of repeated sexism directed at her in parliament.
A spokesperson for the Speaker said he was aware of the complaints and he had gained a heightened awareness of interactions between MPs during debates. The Speaker will be monitoring the issue, the spokesperson said.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong was forced to withdraw remarks she made in the Senate about Chandler-Mather this month after she said, “this man’s ego is more important than housing for women fleeing domestic violence and all the women at risk of homelessness”.
The housing policy debate has offered a glimpse of the antipathy Labor figures feel towards the Greens.
Political strategists believe the Greens pose a growing electoral threat but many Labor MPs privately and publicly state the Greens are disinterested in practical outcomes and defined by unreasonable policy demands and protests.
The Greens’ call to vote against the housing bill if its demands aren’t met contains political risk, but the party’s leaders believe it is supported by a growing number of voters facing increasing economic stress.
Chandler-Mather, a Labor Party member in university who won his seat off Labor, has since built a profile on the left of politics.
A video of his May 10 speech has been viewed 1.5 million times on TikTok. By comparison, just two of the Labor Party’s TikTok videos have been viewed more than 150,000 times since the last election.
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