Strange Politics: Motley crew joins forces in Senate

FOR a house that usually has to be prodded into action, it was a strange week for the Senate - one of unlikely marriages in rushing through reforms before the government takes a break (didn't that come around quickly?) to work out a budget that already has voters on edge.

The Coalition has teamed up with the Greens and independent senator Nick Xenophon - yes, really - to try to pass Senate reforms that will make it harder for senators to be elected without a groundswell of support.

So you will have more control over your preferences and it will be nigh on impossible for minor-party crossbenchers such as the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, for example, to retain their seats. It means that should the government call an early election, it could replace the dissenting voices like Jacqui Lambie and Glenn Lazarus, who have blocked legislation in the past, with a more like-minded candidate.

Obviously, Labor and the rest of the independent contingent oppose the changes, citing the rights of the common man (and woman, too, I hope), and have attempted to stall proceedings. Last week's staged tactics were all about making the longest speeches possible to use up the time, but this week they have changed tack, introducing a number of unexpected bills.

Among them is the marriage equality bill brought forward by independent David Leyonhjelm. It was shot down by the Coalition and the Greens despite the fact that it was the latter party who have been championing the bill in the first place. Surely it couldn't be that the Greens voted against their own bill in the hope of securing another seat.

When the Senate does vote on the changes, don't expect to be party to the historical moment should the bill pass. The house has yet to relax regulations that prevent photographers from documenting senators who do not have the floor. So there is no photographic evidence showing empty seats or the way senators vote on issues like same-sex marriage.

Things are clearly a touch more relaxed in the House of Representatives, with MPs more than happy to break into song. Industry and Innovation Minster Christopher Pyne threatened to channel his inner Whitney Houston while sledging Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, but luckily got no further than, "I believe children are our future; teach them well and let them lead the way …".

Let's hope the words struck a chord with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who was praising himself for getting the children in detention numbers down to 34. In the six months since Australia pledged to take 12,000 additional Syrian refugees, only a couple of thousand have actually been settled in communities. In that time, Canada has managed to give a home to more than 26,000 displaced Syrians, Germany 98,000, Sweden 64,500 and the Netherlands 14,100.

Strange Politics is an opinion column.

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