We’re up all night, but no one’s getting lucky. Labor and the crossbench last night forced the Senate to sit overnight debating the Senate voting reform legislation and it got weird.

As Crikey hits deadline today, the Senate is still debating legislation that would allow voters to exhaust their votes both above and below the line on the Senate ballot paper. The crossbench is fighting for its survival, while Labor, which originally supported voting reform, is now opposed to the legislation and has used the debate to decry the Greens for doing a “dirty deal” with the Coalition to support it.

Labor senators were threatening to keep debate going until 7 this morning, but the government and the Greens called their bluff. Special Minister of State Mathias Cormann said that the Senate could sit until Good Friday until the legislation was dealt with. Labor Senator Sam Dastyari was concerned he might miss seeing Madonna in Sydney on Sunday night.

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From midday yesterday, breaking only for question time, a few committee meetings and one report to Parliament, debate raged on in the Senate over the legislation. Much of it was focused on Greens leader Richard Di Natale and his now infamous photo shoot for GQ. Senator Stephen Conroy referred to Di Natale a number of times as “the black Wiggle” for his skivvy, but he admitted he preferred the pants Di Natale was wearing in the shoot. Conroy said the deal was all about “more Green bums on red leather” — at which point the Senate had to decide whether “bums” or “bottoms” was more parliamentary.

Labor Senator Doug Cameron argued that “bottom” “is a pommy thing” but bums is Australian. LNP Senator James McGrath said he “preferred bottoms rather than bums”.

Veteran Labor Senator Jacinta Collins led the charge for most of the early portion of the night. At one point Greens Senator Scott Ludlam pointed out he was bored.

Collins: “I’m sure you’re bald–bored but unfortunately we would rather you weren’t”

Ludlam: “Mr Acting Deputy President, from my seat, Senator Collins is indeed boring.”

Collins: “I’ve had worse insults from Senator Ludlam during debates like national security and data retention. But that’s fine. It doesn’t get to me, Senator Ludlam.”

At around 2am, Cameron brought out the Monty Python reference of “I fart in your general direction” (it’s worth listening to it in his brogue), and Labor Senator Glenn Sterle joined the anal fascination bringing up his colonoscopy.

Debate was less about the contents of the legislation and more about the battle between the Greens and Labor for progressive voters. This was evident earlier in the week when they both played politics over attempting to pass marriage equality legislation but then both voted against each other’s motions. Labor is attempting to show that by supporting the government — and not Labor — the Greens are not as progressive as their voters would like them to be. Labor leader in the Senate Penny Wong pointed out the numerous times the Greens voted with the Coalition on legislation and suggested the Greens would be “on the wrong side of history” once the reforms are passed.

Ultimately Labor is concerned that a preference deal in which the Greens would not tell voters how to vote in crucial seats in Victoria in exchange for Liberals preferencing Greens above Labor in inner-city seats (like Tanya Plibersek’s Sydney seat and Anthony Albanese’s seat in Grayndler) would deliver more Greens MPs and elect Liberal MPs in other marginal seats. Wong argued it was not progressive to remove Plibersek and Albo from Parliament:

“I would like to ask the Greens this: tell me why progressive politics in this country would be better for having Tanya Plibersek and Anthony Albanese out of the Parliament. How is that progressive politics? I will not be campaigning for that. I will be campaigning to get some of the Liberal Party and the National Party out of the parliament. That is what we do. But, no, you campaign to get Labor people out of the parliament.”

In response, Di Natale pointed out that Plibersek and Albanese had voted for the controversial legislation opposed by progressive voters:

“Ms Plibersek and Mr Albanese voted with the government to slash the Renewable Energy Target. When it comes to data retention — again, some of the widest and most far-reaching laws, which impact on 23 million Australians, saying to them that their personal information is no longer theirs but belongs to the government who are unaccountable and can access it without a warrant — again Ms Plibersek and Mr Albanese voted to ensure that your data is no longer yours. If you elect a Green in one of those seats, you can be absolutely guaranteed that, when it comes to expressing how we feel about those issues, it will not be a rhetorical flourish; it will be done through our vote.”

Labor has moved dozens of amendments to the legislation, including challenging the Greens to back amendments on political donations reform, reducing the threshold for reporting donations down from $13,000 to $1000. Amendments put forward by the Greens have passed, but at the time of publication, all crossbench amendments have been voted down. There are still a number of Labor amendments to be debated, as bleary-eyed senators front the media to explain last night’s shenanigans.

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon on ABC radio this morning had to apologise for slurring his words, promising it was a result of sleeplessness and no alcohol was involved. A number of senators have been spotting taking mini-naps in the chamber, and several have taken time out of the debate to rest and change clothes.

As of midday, the debate on the legislation had been going for 40 hours. This makes it the fifth longest piece of legislation debated since 1990. The longest debate was for the Native Title Amendment Bill in 1997 at 105 hours, 56 minutes. The carbon tax legislation was debated for 63 hours in 2009. The Senate has been sitting for more than 24 hours now — the longest sitting day for the Senate since December 1993, when the Senate sat for 66 hours straight.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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