If you care at all about politics, you’ll probably be aware the Senate sat for 20 hours straight this week to pass changes to the way senators will be elected in future.
The changes, which were always going to be successful because the Greens did a deal with the Government to pass them, will make it almost impossible for independent and micro party candidates to game the system and get elected with a tiny proportion of the vote.
The marathon session was brought on because the Labor opposition wanted the debate to take as long as possible so the media would report it and hopefully the voters would take notice.
Serial attention seeker Senator Sam (Miley) Dastyari foreshadowed the event as the “Senate Sleepover” to encourage supporters on social media to play along.
Not to be outdone, independent senator Nick Xenophon (who will benefit from the changes) tried to enter the senate chamber wearing pyjamas and carrying a pillow, but was refused entry for not abiding by the parliamentary dress code.
— Frank Keany (@FJKeany) March 17, 2016
Former Palmer United Party and now independent senator Jacqui Lambie upped and left, noting the matter was a done deal.
She was absolutely right. But the antics were only partly about the way our votes will be counted on polling day; they were mostly an attempt to influence who we will vote for.
Labor used to support the changes but now opposes them.
Despite nearly every election analyst saying the changes would make the system more democratic, the Opposition now claims they would not.
Yet Labor’s opposition to the reforms is more about the party being under threat from the Greens in a number of inner city seats.
The progressive party’s arrangement with the Government to support the reforms gives Labor the chance to paint the Greens as dirty-deal makers who are prepared to side with the party of gay marriage opponents, like Cory Bernardi and George Christensen, and industrial relations hardliners like Michaelia Cash.
Labor’s leader in the Senate, Penny Wong, said it was all about “jobs for Coalition senators and Green senators”, and in light of the Government basing the double dissolution on industrial relations reform, “we all know what that means for working people”.
The Greens in turn get to paint Labor as an undemocratic party that prefers to keep the current system so it can continue to do back-room preference deals.
Don’t go counting your chickens
The Government will only benefit from this squabbling between the two left-of-centre parties.
But it has not got its way entirely, due to the Greens siding with their frenemies in the ALP to prevent the Government having the flexibility to call the Senate back at a date of its choosing.
The Government could deliver the budget a week early on May 3, as is being considered to make way for a double dissolution election, but it would have to get permission from a majority of the Senate to bring the upper house back at the same time.
Neither Labor nor the Greens are inclined to give that permission. This leaves the Government with the option of calling only the House of Representatives back for the budget on May 3 and waiting for the Senate to come back on May 10 to pass the supply bills, which are needed to keep the public service running.
Labor leader Bill Shorten gave an undertaking this week that the Opposition would not block the supply bill.
However that doesn’t mean Labor wouldn’t try to delay the Senate vote on the bill past the deadline for calling the double dissolution, which is May 11. Accordingly, another marathon Senate debate may be on the cards.
Coalition civil war rages on
PM Turnbull and his advisers will no doubt be war-gaming the timing options for the budget and election, but could be forgiven for being distracted by the civil war that continued to rage within the Coalition this week.
Hardline conservatives used the Safe Schools program as their latest stalking horse, forcing PM Turnbull to call for a review of the scheme to increase students’ empathy for LGBTI colleagues and therefore reduce bullying.
Conservative backbenchers revolted after being briefed on the findings of the review, signing a petition that called for a parliamentary inquiry and a stop to federal funding for the scheme until the inquiry was completed.
Former PM Tony Abbott signed the petition despite having presided over the Government that launched the Safe Schools program.
Under cover of Friday’s Senate storm, the Government released its response to the review, detailing a number of changes that would be made to address concerns about the appropriateness of some material used or recommended by the program.
Government backbencher George Christensen, who’d led the uprising against the program and in explanation said he didn’t want young people to be sexually liberated, welcomed the announcement saying the program had essentially been gutted of “all the bad content”.
At the time of writing, there was no news whether Mr Abbott had also graciously accepted the changes as adequate.
Paula Matthewson was media adviser to John Howard in the early 1990s and then worked for almost 25 years in communication, political and industry advocacy roles. She is now a freelance writer and communication strategist. Paula has been tweeting and blogging about politics, the media and social media since 2009 under the pen name @Drag0nista.
You can read more of her columns here