In Parliamentary debating terms it is called “argumentum ad hominem”by the more erudite classical scholars like Malcolm Turnbull, in common parlance it is called “playing the man and not the ball” or in the colloquial “going the biff”.
Last week, Jacqui Lambie got stuck into Cory Bernardi.
Jacqui Lambie attacks Cory Bernardi: “I think it is important to make this point around the debate about Australian political donations to the Chinese communist government. Liberal senator Cory Bernardi lecturing this parliament and displaying mock outrage regarding Labor senator Sam Dastyari and Chinese political donations is like an angry prostitute lecturing us about the benefits of celibacy.
And before I receive unfair criticism from the sex workers, I apologise to them profusely in comparing them to senator Bernardi. I know that is a really terrible low down thing to do because I can tell you prostitutes are far more honest, sincere, humane, compassionate and better bang for buck than senator Bernardi will ever be able to deliver.”
Now going the biff is a long established and time-honoured tradition in politics and rugby where it has many subtle manifestations, gradated according to the level of violence and appreciated by only the cognisanti. .
At the lowest level is “the Niggle”. This often involves just an exchange of pleasantries and enquiries about the virtue of an opposition player’s mother.
The next level is a bit of “Push and shove” which is just one step below going the biff. The rules push and shove are quite clear. Both players ensure that no punches can be thrown so that damage is kept to a minimum.
Lambie’s attack on Cory Bernardi is probably a high-grade niggle, almost making it into the category of push and shove but not quite. But as Bernardi is likely to retaliate, it should probably have been more than a high-grade niggle. It should have been a pre-emptive strike and it wasn’t.
A step up from push and shove is going the biff. This comes in a number of forms, first is the single biff.
Then the double biff.
and then the “You hold him and I’ll biff him” biff.
Jacqui Lambie is not in this league yet.
One of the great political biff artists of recent times was Tony Abbott who learned at an early age how to take it and how to hand out but unfortunately not in the big league.
He was also a rugby player which would make you think he was well qualified for Parliamentary life.
The only person so well qualified was legendary All Black front row forward Kevin Skinner. Not only did Skinner play in the famous 1956 test series against the Springboks, where he sorted out Springbok front row prop Jaap Bekker, he was also 1947 New Zealand Heavyweight Boxing Champion.
A bit like Jacqui Lambie, Tony Abbott was never really in the big league, despite threatening to shirt front Vladimir Putin.
He was more a bully boy, more pants than action
And his best moments were bit of push and shove against Julia Gillard.
He is seen here with a couple of his would-be biff artists, Sophie Mirabella and Bronwyn Bishop, neither of whom turned out to be much use in a punch-up.
Abbott’s problem was that he was never really a rugby player. In later life, he kept turning up to matches dressed in a collar tie.
Nonetheless, Abbott gained great credibility as a biff artist and was elected leader of the party and later Prime Minister. Unfortunately, as time went on everybody realised that he was only ever a biff artist and he was tossed out.
But when it comes to going the biff there are levels of skill most parliamentarians have yet to achieve.
The first is the “didn’t see that one coming ” biff. Here is a shot of All Black great Richie McCaw giving Quaide Cooper a bit to go on with as he runs past.
But the best political and rugby biff is a technique of playing the man and the ball.
Here is a shot of Brad Thorn about to do just that. Thorn is about to run into number 14 which he is perfectly entitled to do as the ball carrier but he is also going to give him a good left handed biff as he does so. Clever.
Richie McCaw was good at it too but not as subtle as Thorn.
And this is where Jacqui Lambie has probably bitten off more than she can chew in attacking Cory Bernardi. Bernardi is the Liberal party’s Brad Thorn, a seasoned biff artist and an expert at playing the ball and the man. Witnesses his attacks on Sam Dastyari. All within the law, all very damaging.
One of the abiding of political and rugby biff is that if you handed out you have to be able to take it.
Brad Thorn knows this.
Jacqui Lambie is about to find out.