Senate debate rages on, 20hrs and counting

‘Nearly 2am at Parliament House but despite the PJs, I'm not up to any monkey business; I'm going through the voting reform bill.’ From Senator Nick Xenophon’s Facebook page.

‘Nearly 2am at Parliament House but despite the PJs, I’m not up to any monkey business; I’m going through the voting reform bill.’ From Senator Nick Xenophon’s Facebook page.

Belinda Merhab, AAP

They’re turning up in pyjamas and arguing about who is more boring, but a vote on changes to the way Australians elect senators is still nowhere in sight.

It’s been a marathon 20-hour session so far and Labor’s filibustering on Senate voting reforms doesn’t look likely to let up any time soon as debate rages into the early hours of Friday morning.

At 5am, there were still 37 amendments from various parties to be considered.

Bring your pillows and mattresses, Labor warned on Thursday. It wasn’t an exaggeration.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon showed up in the chamber dressed in pyjamas, pillow in tow.

Labor made several attempts to call it quits for the day and resume debate later, but the government has ruled parliament will stay put until the bill is dealt with.

‘If you still want to be here on Easter Friday, on Good Friday, that’s fine,’ Cabinet minister Mathias Cormann said.

He pointed out that debate on the bill in the Senate alone had been running for more than 31 hours, making it the 14th longest upper house debate since 1990.

Insults have been hurled back and forth across the chamber, with Labor’s Jacinta Collins accused of being boring, and more Labor jokes about Greens leader Richard Di Natale’s GQ magazine photo shoot.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, a strong proponent of the reforms, said Labor had fallen on the wrong side of history.

‘How could you come in here and speak against voters having the right to decide their preferences?

‘This whole episode will be recorded as disgraceful for Labor when the history of this period is written.’

Senior Labor figure Penny Wong said the changes would probably help the opposition get more senators elected, but she warned the Greens’ ‘selfish’ move to win more seats ran the risk of turning the Senate into a rubber stamp for coalition governments.

Labor and most of the crossbench argue the changes will prevent minor parties and independents from being elected.

Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm pointed out that Western Australian Liberal Linda Reynolds wouldn’t have been elected to the Senate had it not been for his party’s preferences.

‘I have wondered whether we did the right thing,’ he said.

He believes voters trust the party they vote for to do the right thing with their preferences.

The proposed changes allow voters to allocate their own preferences by numbering at least six boxes above the line on a Senate ballot paper.

Senator Cormann said the changes would give voters the power to choose their own preferences, rather than having them directed via backroom deals.

‘The only people who get advantaged by this reform are voters.’

He said the government was confident the changes would be constitutionally sound.

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