The Australian Senate ran out of things to do today

Attorney-General Senator George Brandis and ALP senator Penny Wong. Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Just a week after the Turnbull government embarrassingly lost control of the House of Representatives there is another show of disorganisation today in Canberra, with the Senate running out of issues to debate.

The government does not have any bills ready for debate in the government business session with runs up to lunch today, so a number of Coalition senators are being forced to filibuster – essentially talking until time runs out.

The problem is that the bills scheduled for consideration in the Senate – the Registration of Deaths Abroad Amendment Bill 2016; and Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Amendment Bill 2016 – are still being debated in the lower house.

Here’s the order of business for the Senate today:

The Senate today. Source: screenshot

Officially, the senate is debating the governor general’s address in reply, with government backbenchers delivering 20-minute stream-of-consciousness addresses on a range of extraneous matters.

Queensland senator James McGrath spent time discussing his former colleague, Ewen Jones, who lost his seat of Herbert at the July 2 election. Victorian senator Jane Hume extolled the virtues of the government, while Tasmanian senator Jonathon Duniam talked about the benefits of tourism in Hobart and saving for his children’s future.

Communications minister Mitch Fifield, manager of government business in the Senate, blamed Labor for what’s happened.


Veteran political journalist Michelle Grattan was staggered by what’s happened:

Fairfax photographer Andrew Meares captured the Senate on its first day back at work this morning:

The problem for the government is that it’s running out of backbenchers to deliver oratory over the next hour, which may force ministers to their feet.

The schemozzle comes after the Turnbull government lost three votes on the floor of the House of Representatives just 11 days ago when Parliament rose for a week’s break.

In April, Malcolm Turnbull spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to recall the Senate to reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) legislation. The senate took just a day to reject the bill, giving the prime minister the double dissolution trigger he sought for the July 2 election the government narrowly won.

The government has to hold a joint sitting of parliament to get the ABCC legislation passed – the reason it called a double dissolution election.

There are just five sitting weeks left before the Senate rises for the summer break.

Meanwhile debate over same-sex marriage is underway in the lower house, with the Opposition leader Bill Shorten is introducing marriage equality legislation, saying “Why should the children of LGBTI Australians be denied the formal recognition of their parents’ relationship?”

UPDATE: The two bills due in the Senate this morning passed in the House of Reps after Christopher Pyne, the government’s leader in the lower house, moved to suspend standing orders to get votes on them:

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