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Why This Week's Senate Filibuster Was A Farce

Here's five things they could have spoken about instead.

16/09/2016 10:46 AM AEST | Updated September 16, 2016 13:48
UIG via Getty Images
The Senate was about this full of ideas.

It's generally accepted that Monday morning's Senate filibuster was a farce.

In case you've ever wondered what happens when unprepared government senators are asked to speak, here it is. Four hours of embarrassing rambles about everything from flags to chia seeds, Haighs chocolates and the legislatively dead section repeal of 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, ensued.

We get it. Politics, by nature, is adversarial. There's no way the government will concede the floor, even if there's absolutely nothing on the agenda. Filibustering has long been used as a tactic of control and all sides of politics use it. And it will continue to be used as long as parliament remains a theatre of adversaries rather than a house of leadership.

Besides showing us that this government has no legislative agenda, on Monday we learned that government senators have an inability to speak for the people that elected them. Off the cuff, without the talking points, they are completely inept.

Here's five things they could have spoken about instead:

1. Youth depression, self-harm and suicide

According to Beyond Blue, a quarter of all young Australians have a mental health condition. More shockingly, suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged 15-24 -- higher than illnesses and even car accidents.

In a country of wealth, world-class health and education standards, and a cultural reputation for a laid back, positive disposition, why is this the case?

The more we taboo these issues, the more we'll stigmatise mental illness. Perhaps if politicians did less talking and more listening to our young people, we'd understand these harrowing statistics a little more.

2. Indigenous Literacy

In case our politicians missed it, Indigenous Literacy day was held last week on September 7. The 2015 Closing the Gap report found that progress is slow. But there are good news stories as well, with wonderful projects and gains being celebrated in special events last week. It would do our parliament well to hear about more of what works.

3. The Paralympics

Speaking of good news stories, Australia is on track for its most successful Paralympics in history. Around the time of the filibuster, 17-year-old Maddison Elliott won her first Paralympic gold medal in the pool, with her teammate Lakeisha Patterson winning the silver. Excitement and inspiration abound as the Aussies have continued to shine across a range of events. A mention of any of these tremendous achievements in parliament would give the Paralympics a tiny fraction of the attention it deserves.

4. Women in Politics

Just one week after former Prime Minister John Howard declared that women could never have equal representation in parliament, the Northern Territory formed the largest female majority cabinet in Australian history. Admittedly, it's five women out of a cabinet of just eight. But this demonstrates that Howard's views are out of step with both the community and reality. A frank, honest and multi-partisan discussion about the representation of women in Australian politics is long overdue.

5. Wishing our Muslim community 'Eid Mubarak'

Eid Al'Adha is a major Muslim holiday which fell on September 12th this year. Wishing Australia's Muslims well on their day of celebration would be a small gesture of inclusion to a community that's feeling less than comfortable with the current political landscape.

The newly elected One Nation senators, along with Jacquie Lambie, are on a quest of fear mongering, spreading their special brand of divisiveness across the land. True leaders would have made a statement of inclusion, allowing parliament to embrace Australia's unique diversity. Perhaps if the senate was more diverse, a gesture like this would have been considered more valuable than a 20-minute ramble about chia seeds.

It's hopefully and politically naïve to suggest that the filibuster could cease to exist as a parliamentary tactic. But, if you had given the average Australian 20 minutes of speaking time in parliament, most would have done a more meaningful and passionate effort than our government senators. It's about time our elected members rose to the occasion of being elected.

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