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A happy new few take their places in Parliament's red room

SKETCH

Senator David Leyonhjelm on his new job: ''It scares the crap out of me''.

Senator David Leyonhjelm on his new job: ''It scares the crap out of me''. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

There is something oddly reassuring in this world of increasingly uncertain long-term employment prospects to watch a throng of happy souls signing up for a guaranteed six years of solid pay cheques and all the trimmings.

It was such a majestic occasion that David Leyonhjelm, the new libertarian Senator for the previously almost unknown Liberal Democratic Party, declared himself ''scared as crap''.

Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir with his son at the senators' swearing-in reception.

Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir with his son at the senators' swearing-in reception. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

He was speaking before the ritual swearing-in to the aforementioned years of bench-sitting and decision making, senatorial knees-ups and generous entitlements that lie ahead.

Such an occasion requires the presence of the Governor-General and all the other senators, and Senator Leyonhjelm was concerned he'd forget when to stand up and where to stand, having made such dreadful mistakes, apparently, three times during boot-camp rehearsal last week.

He should not have worried.

Victorian senators, including Liberal Scott Ryan, second from the right, during Monday's swearing-in ceremony.

Victorian senators, including Liberal Scott Ryan, second from the right, during Monday's swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

He was simply an anonymous new face among a line-up of the blessed, six from each state, plenty of them old hands - why, in this world, almost lifers, having been re-elected for yet another six-year term upon years already served - required to shuffle to the end of the dispatch table and swear or affirm to do their best.

The media benches, usually all but deserted in the Senate, where not much is deemed to happen on a normal day, were crammed. The Press, always clamouring for the shock of the new, were not there, however, to witness the line-up of garden-variety Liberal and Labor senators.

They had come for their first in-the-flesh glimpse of an unusual turn of events in Australian democracy - cross benches stacked with former everyday citizens who had risen to senator status on a tide of public disenchantment with the political class.

Senator Richard Colbeck (left) and Senator David Bushby (right) "drag" the new President of the Senate, Liberal Senator Stephen Parry to the chair.

Senator Richard Colbeck (left) and Senator David Bushby (right) "drag" the new President of the Senate, Liberal Senator Stephen Parry to the chair. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

There was the Palmer United Party's Glenn Lazarus, a former rugby league player so physically mastodonic and given to such deep public silence he is known as the brick with eyes, his bulk barely contained by his frontbench desk.

There was fellow PUP, Tasmanian Jacqui Lambie, who imagines herself prime minister one day, shining her light upon all around in a jacket of near-blinding yellow.

And Ricky Muir, the Motoring Enthusiast who, having promised he would buy himself a suit, had done just that but had forgotten to shorten the pants legs, giving him a Chaplinesque look.

Perhaps, like Leyonhjelm, they were all scared as crap. Great decisions and the weight of a shared balance of power have been thrust upon them.

But this was simply their ritual entree to life in the Senate, and they were all cast into the shade by the size of the bible brought to the swearing in by Victorian Liberal Senator Scott Ryan. It was, we learned, a family bible dating back to the 1880s, but its Bunyanesque proportions suggested it might have contained the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, illustrated and possibly annotated.  When you are from a major party, of not much interest in the new world of the Senate, you have to really try to gain notice.

The senators' first task was to vote for a new President. Senator Stephen Parry, a Liberal of Tasmania, who brought impeccable credentials to the job, got 63 votes. He was previously a policeman and a funeral director. The Greens' candidate, Scott Ludlam, got only 10 votes. He was, before politics, a film-maker, artist and graphic designer, and thus altogether too racy to direct the Senate.

And then it was off for morning tea. The first of many.

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17 comments

  • Delighted to see you spent more time commenting on Ricky Muir's clothing than on Jacqui Lambert's. A serious improvement in journalistic standards.

    Commenter
    Audrey
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 1:10PM
    • Hmm - interesting you pick up that point among other valid points raised. Touche.

      On another note:

      If you look at today’s Senate composition, you would find that what Labor lost in last year’s election was in fact not gained by Liberal but instead spread through the creation of new ‘Independents’. Now, if Malcolm Turnbull, on the other hand is just going to run with the LNP pack rather than be torn by its party wolves, he would be brave to go ‘Independent’. It is going to be a lot of hard negotiations. If Abbott is going to be as shrewd when Howard negotiated on his GST policy, Abbott might still be capable of redeeming himself from political oblivion. DD is looming on in the horizon. As for the inexperience Senators, it is not a major disadvantage at all given the so-called experience of Abbott whose ‘fair go’ is negligible to date. Let just hope these newly appointed/elected Senators wont be bully by the more canny-backstabbing politicians. I hope for all the neophyte Senators the best for Australia’s sake.

      Commenter
      Good observation
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 3:38PM
    • Senators should be jumping for joy with Christopher Pine about axing the carbon tax. That's all there is to it. Don't forget an AO for Andrew Bolt for pointing out the failure of Australia's best scientists to agree with him.

      Commenter
      Born Yesterday
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 4:27PM
  • Let's all hope for a double dissolution at which people can finally take their responsibilities seriously in relation to the Senate and not tick a box above the line so that we can get rid of this "unrepresentitive swill" that happened to get elected by a mathematical algorithm.

    Commenter
    Ithacalk
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 1:36PM
    • To be fair, the box is a little too complicated and misleading. There should be some reference made on the nature and effect of preferential voting which is really not part and parcel of a democratic process.

      Commenter
      Voting Paper: Fine Print
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 3:59PM
    • That tick a box looks like an unwrapped toilet paper designed to intimidate. It should be more streamlined for error-free to make each vote counts

      Commenter
      Jamie
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 4:04PM
  • So happy to see Janet Rice in the upper house finally. Now we just need more Greens from NSW.

    Commenter
    Daniel
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    July 07, 2014, 1:46PM
    • Well someone's got to win the lottery because that's all they've done.They sure as hell are not there because they were democratically voted in. Australia has the sickest, most bizarre voting system in the world - totally illogical and unrepresentative. Let's hope Putin and Mugabe don't adopt it - they'll never them get out.

      Commenter
      Dave Murray
      Location
      Joondalup
      Date and time
      July 07, 2014, 1:50PM
      • David Murray,

        There is nothing sick or bizarre about the Senate voting system. It produces a result that is highly representative of the way people actually vote. Thus, every state senator has to reach 14.3 per cent of the vote, a quota. That Ricky Muir started on 0.5 per cent means no more than the fact that in 2004 Stephen Conroy of the ALP started on 0.03 per cent, Julian McGauran of the National Party started on 0.04 per cent and Judith Troeth of the Liberal Party started on 0.03 per cent. It does not matter whether preferences come from a candidate inside a party or from a candidate of another party. The marking of preferences has the same result in principle as having the lowest-voted candidate drop out and everyone return to the polling booths the next day to choose from those remaining and doing this day after day after day until one candidate finally reaches the quota. We do it all at once. No one has to vote above the line.

        I do think it should be easier to vote below the line by not making preferences compulsory all the way, but the single transferable vote is the best system in the world.

        Commenter
        Chris Curtis
        Date and time
        July 07, 2014, 4:55PM
      • There is an extended argument challenging the kneejerk reaction to the 2013 Senate results in my submissions to Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, nos. 131 and 131.1 at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Electoral_Matters/2013_General_Election/Submissions.

        Commenter
        Chris Curtis
        Date and time
        July 07, 2014, 4:59PM

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