I woke up in my own apartment for the first time in yonks — after the Senate rose for the Easter/April break — to see six colourful hot air balloons etched into the dawn sky with the Melbourne skyline behind them. And I thought of all that hot air in Canberra last week.

The filibustering, the bullshit; the time wasting is, at times, a scandalous waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

There’s a daily lottery for a thing called A Matter of Public Interest. We all submit slips of paper with suggested topics. Sometimes, some parties (the Greens and the ALP) have senators individually submit five to 15 entries to enhance their chances of winning. One day, a bunch of protesting crossbenchers put in identical questions. The president of the Senate then draws the nominations out of an old wooden box and the last one standing gets to hold a public debate. On an often obscure, or propaganda-laced, issue.

The Senate is weighed down with old-fashioned rules and conditions. Far worse, in the so-called “house of review”, than in the House of Reps.

For example. We still have 20-minute speeches in the upper house. I think the max in “the other place” is 15. Some of us are trying to change that. Five minutes should be enough even for windbags like Ian Macdonald.

We still have two “supplementary” questions during question time. They don’t have that option in the House. Those questions are rubbish – especially the contrived Dorothy Dixers that the favoured government backbenchers have not even read before they monotonously read them with such mock sincerity.

And then a minister sincerely thanks the stooge for their probing question.

I am so opposed to them that on the rare occasion I, as a lone senator, get to ask a question (about eight times a year) I always conclude my appearance by forfeiting my second supplementary and saying;

“I forfeit this. Mr. President, on the grounds that secondary supplementaries are a waste of time.”

Over the past year, the Lib Dems Senator David Leyonhjelm and I have been pushing for the big guys in the Senate, the traditional bullies, to realise that things have changed. There are now more than 20 crossbenchers and we demand to be proportionately represented in “talk time”.

They have trenchantly resisted.

Last year, Leyonhjelm and I got together with a supportive and enthusiastic Senate President Stephen Parry, and we formed an ad hoc reform committee to streamline procedures and trim time-wasting.

Parry, who was tainted as he fell in the dual-citizenship saga, was a magnificent president. A protector of the rules and traditions but enough of a realist to know things had to change.

This year I have already discovered that the official Senate “Standing Committee on Procedures” thought our ad hoc committee was (to use an ancient vernacular) “getting too big for its britches”.

At a party leaders’ meeting, it was fairly unsubtly suggested that any more streamlining suggestions should be funneled through Procedures.

The new Senate President Senator Scott Ryan, a good Senate umpire, seems less enthusiastic than Parry to instigate change.

I’m not holding my breath. The current committee comprises: Ryan, his Labor deputy Sue Lines, Mathias Cormann, Penny Wong, Catryna Bilyk, government whip David Bushby, Katy Gallagher (for now) Rachel Siewert and Dean Smith.

A formidable, seasoned wall to climb.

 

Peter Fray

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